§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The advantage of success in the. Ballot not only enables a Member to introduce a Motion in which he is particularly interested, but it also gives an opportunity to the party with which he is associated to give expression to what they believe to be the most urgent legislation that is necessary, and I submit that in the latter category the subject with which I am dealing to-day is not only of vital importance, but we are entitled to say to the House that the late Government, whatever other failures may be attributed to them, lamentably failed to deal with this all important question, with the result that we on this side of the House are taking advantage of our success in the ballot to enable this Government at last to make some amends for the sins of their predecessors. The short history of workmen's compensation shows that in 1880 the first Act of Parliament was passed to regulate the liability of employers to make compensation for personal injuries suffered by their workmen, but it was not until 1893 that a real effort was made to deal with workmen's compensation. Expression was given on that occasion to an appeal which not only showed the foresight and impartiality of the statesman uttering it, but that even to-day there is an entire failure to appreciate the real basis upon which workmen's compensation should rest. When the present right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) introduced his Bill in 1893, the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain put down an Amendment—an Amendment, let it be observed, in his name as a leading member of the Conservative party—and that Amendment read as follows:That no amendment of the law relating to employers' liability will be final or satisfactory which does not provide compensation for workmen for all injuries sustained in the ordinary course of their employment and not caused by their own acts or defaults.The curious thing is that although that Bill passed this House, and although 1800 strong support was given at that time by Mr. Chamberlain, the Bill failed ultimately to pass through another place. The Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897, was follewed by the Amending Act of 1906, and then by the Act of 1917, which merely dealt with the question of amount arising out of the changed economic conditions, and that was the position until the late Government, having promised that they would deal with the matter, having made, both in public statements and from the Treasury box, definite and clear promises to introduce an Amending Bill, ultimately set up a Committee to consider the whole question. I want to submit to the House that two things must have operated in the Government's mind. The first was that the appointment of a Committee was a clear and definite recognition that the question was urgent and required immediate attention, and, secondly, the composition of that Committee was a recognition of the same fact. It was composed, not only of employers and representatives of employés, but of representatives of practically every interest affected, and I think one, in passing, should pay a tribute to that Committee for the magnificent way in which they went into this question. I submit that there have been very few Committees that were more painstaking in their duties, gave more consideration to the subject before them, and exhausted every aspect of the question so effectively as they did.
The result was that, as usually happens in these matters, there were Majority and Minority Reports. The Minority Report was signed by Members of our party, who gave reasoned explanations for their objections to the Majority Report., but the curious thing is that when that Majority Report was published—and published, as I have already said, after an exhaustive inquiry—we at least were entitled to assume that the Government would act on those recommendations and immediately bring forward legislation, but although that Report was issued over two years ago, nothing has been done, and no steps have been taken by the Government, until, in the early part of this Session, my right hon. Friend intimated that it was the Government's intention to deal with the matter. I want to ask the House to realise the urgency 1801 and importance of this question, not alone because of the financial position of the unfortunate individuals, but because it is not generally realised what a terrible mortality takes place in the industries of this country. It is only when one 1s compelled to examine the figures and see what takes place in the different industries that one is able fully to appreciate the tremendous number of fatal accidents, quite apart from the non-fatal accidents, that take place in industry from year to year.
I will give a few figures. In 1914 the number of fatal accidents was 4,216. Those cold, hard figures represent, not only the loss of companionship of the husband and the father, but something even more tragic than that, because those 4,216 fatal accidents represent, to the wives and children who are left, the loss of the breadwinner. In the same year the non-fatal accidents were 437,900, which in themselves represent a terrible loss. I was going to point out that no one can clearly visualise all that these non-fatal accidents mean—some cases of permanent blindness, some cases of loss of one or more limbs, some cases of internal injuries, when we sometimes feel it would be better if the unfortunate individual passed away. Here, again, in addition to the injury, suffering and misery entailed by these 437,900 nonfatal accidents, see what it means from the economic point of view to these unfortunate men and women. Their labour is their only capital. We can understand the rich man feeling the loss of capital, the sudden blow that knocks him out. But that is exactly the position of these poor people. They are deprived of their only capital; in many cases deprived of their lives.
A remarkable change took place last year, and I want to draw the attention of the House to it. The fatal accidents dropped to 2,385, and the non-fatal accidents to 283,361. That is a remarkable drop, and it is a very gratifying sign, because all of us dealing with this matter never calculate compensation as being the real way to deal with this subject. Prevention is better than cure. Compensation is good; compensation is necessary. But what is more necessary, what is more important to employers and employés, is that definite and active steps should be taken to reduce the terrible mortality, 1802 and these figures are a very gratifying result. They show that some genuine effort is being made to deal with the matter. I know that from that gratifying result we must deduct the stoppage in the coal mines for three months, which had its effect in all industries. But that does not alter the fact. It is the thing we want to encourage, because I attribute some of this to the welfare work. I attribute some of it to the real co-operative effort that is being made in many industries and which I want to see encouraged and developed so as to minimise accidents. That is really the object for which I am making the comparison. Nevertheless, however favourable—and those figures are favourable from the point of view from which I am arguing—that must not prevent our making further efforts to reduce the number of accidents. Even with all the co-operation, it still, leaves a terrible toll which the workers of this country contribute in the execution of their duty.
While I believe that the House generally realises the necessity of something being done, those facts do bring home very clearly the tremendous nature of the problem and the urgent need of something being done. Therefore, this Bill, which I am asking the House to-day to read a Second time, is not the last word on the views of members of our party as to workmen's compensation. Far from it. The very fact that there was a Minority Report indicates changed views in that connection, but the fact that we as a party are adopting the Majority Report, and not the Minority Report, the fact that we are not introducing what is our view of what really ought to be done, at least ought to indicate to the House our sincerity in asking the House to do something. It is because we know our people are suffering, it is because we know the injustices that are taking place to-day, it is because we know that the matter ought to be immediately tackled, that I am responsible for asking the House to give a Second Reading to a Bill based on the Majority Report, with one exception, with which I will deal.
Before attempting to explain the details of the Bill, let me apologise to the House for the delay in the printing of the Bill. It is not only an advantage, but, obviously, it is the right thing that 1803 every Member of the House should have an opportunity of studying a Bill well in advance of the Second reading. No one knows that better than myself. I trust that the House will accept my apologies on the ground that it was the difference—not a difference in the ultimate end—but the difference as to whether we ought to make this compromise, which is really responsible for the delay, and that, I am sure, is an explanation which the House generally will accept. May I also make one further apology? The Memorandum does not accurately, in one detail, explain the Bill. Those who have read the Memorandum will have observed the statementaccident arising out of and in the course of the employment to remain unaltered.If Members will look at the Bill, they will see that it is altered. The explanation of that is, not that it is a printer's error—it is so easy to put it on the printers—but it is a typist's error.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Bridgeman)
Which is right—the Memorandum or the Bill.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The Memorandum is wrong; the Bill is right. Having given that explanation, I proceed at once to put before the House shortly what the Bill contains. The principal Amendments are:1. The appointment by the Secretary of State of a Commissioner to carry out certain recommendations of the Departmental Committee and such of the duties now discharged by the Home Office as may be provided by regulations made by the Secretary of State, including in particular provisions for compulsory insurance; the supervision of rates of premiums of insurance companies, and the restriction of their expenses and profits in workmen's compensation business, and also for accident prevention.The first point I want to emphasise in connection with that alteration is this: If the State says to an employer "We will compel you to take the liability which we know will be a charge upon your industry," the State should also come to the aid of the employer and say "We will seek that you should have this liability under the most favourable circumstances possible. Many of us believe that the most favourable would be the State itself. Sticking, however, to the recommendations 1804 of the report the change is this: not only do we say that the Commissioner should have some control but we say it is necessary you should remember that in the evidence given before the Commission that for 1921 it was reported that the total compensation paid was £5,509,000. Of this £2,480,000 or 45 per cent. was paid by Mutual Associations; £1,632,000 or 30 per cent. by Insurance Companies, and £1,396,000 or 25 per cent. by Uninsured Employers. But the significant fact in connection with these figures, and with which it is the purpose of this Clause to deal, is that in 1921 out of every £1 expended 10s. 4d. was paid to the worker as compensation and 9s. 8d. went in expenses for those who took the liability. That came out at the inquiry. To the worker went 10s. 4d. in compensation while 9s. 8d. was the surplus profit for the company! Not only was that fact recognised, but before the Holman Gregory Committee the insurance companies themselves not only admitted the fact, but they came forward with a scheme and submitted it—it can be found in that. Report—voluntarily offer to alter the existing conditions and make them more favourable to the worker. Having said that I do not think that any further argument is necessary to justify the alteration.
I would next deal with the question of increasing the amount from £250 a year to £350 a year. This, as the House well knows, is the present limitation of insuring, and we propose to alter it. This is suggested by the changed condition due to the increased cost of living, and the increased wages that have followed. This change has made people outside who have hitherto been within the category of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The House will observe in a few moments the economic changes which have taken place; but I want to draw attention on this point to an incident that happened in the Courts only a week or two ago. So keenly was this particular case which I am about to quote felt, that the trade union defended the individual and took the case to a Court of Appeal. The decision of the Court of Appeal excluded from the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act a man who was earning just £2 over the £250 limit allowed for workmen employed otherwise than in manual labour. That is to say, this man had 1805 met with a very serious accident, but as his yearly income was £252 he was excluded. There was no doubt about the accident. It was admitted. All the facts were proved. The case went to the Court of Appeal purely on the question of whether the £2 extra per year, or £252 income excluded a man because the Act said £250. The Master of the Rolls allowed the Appeal of the employers. Lord Justice Scrutton, agreeing, said:Questions of what was meant in the Compensation Act by a remuneration of over £250 a year and employment other than by way of manual labour were becoming increasingly important, because £250 now was a very different thing from £250 before the War.The next Claim we put forwad is that of taxicab drivers, who on the ground that they are the bailees of their cabs rather than the servants of the cab owner, are at present excluded from the Act. The House knows of taxicab drivers who are owners as well, but there are those who are excluded by the existing Act, and we hope that the necessary alterations will be made to bring them in. Then I come to share fishermen employed in the trawling industry, and share fishermen employed in the herring or other industry who would desire to be brought within the Act by order of the Commissioner if he is satisfied, after public inquiry, that they ought to be included. As the House knows, at the present time the technical objection to the share fishermen being included is that they are supposed to share in the catch; because of that they are treated as employers. I put it to the House that there is no difference between these and the miner or the engineer who is paid at piece rates and who share in this way with these men in respect of the product of their labour.
I do not want to labour matters or to give the House many illustrations, because, doubtless, hon. Members in all parts of the House have memoranda of these things, as I have; but I do want to emphasise the tremendous injustice of excluding these people. The next change I come to relates to all persons ordinarily resident in this country who are employed, or are travelling in the course of their employment on a British ship. If there is one great injustice more than another to the British worker it is the existing law on this point. I will give such 1806 a case which my own union dealt with. A coal trimmer met with an accident. He was engaged in trimming coal on board a steamer which was moored at the staith. He went into the cabin to wait until the vessel was ready. On returning from the cabin to the ship he was stepping over a steel rope which suddenly became tight, breaking his leg. He was engaged by the North Eastern Railway, paid by them and under their supervision. Compensation was refused by the Court of Appeal and that court declined to say who was the man's employer. Consequently he has received no compensation at all. This is an instance of one particular company. But in South Wales, Cardiff, Barry, and the North of England we have had trimmers and teemers who have met with an accident, and their employers will not accept liability because they say, "the man is not employed by us," and very often the ship goes away, and we never hear anything more about it What I put to the House is that we are not asking too much when we say that what an English employer is compelled by law to accept and to do for his workers these workers ought not to be deprived of because there happens to be a foreign employer involved in it. That is shortly my case, and on these grounds I am asking the House to accept that Amendment.
I come to that contentious Clause which I have already mentioned, namely, that we propose that the phrase "accident arising out of and in the course of the employment" shall be deleted from the existing Act. I want to submit that I cannot conceive of any legal gentleman taking exception to this proposal. The ordinary employer and employé would apply a lay mind to this problem and draw a common-sense interpretation of that Act, but I have always felt that the legal Members of Parliament must have seen that this was a profitable Clause for the lawyers as it has unfortunately turned out to all concerned and that is why I am asking that it should be deleted. But I will give a few illustrations to show exactly how it works. All the cases I have given can be submitted to anybody and can be tested right out.
There is the case of an engine driver on the North Eastern Railway. He was performing his usual duties but owing to the back sand pipe not working 1807 properly he tapped it with a hammer. The hammer knocked the pipe out of position and the man endeavoured to force it back with his foot when he slipped, the engine wheel crushing his foot. The defence set up was deliberate and wilful misconduct, that is to say that this man ought to have said, "No, I will take the risk. I will wait until I get to the engine shed and then I will report it, and the fitters shall deal with it." Supposing in the interval it had come on to rain and the rails became slippery, the driver could not have stopped his train and I wonder what sort of a defence he would have been able to make at a coroner's court in case of a fatal accident by saying, "It was not my job to do it."
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
This is all very interesting, but do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that in such a case the defence put forward by the Company would be deliberate and wilful misconduct?
§ Mr. THOMAS
I thought my right hon. Friend was aware that this is always the preliminary defence. They say that this is deliberate and wilful misconduct because, technically, they argue that it is not the driver's work. Then they go on to say that because it is not the driver's work it does not arise out of his employment as a driver. Let me take another case. This is the case of a porter on the London and North Western Railway working in a warehouse. He was leaving the warehouse and he had to walk across to the lift in order to get to another floor, but the lift being on the other floor he looked down the well of the lift to see where it was, and at that moment the lift came down and crushed his head. Simply because there was a notice instructing men not to place themselves in danger that man lost his case, both defences being considered to run concurrently.
I will give just one or two more cases which show the absurdity of this Clause. I am going to show that it is very often the insurance companies that do not understand the real relationship in the factory, and they are responsible for putting up such a defence because no sensible employer who knew the facts would dare to do it. Here is the case of a fireman. Two engines were running 1808 together. He observed smoke issuing from the smoke-box and he went along the frame to screw it up. At the same time he attempted to uncouple and change the headlights, when he fell and the engine passed over his leg. The defence which I have already mentioned was put forward by the company and it held good, and he lost his claim for compensation. Now I have done that myself, and I say that there are thousands of engine-drivers doing it every day, and they are compelled to do it. I have walked along my engine on an express train in a blinding snowstorm, holding on to the handrails, because I wanted to see that things were right in front. It is true that the railway companies are doing all they can to prevent the necessity of walking round the frame because it is dangerous, but surely when there is something goes wrong and the man says, "I am prepared to risk my life in order to see that things are all right," it is a monstrous thing that in case of an accident he is not entitled to compensation. I could mention scores of similar cases, but I think I have sufficiently illustrated that point. I am arguing against the injustice of these cases being excluded, and I would like to see developed what already exists in the Durham Miners' Association, namely, a Joint Committee to deal with these compensation cases, representing both sides, who understand the situation, instead of allowing the lawyer to show that A means B, and to deprive a man of compensation. Commonsense consideration has established this in the case of the Durham miners, and I want to see the same principle applied in these cases because it will do a lot of good.
The next alteration is a change in the amount. Here I propose following out the Holman-Gregory Report, which recommends that instead of paying compensation merely and solely on the basis of the man's wages or earnings some regard should be had to his needs, his economic position and the position of his dependants. Take the existing trade depression. Take either the mining industry or any other industry where there has been a tremendous change in the rates of wages compared with twelve months or two years ago. When a man meets with an accident, his claim is paid on the basis of the existing wage, but there may have been an increase of £1 in the wage of his particular craft in that period. Surely it 1809 is not unfair or unreasonable to say that he should participate in that increase because compensation is based on the assumption that the man is deprived of earning some given sum. Surely it cannot be argued, if there has been an increase in the wages rates in his particular shop while he is off ill, he is to be prevented from benefiting in that increase merely because of the accident which he met with whilst in his employment. Of course, to be fair, if there were a drop, it would be equally applicable.
We also ask for a radical change in the question of partial dependants. There is nothing so difficult to define as a dependant. I have known cases where the father has been killed, when soon afterwards the widow has died, and where a brother, the elder brother, has taken the whole responsibility of the family, often at great sacrifice to himself. I have known sisters take the responsibility of the younger children. Surely, if that be the fact, it is monstrous to argue that the son or the sister or whoever the relative may be is not wholly dependent. It is because we feel that that injustice should be removed that the alteration is made. I am skipping over the changes in the burial and medical expenses. We are asking for an increase to £15, and the House will recognise that you cannot get even a decent burial under £15 at the present time.
Then I come to the change in amount. The Holman Gregory Committee considered the question from the standpoint of the existing 50 per cent. compensation, and they recommended that it should be increased to 66⅔ per cent. of the average weekly earnings with a maximum of £3. Again, what I have in reference to other changes is sufficient to justify this change without saying anything more about it. I want to deal with the question of miners. We find hundreds of boys and girls, mainly boys, utterly and absolutely ruined for life, and no fair estimate made of their chances in after-life. A boy loses an arm or a leg. The father or the mother may have made great sacrifices to apprentice him. Who can estimate the possibilities of that boy's future. No one can define them. At the present time, cases frequently occur where the boy's future is wholly blighted and his life ruined, and often the miserable sum of £100 is paid as adequate compensation. 1810 We say that not only should that be altered, but that it should be altered, taking clearly into consideration the future of the boy and treating him as an adult and not as a junior.
I want briefly to refer to the question of industrial diseases. The House knows that at the present time certain diseases are scheduled. I want to broaden that schedule, and I want it to be easier to bring those diseases within the category. Many of my hon. Friends will deal particularly with the miners' side of the question, but I will limit myself to an illustration applying to the railways. I have known drivers who have been in the service 30, 35 and even 40 years running the fastest expresses out of London, either to Scotland or to the West of England, who have been suddenly hauled up because their eyesight has failed them, and who therefore have been deprived of their occupation as drivers. The difficulty is to prove that the failure arises out of the employment, because you cannot say "I was affected at a given moment." A fireman's first job, when he finishes firing standing in front of a blazing fire, is immediately to look out. Anyone can imagine the deteriorating effect on that man's eyesight, coming direct from his firing and looking out and meeting a cold wind and draught. I have gone through it. I have been blinded with the dust from my own tender when running tender first. I have had to face the fire and I have been blinded for the moment, but I could not go to the railway company and say that on a given date, at a certain time, and on a certain train I met with this accident. It is impossible to do it. The result is that a grave injustice is done to these people, and we want it removed. I could deal in the same way with the question of varicose veins. We know that engine driving and other occupations involve a great amount of standing and subjects the individual to varicose veins. These are the kind of cases that I could enumerate, but I will not bother the House with any more of them at this stage.
I have dealt with the main provisions of the Bill, and there are many others, but I want to conclude by submitting this to the Home Secretary. It is admitted, as between the Government and ourselves, that a change is necessary. It is admitted that there must be legislation 1811 this Session. It is admitted that the late Government set up a Commission to consider the matter, and their report, signed by employers and employees and by other representatives, constitutes the majority report. Is it too much to ask the Government not to accept my Bill, but to accept the findings of their own Committee.
Imagine the effect that this has upon the working classes. If there is a trade dispute, or a difficulty, and both sides agree to have it investigated, let the worker attempt to refuse to accept the award, and what a howl goes up! Think of the cry that goes up, "The unreasonable people! They will never keep a contract. They will never keep a bargain!" This, I admit, was not a bargain in that sense but it was an implied obligation on the part of the Government. I ask the Government to honour that obligation and to give the necessary facilities to insure that this Bill shall not only get a Second Reading—which I believe it will—but that it may become law of the land, and remove the grave injustice that now exists and, at least, do justice to the workers of this country.
§ Mr. GREENALL
I beg to second the Motion.
I ask for the indulgence of the House while I support this Bill very briefly, as this is the first time I have attempted to speak. I think the whole House will agree that this proposed amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act is very much overdue. I want to deal mainly with the question of the total dependants of those who lose their lives in the different industries of the country. Over 25 years ago Parliament passed an Act providing that the rates to be paid to total dependants should be a minimum of £150 and a maximum of £300. If there he anything, in my opinion, which could be called a scandal and a reflection upon past Governments and past Parliaments it is the fact that that meagre amount of compensation to these deserving people still remains on the Statute Book. The results of this have been brought very forcibly before those of us who have been dealing with this kind of case during the last seven or eight years. Whilst compensation for those who have been injured has been increased to the extent of 75 per cent., this poorer class of people, who 1812 certainly are more deserving of assistance, have been compelled to remain in the position in which they were a quarter of a century ago. One wonders sometimes what has been the cause. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must remember that during the last Election, especially, this question was made one of the main features of the contest. I am inclined to think that the electors in the great industrial centres, and especially the women voters, made this question their one point. They desired that this measure should be carried in order to do something to wipe out this disgraceful state of things. I am inclined to think that one reason why there are so many hon. Members on this side of the House from the great industrial centres is that the women voters are now realising that it is no use seeking justice at the hands of politicians and of Parliament, as in the past, and that the only course they can take is to let their voice be heard by means of their votes, and thus to show to Parliament that something must be done to remedy this disgraceful state of things. The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has stated that over 4,000 fatal accidents take place in a year, and hon. Members can quite understand the large number of total dependants—widows, orphans and others—that there must be as a result of such accidents. That is not the whole of the extraordinary state of things, in regard to this legislation. Therefore, it is a greater surprise that it should have continued so long. The £150 minimum, up to the £300 maximum, according to the amount of earnings for the three years prior to the accident, has been paid under a most peculiar system. A person who has lost his life may leave a widow, who is an entire dependant, and who may receive, in such a case, the full amount of compensation, whether it be £150 or £300. I have had cases of people living next door to each other, in one of which there has been one dependant, who has received £300 compensation, while in the other there has been a widow with six children, who has only received £150 compensation. We say that the time has come when a change must take place in connection with the distribution of the compensation allowed by this particular Act.
As I have said, the amount of compensation has remained the same for over a quarter of a century. Let hon. Members 1813 think what has been the result of that for a large number of years. This amount was agreed upon when the cost of living was over 100 per cent. less than it is at present. During the past few years, as right hon. and hon. Members are aware, the cost of living went up tremendously, but in the case of these deserving people, who have been deprived, not only of their breadwinner, but of the guiding hand in the family, this compensation has had to remain at that amount. The result has been that in many cases, although the wife, with a large family, has turned out and worked wherever she could possibly find anything to which to turn her hand to make a shilling or two, with a view to helping to make this compensation money last as long as she possibly could—although she has left the little ones to be looked after in the home by the elder children—the time has come when the whole of the money has gone, and she has been compelled to go to the Poor Law Guardians and seek relief.
The increased cost of living, over which these people have had no control, has taken away the money much more quickly than was thought would be the case. I have been appealed to times out of number to see if something could not be done for these people under such conditions, but I have had to explain to them that the employers, while they are generous in many things, say to me, "This is the law; we must have the law and nothing but the law." Therefore, I think the House will agree that the amounts suggested here for total dependants are nothing more than reasonable, considering all the circumstances. An hon. Member near me says they are too low, and one feels that if we did—and oftentimes one feels that we ought—if we did carry out what right hon. and hon. Members, and Prime Ministers, tell us, and tell our people whom we represent, especially during elections, namely, that we ought to be audacious, that we ought to ask for more—and all that is quite true—if we carried out the advice we get from those people, then, of course, it will be agreed that these amounts would certainly be much more than we are asking now. We are asking in this Bill that the widow should receive £250, and that the amount in the case of a child under 15 should be 10s. per week, in the case of a second child 1814 7s. 6d. per week, and 6s. for every other child. Hon. Members will see, also, the change that is proposed in connection with the paying of this compensation in the future, and I hope they will at least recognise the need for such increased amounts and also for a change in the system of paying them.
I now want to come to another point in connection with the Bill, and it is one which I hope will appeal to right hon. and hon. Members, and help them to come to the conclusion that what my right hon. Friend said in his last few remarks, with regard to this Bill passing the House and becoming law this Session, claims their assistance. The question may be asked, and it is as well to answer it now in anticipation, where is the money coming from? Those who have sat in this House during the past few months, know that, when any Measure has been brought forward from this side in connection with improvements in any direction, whether with regard to the unemployment question, the building of houses, or the increase of old age pensions, the question has been: "Where is the money coming from?" There can be no question of that kind in connection with this Bill, because the money will come from the different industries, and it will be paid very largely by the workpeople themselves. I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will remember that the money for the compensation which this Bill will provide when it becomes law will be paid very largely by the workpeople themselves.
Let me prove my point by giving an example in connection with the mining industry. Under the present scheme on which the mining industry is being worked, for the purposes of finding money for this Bill the workpeople in the industry will find 83 per cent. directly, and the coalowners 17 per cent. What applies to the miners under that scheme directly, applies to all other industries in the country indirectly, and, therefore, we say that from that standpoint, hon. and right hon. Members ought to have no objection whatever to supporting this Bill. We hope the House will at least realise that the time has come when those who are maimed in the industries of the country must have more protection. A great deal is said with regard to sympathy in connection with these matters, but in this 1815 case we are not prompted merely by sympathy, but are thinking about trying to do justice to those who fall in the industrial struggle, to those whose breadwinners and associates are taken from them; and to wipe out what I think is both the disgrace and the scandal to Parliaments and politicians which has occurred in the past in connection with this Act.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
The House has enjoyed the speech we have just heard. It is, I understand, the hon. Member's first intervention in debate, and, while not entirely agreeing with all he said, I thought he spoke with great moderation and sympathy. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill made rather a bold assertion. I understood him to say the Government, having appointed a Commission, was in duty bound to adopt the findings of the Majority Report. I think that is rather a dangerous principle to adopt, and it ought not to be allowed to pass without some comment. The right hon. Gentleman tendered a very handsome apology for the short notice we have had. There are something like 47 pages in the Bill, and if an attempt is made to compare it with the Holman Gregory Report there are 80 pages in that alone and about 500 pages of evidence.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I apologised for it, but it is only fair to point out that it is the duty of every Member of Parliament to study a Report of this kind, and I was going on the assumption that every Member had read the Report which was out two years ago.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I am glad to think the right hon. Gentleman reads all these Reports. I know he has voluminous knowledge, and my respect for him is increased by the statement he has just made. I have read pretty carefully the report of the Committee and the recommendations they put forward. It is clear that under present conditions the employés do not get the full benefit of the money that is paid. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some figures. I think it was laid down in the Report that out of every £100 paid by the employers only £48 comes back in benefit to the employés. I am glad to think the insurance companies themselves have put forward suggestions 1816 for reducing the anomaly and I hope in the near future they may be adopted I certainly think 30 per cent. for profits, management expenses, commission and so on is ample for the insurance companies themselves and 70 per cent. should go to those who suffer and who are insured against accidents. May I quote a few words of the Gregory Report as to the effect of the present state of affairs. It says:The effect of the general rise of wages in recent years has been to increase the total paid by employers without any corresponding increase of liability for benefit, whereby the profits of the companies have grown in a way which was not anticipated.I think that should receive early attention from the House. Some of my hon. Friends may not agree with me here, but I think all employers ought to be compelled to insure. Most of them do. [Interruption.] I disagree with my right hon. Friend. I believe any employer who does not insure is neglecting his duties, and does not understand his own business.
Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. and gallant Friend has just said insurance companies make a profit of rather over 50 per cent. Why should not the large employers make that profit?
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I hardly think my right hon. Friend would wish to make a profit out of injuries to his own workmen. The people who are mostly to blame are the small employers who very often, when they have serious or fatal accidents to their men, go bankrupt or compound for a very small payment. I do not think it would make very much difference to the burden on industry, and I think compulsory powers should be adopted to compel all employers to ensure their employés. There is one other thing that has rather been lost sight of. This Report was written when prices were at their very highest peak. I think the cost of living at that moment was 125 per cent. to 150 per cent. above pre-war, and it is now down to 76 per cent. above pre-war. The financial provisions of the Bill require revision in view of present conditions. I should like also to call attention to another aspect of the case. I am sure hon. Members opposite will not think anything I say now is intended in any offensive spirit. I have had figures put into 1817 my hands which deal with the mining industry and they are rather remarkable. They show that the effect of the war addition tax has not been altogether what was intended. The monthly number of cases of temporary disablement rose from 6,350 to 12,231 between January, 1921, and August, 1922, and the duration of disablement altered very considerably also. These are the number of cases per 100,000 in the third quarter of 1922 compared with the percentage of cases per 100,000 in the first quarter of 1921. The periods of incapacity for less than two weeks increased by 108 per cent., two weeks and less than three weeks increased by 180 per cent., three weeks and less than four increased by 200 per cent., and the largest increase of all is between 13 weeks and less than 26, which went up to no less than 260 per cent. The inducement in compensation ought to be for the man to go back to work as soon as possible. I do not mean to insinuate that there is deliberate malingering but undoubtedly in times of bad trade, when wages are low, there has been in many districts in the mining industry a considerable tendency to lie off for longer periods than in the past.
§ Mr. G. A. SPENCER
There must be something genuine in the position because the accidents themselves have increased, which is the remarkable thing. Anything that would reduce the number of accidents would be of great service to the industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I am speaking without my figures, but I understood there had been a reduction in accidents in the mining industry. Very likely the hon. Member knows better than I do, and I accept his figures. But when we are putting up benefits, while doing all we can to treat fairly and justly the person who suffers, we must make the primary inducement for him to go back to work and not lie off.
Coming to Clause 3 it seems to me that this Clause sets up centralisation and bureaucracy in excelsis. It is impossible for all the things which hon. Members have got before them to be performed by one individual and it is impossible for the work to be done for £30,000. The Clause provides for such things as(e) the control and distribution of moneys paid under this Act in respect of 1818 totally dependent children under fifteen years of age, and for the payment of weekly allowances for such dependent children;(f) the investigation and, if thought fit, establishment of schemes of schedule rating;There are three pages in this Clause and it is ludicrous to think that all this work can be done by a Commissioner and a staff which would cost only £30,000 a year. In addition to the Commissioner I think that we should require to have a Minister in this House to answer all the questions arising out of the Act if this Bill is passed. If the Bill is adopted by the Home Secretary, I hope that this centralisation will not be continued and that it may be possible to adopt a scheme which will not be so costly. As to the main features of the Bill, whether the Government adopt it or introduce their own, there is need for reform, and there are many provisions in this Bill with which I am in sympathy and which I hope will be adopted.
Mr. W. A. JOWITT
The party of which I have the honour to be a member desire to support the Second Reading of this Bill. Any doubts which might have been in the mind of the House as to the course which they should pursue with regard to this Bill must have been dispelled after listening to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder. In reference to the Mover's speech, if it is not an impertinence on my part to say so, I cannot recall since I have been a Member of this House a speech which contrived so happily to combine the two qualities of eloquence and clear, close reasoning. So far as the speech of the Seconder is concerned I, like the last speaker, hope that the Seconder will often intervene and be heard in the Debates in this House. I do not think it necessary for a Member of this House, when supporting the Second Reading of a Bill to support all the minutiae of the Bill. I have not had the opportunity, which I should have liked, to go into the Bill, but so far as I have had an opportunity of considering it, it seems to me that there are many provisions which will require anxious and careful consideration in Committee. But the broad principle must commend itself to all sections of the House. It is not a party question. That broad principle is to arrange that workman should have a larger and more generous provision made for him in the event of injury, and if while 1819 doing that we could insure that we did not penalise employers, what section of the House could fail to support this Bill?
It seems to me that that can be done. I have received letters, since the debate which we had a few weeks ago, from employers who say that if we increase the benefits payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act we are adding the last straw which is going to break the camel's back. I hardly think that that is true. I am confident that it is not true, because the main moneys which will be required for the provision of this full and further benefit will not, it seems to me, come from the industry, but will come mainly from the insurance companies who have for some considerable time past been making what is really an unconscionable profit out of these policies. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the figures in the Holman Gregory Committee's Report, which show that over 50 per cent. of the money paid in premiums went otherwise than in benefits to the men. The figures in that Report are only up to 1918.
When we had a discussion a few weeks ago on the Motion for the consolidation of the law in reference to workmen's compensation the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Leeds (Major Birchall) quoted figures for 1921. He said that he had the material document in his hand, and therefore one must accept his figures as accurate. The figures which he gave showed that the amount paid in premiums in 1921 was £8,250,000, and the amount expended in paying benefits to the men—I call attention to the fact that in that sum I am including the cost of recovering the benefits—amounted to £3,000,000, and taking the £8,250,000 for the moment as £9,000,000 the figures mean that one-third of the money subscribed went to the men and the lawyers, one-third went to the companies, and one-third went on the cost of administration. If the scheme could be administered—I will not take a particularly high standard—with the skill and care of the War Pensions administration at the present time, without increasing the employers' contributions or increasing them only very slightly, so as to provide for these increased benefits, there is no reason why a scheme should not be run on a basis on which at least 70 per cent.—for my part I would take it at 75 per cent.—of the amounts collected in premiums would go on benefits.
1820 On the question of compulsory insurance, I am delighted that this provision has been included at last in a Bill before this House One of the most distressing experiences which one used to have as a young member of the Bar was fighting eases and winning, and then finding that the employer, who was a small man and employed one or two people, was not insured, so that one had to come repeatedly before the County Court Judge with a judgment summons for the payment of a few shillings a week which the man had never been able to pay off, with the result that he was more or less ruined, and the workman received no compensation. Coming to the controversy between the right hon. Gentleman and the last speaker, it is true in a sense to say that a big company which does not insure with an outside company is not insured, but in reference to companies which do their own insurance, and which allocate money for this purpose, the right hon. Gentleman will see that by Clause (3) of this Bill provision is made for that, and if a substantial company can satisfy the Minister, or whoever it may be, it is allowed to carry its own insurance, and in such a case that is eminently reasonable. When we talk about compulsory insurance we do not mean that companies in that position will be called on to insure. They will in future, as they do now, carry their own insurance.
Sir F. BANBURY
The provision in the Bill will compel everybody to come forward before the Commissioner and reveal all his pecuniary circumstances.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The right hon. Baronet is under a misapprehension. All that the Commissioner has to be satisfied about is that the workman is protected. Surely no employer could object to that.
He has to fill a form saying that he paid so much in wages, and he has to verify his balance sheet. No doubt that will be done by the auditor of the company, for most large limited liability companies have an auditor. In practice, therefore, it comes to this: that the secretary of the company would show what was the wage roll, and the certified balance sheet would be produced to the Commissioner, and I am certain that those companies with which the right bon. Baronet is associated would not have the slightest difficulty in satisfying the Commissioner 1821 that they were well able to pay any sum which they were called upon to pay. I am delighted to think that the area over which the new Bill is to extend is to be extended. The £250 limit figure in the old days is clearly not adequate as a limit figure to-day. In order to keep the limit on the same basis, and not to advance it, it is obvious that you must increase the £250 to some much more substantial figure. Then there are the various classes of people to be brought in—fishermen, taxi-cab men and so forth. I remember the day when everyone considered that taxi-cab people were included. I have succeeded in getting awards for compensation to taxi-cab men, and I am glad to think that they have not had to pay back the money. With regard to persons on ships, what logical reason is there why, for instance, the bandsmen on the "Titanic" or their relatives and dependants should not have been entitled to compensation? With regard to the fishing industry as a whole, I am delighted to think that the scope of the Act is to be extended.
There is the more debatable point on which the Mover of the Second Reading told us that he had departed from the recommendation of the Holman Gregory Committee. The Holman Gregory Committee, in face of a good deal of contrary opinion, recommended that the old words "arising out of and in the course of" should be adhered to. It is a little remarkable to see that a large number of witnesses, including the witnesses who represented the view of the accident offices, were of the opinion that the words "arising out of" should more properly be left out, but the lawyers or some of them—I must say a word or two about the attack which the right hon. Gentleman made upon the unfortunate class to which I belong; we are accustomed to kicks, but we sometimes get a few ha'pence and so we put up with them—thought, it undesirable to change the words, for the reason that the words "arising out of and in the course of" had been for so many years the subject of many decisions that any change would throw the whole thing back into the melting pot. They were frightened that a change would profit the lawyers again at the expense of the employers and the men. I do not think that that fear is well founded. It would be a very formidable 1822 objection if you were to embark on a new set of words altogether. But here you are still using half the old phrase, and a large number of the old cases have considered the question whether (a) the accident arose out of the employment and (b) whether it arose in the course of the employment. Therefore it seems to me that you will still have the guidance of cases already decided in determining whether the accident does or does not arise out of the course of the employment.
In the old days the theory was that it was not fair to call upon an employer to take a risk of injury to a workman unless the risk was reasonably incidental to his employment. That was why the words "arising out of" were put in. In fact those words have led to a lot of very subtle distinctions which cannot have been in the mind of the legislature at the time. I am not asking for retrospective legislation. A man whose duty it is to stand on a ladder gets struck by lightning. He comes within the Act. He is exposed to an additional risk and therefore his being struck is an action arising out of his employment. But the gardener who is cutting a hedge, and is, as it were, on the ground floor, and is exposed to no peculiar risk, is struck by lightning. That accident is not "arising out of" the employment. It really is ridiculous that the sums of money which are to be paid to men should depend upon what I may call logic-chopping of that sort. Therefore, I shall certainly support the scheme to substitute for the words "arising out of and in the course of" the words "in the course of."
For the benefit of some hon. gentlemen who may be nervous on the matter, I would say that it has been decided time after time that if a man breaks off his employment to embark on some frolic of his own—he has delivered his goods and takes his sweetheart for a joy ride—although it may be within the currency of the employment, such an accident does not arise in the course of his employment. If the words "in the course of" are in the Bill, employers will not be liable to a cases of that sort. The employer, therefore, has a reasonable safeguard. I have not had an opportunity of studying this Bill with the care I would like, but I have failed to find in the Bill any provision carrying out that recommendation of the Holman Gregory Commission which I 1823 regard as most important, namely, that where an award is made that a man shall be paid compensation at a reasonable rate, that payment is to continue until some further order is made by the County Court Judge. I have investigated some of the cases, and I am satisfied that there are cases frequently to-day in which unscrupulous insurance companies are stopping weekly payment to a man, although they know full well that he still needs that payment and is not cured, in order that they may get him into a hole whereby they may all the better bargain with him. I think I am right in saying that such a provision is not in this Bill. It was recommended by the Holman Gregory Commission and if I serve on the Standing Committee I shall certainly move that such a Clause be inserted.
With regard to the amounts to be paid, I am not quite sure that I should find myself in agreement with the basis upon which these amounts are assessed. I am glad to think that the principle is recognised that the amounts to be paid should be commensurate with the needs. That is a thoroughly sound principle, but it seems to me to be a principle which is departed from when one is considering the cases of children. If I understand rightly, if a man leaves one child of 14 or if he leaves seven children under nine the same sum exactly is paid. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am told that I am not right, but when I read the first Schedule I think I am right. Paragraph (1) (a) (ii) states that the amount of compensation shall be:Where a workman leaves a child or children under 15 years of age totally dependent upon his earnings—That would apply either to seven children or nine children or one child of 14½ years of age.—the sum of £500 in respect of such child or children.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I happened to sit on this Committee and I know the details fairly well. May I point out that the sum of £500 is a flat rate to be paid in all cases to a central fund, and obviously it will be a matter of actuarial calculation to meet from the fund the case of seven children and the case of one child equitably.
I am much obliged to the hon. Member and I fully understand his 1824 point. That was all I wanted to secure. It seemed to me you must regulate the amount to be paid according to the need in each case, and so long as it is paid into a central fund and then paid out at the rates specified here I am quite satisfied. I had not understood the matter in that way. This Bill has my cordial sympathy and support and I shall do anything I can to assist in suggesting amendments if I have not an opportunity of serving on the Committee. We know that the reform of the existing law is a project which has the sympathy of the Home Secretary. He was kind enough to express that sympathy on the Motion earlier in the Session, although he said the question of codification would have to be postponed for the present. At the same time, he recognised the urgent and clament need for a change in the present law, and he has indicated that he is going to produce a Bill of his own. I do not know how far it will depart from this Bill, but I hope the Home Secretary, if not prepared to accept this Bill, will at any rate regard it as a useful model on which to frame his own proposals.
Mr. FREDERICK HALL
I join with other hon Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate. Personally, I am delighted with the way in which the Bill has been received by all those who have spoken upon it up to the present, and it seems that the Bill will receive its Second Reading before the day is over. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), had the honour of sitting upon the Departmental Committee, and in regard to it I only offer one complaint. The Government of the day, when they appointed that Committee, pressed the Committee strongly to come to a decision and give the Government their report as soon as possible for the purpose of enabling the Government to draft a Bill in accordance with their promises. The Committee came to a decision and sent in their report and we are still without a Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "After three years!"] Yes, it was in June, 1920, that the Committee reported, and although the Government promised to bring in legislation which, on their own admission, was long overdue in connection with the compensation laws, the legislation has not yet arrived. I think the Home 1825 Secretary will go a step further than his predecessor. He has promised us a Bill which I hope will be presented to this House before the Whitsuntide Recess. Since I have been a Member of the House there has arisen a precedent upon which the Home Secretary can act, where two Bills upon the same subject, one a private Member's Bill and the other a Government Measure, were sent to the same Committee. The Committee out of the two Bills hammered out a good Bill so far as we are concerned, and that Bill is the law to-day. I am not going to refer to it by name, but there is a precedent, and I see no reason why the Government Bill on this subject and the Bill now before the House should not go to the same Committee and let the Committee do its best to evolve a good Measure out of the two. My right hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill gave several instances with regard to the effect of certain words in the present Act which have also been referred to by the hon. Member who spoke last. These words, to my own knowledge in connection with the trade to which I belong, have given rise to more contention than anything else in the compensation laws. They were the wordsaccidents arising out of or in the course of his employment.The hon. Member who spoke last gave instances showing the effect of those words. I could give hundreds of such instances from my own experience of my own trade, but I will only mention one. A man is working on a coal face, his discription being that of miner or coal getter. Another man is working on the haulage way. The miner is in the course of returning from his work in order to ascend to the surface. The haulage man has an accident in connection with his own work. The miner turns from his homeward course to render assistance and a further accident occurs in which he is involved. The man to whose assistance he went receives compensation, but he receives nothing. Scores of such cases could be given, and had I known I was going to speak to-day, I could have gone through the decisions of the various County Courts and produced many instances similar to that, because there are plenty of them on record. Honestly, I do not think there is a single 1826 Member of the House who would tolerate a system like that for a moment if they only knew the facts, and the facts are easily ascertained. I hope the Home Secretary will bring in a much stronger Bill than this. This Bill does not go as far as I want it to go. [An HON. MEMBER: "You signed the Minority Report!"] An hon. Member reminds me that I signed the Minority Report, and that is perfectly true, but this Bill does not include the minority recommendations in its Clauses. I hope the Home Secretary will not follow too closely on the lines of the Minority Report. I want him to go a step further. We all recognise that the employer is responsible for compensation, and he either insures himself with some insurance company or by the mutual association which the employers have formed amongst themselves. What we want to make clear in any new compensation law is the fact that the employer is the responsible person in the first place, that he is the person who must deal with the compensation, and that the responsibility is upon him and not upon the workmen to deal with the insurance people. It may seem strange to some hon. Gentlemen that the want of a Clause like that in the existing law has caused as great unrest in the industrial world to-day, especially in the mines, as ever was caused in connection with any matter, and it is becoming worse and worse day after day.
I want to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, of which I hope he will take note, and that when he introduces his Bill he will make some provision to rectify it. I may be told that the trade organisations are strong enough to defend themselves. I dare say they are pretty strong, but it is not always wise—that is what we are told by hon. Gentlemen opposite—to exert all the strength you have in order to compel an employer to do certain things. In 1917, 5s. per week was added to the compensation money, making the maximum 25s. In 1919, a further 10s. was added, and the maximum since that date has been 35s. instead of 20s. A large number of men in the mining industry suffer from what is called nystagmus, which has been added as an industrial disease under the compensation law. Until a year or two ago—I am speaking for the County of Yorkshire, which is not the smallest 1827 mining county in Great Britain—there was no difficulty, or at any rate very slight difficulty, with any of these cases; but it came to my knowledge when I was in Yorkshire last week end that at the present time there are more than 600 men who recently, without being submitted for medical examination, have had 15s. per week taken away from their compensation. The employers who are responsible in these cases are not small employers of labour. They are some of the largest colliery companies in the County of Yorkshire. I have lists—which I took the precaution to be supplied to me from the trade organisation—of the collieries where this has happened. Our people have done their level best, without striking, to get these people to cease doing this, and to submit the men in the ordinary way for medical examination in order to ascertain medically whether or not they are fit for work. I am not speaking without knowledge, because I have a letter which was sent from the colliery indemnity people to one of the coal owners—and if it has been sent to one you may depend upon it it has been sent to others—in which it is stated, "You must take off 15s. per week from their compensation, and then we will contend that they have some earning capacity." When will they contend it? When the men or the men's organisation has entered a case into Court for the purpose of recovering the 15s. What happens?
In the mining areas, you can enter a case to-day and it will not be brought before the court for the next four months. As agent of the miners' organisation in Yorkshire for many years, until the end of 1918, I had many complaints from men who had nothing in the world to fall back upon, no means of existence, and yet I could not get the courts to move more rapidly. Anything from three to six months elapsed before I could get a case brought to trial. In that six months there is plenty of opportunity for a man to have recovered from nystagmus, and the consequence is that although they stop his money on a given date, when he is examined six months later he is reported fit for work. Who could tell whether he was fit for work when the money was stopped? That is a point we 1828 complain about. The stopping of a man's money without submitting him to medical examination is altogether wrong, and we want the Home Secretary in his Bill to insert a Clause which will prevent anything like that from occurring under the new law, so that we may be better treated than we have been, or are being, under the present system.
I have said that the employers are responsible for the compensation, but I go further and say that they ought to be made responsible if a man meets with a serious accident or contracts a disease which is compensationable, and he may have worked for that particular firm practically all his working life. He is told now by the same people that if he meets with an accident, if he contracts a disease, he will not work for them any more. That is being done by the employers, and that is another point. In fact, that is in this letter that I have here, and if that is going to be the state of things, you can pass whatever broadminded Measure you like, but there will not be a single working man in this country who will apply for compensation, whether he has met with an accident or not, for fear of being turned adrift in the near future. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him will do all they can to make the new Bill as strong as possible, and as fair as possible between employer and employed, and make it so clear that the man himself can understand it when he reads it. In conclusion, I want to say a word in reply to what the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Col. Spender-Clay) said. He quoted some figures, which he said had been supplied to him, and afterwards I understood him to say—I do not want to misrepresent him—that he had not examined those figures that he was quoting.
Sir F. BANBURY
I do not think the hon. and gallant Member said that. He showed me the figures afterwards, and I think he said he could not be responsible for the figures, but that they had been given to him.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Baronet. In any case, the hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted figures, and I want to tell him that for the very last month fatal accidents, as far as our trade is concerned, were greater than they have been since I can remember in any one period. For 22 working days in 1829 the last month the fatal accidents in mines were 79 underground and 17 on the surface, or a total of 96. That is a greater number than I can remember, without having reference to some time back by looking up the figures. I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Office, who is making notes for his Department and his chief, will bear in mind, when the Bill is being drafted, the points that I have raised, and I hope that in some way or other they will do all they possibly can to insert something which will throw the responsibility of even going so far as to find light employment on the employer. The employers have had the best out of these men for years, these men then become maimed by accident or are disabled in some way by industrial disease contracted in their employment, and the employers then say, "No compensation, no employment; go where you like."
Let us be a little bit more humane, and do all we possibly can to put the responsibility on the right shoulders. Then there will be a chance of doing, what we are often told to tell our men to do, and that is to create a better spirit between the employers and employed. When it is reciprocated from the employers, there is every good will existing on the part of the leaders of the men to do all they can to co-operate with the employers, but when they are met with statements such as I have quoted to the House, there is no possible chance of that good will which everybody is so anxious to see brought into existence.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I should not have ventured to intervene in this discussion, and incidentally to address the House for the first time, were it not that there is an amendment to the Workmen's Compensation Act which is long overdue, urgently required, and of very special importance to a large number of my own constituents who happen to be fishermen, and, of course, to thousands of others similarly occupied in different parts of the country. It will be observed that in the Bill at present under discussion those who are known as share fishermen are brought within the scope of these Acts for the first time. That is a subject which has been one of acute controversy in the fishing industry for a great number of years, and I am not at all certain that that controversy is to any material extent 1830 diminished at the present day. That, however, is not the particular point to which I want very briefly to draw attention, and in doing so I am encouraged by the belief that there is no section of the community towards which all parties in this House would have a greater desire to act, not only with justice, but with generosity than towards these men, who earn their living on the sea, whose work has such a material effect on our food supply, and has to be carried on often under conditions calling for exceptional courage and endurance.
I would like to remind the House as to what is the position occupied by fishermen under the law as it at present stands. So far as their remuneration is concerned, fishermen may be broadly divided into two main classes, namely, those who are what are called share fishermen, that is to say, remunerated by a distinct share of the gross earnings or profits of the voyage, and those who are in receipt, on an ordinary contract of service, of a definite weekly wage, no matter what happens. So far as the latter class are concerned, there has never been the slightest difficulty, because at all times they have fully complied with the definition of workmen under the Act, so that no question arises regarding that. As far as the share fishermen are concerned, hitherto they have always been entirely outside the Act, and it will be noticed that there is this proposal, to bring them in, made for the first time. Now I want to direct especial attention to that large class of men who are not share fishermen in the proper sense of the word, and who have been held at the same time by the law not to be men in receipt of a weekly wage so as to come within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. As I ventured to remind the House just now, the inclusion of share fishermen was a subject of acute controvery when the present Act was under discussion as long ago as 1906, and in order to meet the objections that were then pressed with very considerable force, Section 7, Sub-section (2), was inserted in the Act as follows:This Act shall not apply to such members of the crew of a fishing vessel as are remunerated by shares in the profits or the gross earnings of the working of such vessel.The view taken at that time both by themselves and others was that these men were 1831 really co-adventurers or co-partners in the undertaking, and that compensation, if it had to be awarded, would necessarily come largely out of their own pockets, and that a couple of bad accidents during the voyage might destroy the whole earnings of the vessel for that trip, and, therefore, both owners and share fishermen agreed that they would prefer to be excluded. I am not sure that the position has largely changed to-day, though it may have done so to some extent, and possibly the objection which was then felt, might be met by some form of compulsory insurance on the vessel, which might be made a first charge on its earnings. At any rate, this controversy has gone on for some time. There is now the proposal to include these men in the Act, but the real grievance is with regard to men who are in truth and in fact weekly workers, but who, by a custom that has sprung up, are in receipt, in addition to their weekly-wages, of some small bonus or profit that goes by various names, according to the custom prevailing in each particular port. In some cases it is a small amount of money, which is called "stocker money," that is to say, it is money received from the sale of the less marketable kinds of fish; while in other places the men have, in addition to their weekly wages, what is described as "liver money," received from the sale of livers of the fish. These things, no matter by what name they are called, are mere perquisites, which were given, in the first place, to the apprentices for cleaning up the ship after the trip, but now, by custom, they have come to be divided amongst the crew as a whole. These sums do not amount, in some cases, to more than a shilling or two for any individual man, and yet, because they have received this trifling amount, in addition to their weekly wages, they have been held by the Courts of Law to be entirely outside the provisions and benefits of the Workmen's Compensation Act. It was a revelation to them, and their eyes were only opened when the County Court judges, in order to try to meet the undoubted hardship which had arisen, and which, in my submission, was never foreseen or intended at the time the Act was framed, tried to read into the provision the words "mainly" or "entirely," or something of that kind, so that it would only apply to those who were mainly or entirely remunerated 1832 by a share in the working of the vessel. But the House of Lords, when the matter came before them, finally held that if a man received anything in addition to his weekly wage, even if only a shilling a week, that took him outside the definition of "workman" under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and he was entirely deprived of all benefit.
I do suggest that it is a very great and an unmerited hardship, and, as a proof that it was never intended at the time the Act was framed, curiously enough the same position arose in more recent days, when the Unemployment Insurance Act was under discussion in 1920. In that Act it was first of all proposed to insert the identical words that had been originally put in the Workmen's Compensation Act, and to include under excepted employments, that of fishermen who were remunerated by a share in the gross earnings of a vessel. It was then pointed out to the Minister of Labour, who was in charge of the Bill, that it would be a gross hardship on a great many men, and to meet this he himself proposed to insert the word "wholly" in the provision, thus creating the curious anomaly that these men, even if they receive this small perquisite as "stocker money," are compelled to contribute to insurance, and yet, at the same time, are totally deprived of all compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. That, in my submission, is certainly a most serious hardship. It may seem to some hon. Members a more or less subsidiary matter, but it is one which affects thousands of men in this country to-day. Only a few weeks ago there was a case brought in a local County Court by the widow of a man who had been unfortunately killed in the course of his employment, and it was proved that he had received a sum on the average of 1s. 3d. a week as "stocker money." in addition to his weekly wage on the ordinary contract of service, and the County Court Judge was compelled, owing to the decision of the House of Lords, to hold that the widow could obtain no compensation whatever, because the man was not, technically speaking, a "workman" within the provisions of the Act.
I would prefer, at the moment, not to express any opinion as to the wisdom of including share fishermen as a whole in the Act. The proposal now before the House goes a great deal further, I think, 1833 than the recommendations of the Holman Gregory Committee. I know opinions are sharply divided about this question among members of the fishing industry and among the men who would be specially concerned, but I do submit that whenever any Amendment of the present Workmen's Compensation Act is carried into affect, there certainly ought to be some Clause inserted that will make it clear that these men, who are in reality and in fact weekly workers, are not deprived of the benefit of the Act, simply because they may receive some trifling addition by way of "stocker money," or in some other form, and I trust that steps will be taken to remove what is undoubtedly a gross anomaly and a manifest injustice to one of the most deserving classes of workers in the whole of the country.
§ Mr. W. JENKINS (Neath)
I rise for the first time in this House, and I trust I shall receive the hearing of every Member present. I support this Bill, and I hope the Home Secretary will pay attention to some parts of the Bill which I believe do not go far enough. I refer most particularly to industrial diseases. There are men, as my hon. Friend on the Front Bench said recently, who suffer from nystagmus. I have a very large number of men in my own constituency who are suffering from it. It is contended that these men are not entitled to full compensation, because it is said they are able to work, or do some kind of work, whereas in many cases it has been found afterwards that the men have suffered, in some instances to my own knowledge, for a period of eight months. Under the provisions of the Act compensation can be refused, and it is compulsory upon men to take proceedings before they can recover what is due to them. There are one or two instances about which we are not quite satisfied. The assessor or the medical referee has a right under the old Act to come into Court and sit in the. Court and give evidence on behalf of the Employer or the workman in any particular case.
We consider that both the medical referee and the assessors should be outside together and be absolutely independent of taking any part at all. They are partisans in a sense, and we think that some steps should be taken to prevent this kind of thing continuing. Men 1834 should be appointed by the State themselves to give independent evidence whether a man was or was not suffering. I have had a talk with the Home Secretary myself as to men suffering from silicosis. We have men in the mining industry suffering from this because they have been working in hard ground with boring machines, and the dust is so dry that the men suffer as a result of working in that dust. There is no provision whatever for these men to receive compensation. We believe that provision should be made for these men in precisely the same way as the others, because silicosis is an accident arising out of and in course of their employment. There is no provision at present, and I think the Home Secretary, if he is going to bring in a Bill, ought to make some provision that these men shall receive compensation.
There is another class of men who work in connection with gob-fires in our mines. We have a few, not many, in South Wales, but in one part we have gob-fires, and the men have to work in the fumes arising from these gob-fires, and after being there for a number of years they find that they are unable to follow their employment: when they apply for compensation they find that they are not entitled to it because there is no provision for it in the Act. We have medical evidence to prove that these men are suffering as a result of working in the fumes due entirely to the gob-fires in the mines. In justice and fairness, therefore, to these men, they should be entitled to compensation, because this is practically an industrial disease. I agree with previous speakers in regard to compulsory insurance. There are two cases in or near the village in which I live that I can give in support of this. In one case the colliery company became bankrupt some years ago after the man had had both legs cut off in the mine. He was entitled to compensation, but because the company went bankrupt, and were not insured, the man has never received a single penny. In the second case the colliery company also became bankrupt. Here the man had a broken spine, but because the company had not insured, here, again, the man has not received a penny-piece by way of compensation. At present both these men are living in agony—certainly the man with the injured spine—and they have had to be maintained out of parish relief, having been made paupers after 1835 their accidents. I, therefore, entirely agree that there should be compulsory insurance.
There is the other point that has been raised as to accidents arising out of and in course of a man's employment. I know a case where a miner was going from his working place temporarily, due entirely to the employers not providing materials, such as timber or rails and things of that sort. In this case he had to go a distance fo 20 yards to secure timbering, to timber his own place so that he might work in safety. He received an accident when going for the timber, and the employer and the insurance company said that he was not entitled to compensation because the accident did not arise "out of or in course of his employment." I. hope the words suggested by the hon. and learned Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt) will be accepted by the Home Secretary so that provision may be made for cases of this sort. I am here reminded by a hon. Friend near me that these men could not go on with their employment unless they did go for the timber. The men would have to leave the mines unless they could get the timber. If they were found going out, they would be asked by someone in authority at the pit bottom, "Why are you going out?" "Why do you not wait?" and they would run the risk of not being entitled to the minimum wage, or there would be some excuse of the kind put up. The men are ready and willing to work, but are not always provided with materials, and they have to go and seek them away from their working place. This is because the employers themselves have violated the Coal Mines Regulation Act in not providing the timber or other materials within a reasonable distance of the place where the men are working. It should be an obligation upon the insurance company to provide compensation for these men, and for these reasons I support the Bill.
Captain B. WATSON
May I be permitted in the name of the Whole House to congratulate the hon. Member who has just delivered his maiden speech. He has spoken in a most practical manner, with great knowledge, and I am sure that this House will always welcome his intervention in questions of legislation of the character now before us I rise to add a few words in general support of this 1836 Measure. In doing so I am voicing the views of the party to which I have the honour to belong. In giving the Bill that general support I desire to emphasise what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt), that where any one of us gives the Measure general approval one is not to be deemed to support every provision which may appear in the Bill. The view which the National Liberals take of this Measure is, that it is a very great step forward, and with goodwill in Committee I think there is no doubt that by amendment it should satisfy and give justice to both employer and worker.
In the very admirable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), in which he introduced the Bill, he said that the House generally realises the necessity of something being done. I think he might, if he had wished, have gone further than that, and have said that the whole country is desirous that something should be done and at the earliest possible moment. Those of us who represent industrial constituencies will remember that at the last election there was evidence of a very deep-seated desire on the part of almost every section of those constituencies that some amendment should be made at the earliest possible moment in the law regarding workmen's compensation. There was only one phrase in the opening speech of my right hon. Friend which I regretted to hear him use. That was where he referred to accidents arising out of and in course of a man's employment. He thought fit to say that the lawyers who were in the House at that time must have seen that this would be remunerative and, therefore, they suggested it. I think the Whole House agrees that this House in the past has received valuable help and guidance from the profession of the law. I think it is regrettable, and it would not be right, that it should go forth that at any time in this House a member of the legal profession, or indeed, a member of any profession, should sit here and suggest either a Clause or a Bill, or anything else, with the object of helping the members of his profession. I think the best evidence of that is that the Chairman who presided over that very Committee and who was a Member of the last House (Mr. Holman Gregory) did so with great skill, and 1837 with no remuneration and at great personal sacrifice. I am sure that we in this House desire to add our weed of praise to what has been said about him, and we regret that he is not still here to help us in our deliberations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reconsider what he said, will see that that is an argument which should not be pressed.
May I say how much I appreciated the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. F. Hall), and the other speeches which have been made to-day on this subject, because they have been made in the best possible spirit, with the intention of creating a better feeling between employer and workmen. That is the spirit we wish to foster, and I only regret that the hon. Member for Normanton finished an admirable speech by referring to the action of employers in the case of men who have been incapacitated by accidents. He quoted a case in which he described the employer as saying to a workman under those circumstances. "Here you are, yon have had this accident and there is no compensation for you; there is no employment and you may go where you like." Years ago I had very considerable experience in regard to these cases, and over and over again it was my duty and pleasure to have to go to an employer and ask him to find work for a man who had unfortunately been incapacitated, and I never had a case where an employer did not do his best to find work for an injured man who had been working for him.
Mr. F. HALL
When I made the statement to which the hon. Gentleman has referred it was only applicable to the last few months.
I am glad to accept that qualification, because in my own experience I have never known anything of that sort happen. There is another part of this Bill which I welcome very much, and that is the part dealing with the consolidation of the law in regard to Workmen's Compensation. I think it is most particularly to be desired in legislation of this character that we should get rid, as far as possible, of that pernicious system of legislation by 1838 reference, and in Acts of this sort which had to be studied by those who unfortunately are often illiterate and not versed in legal phraseology it is necessary that the meaning of the Act should be given in the most easy terms, so that work-people should be able to find out both their rights and their remedies with as little difficulty as possible. As I said in my opening remarks, I approve generally of this Bill and I particularly welcome the recommendation which appears in the report of the Holman Gregory Committee, and I am glad to see that the first part of that recommendation appears in the Bill, namely, in the Clause which provides thatthe Registrar of a County Court shall give information free of cost to injured workmen or their dependants Os to the benefits provided by the Act and the necessary procedure to protect their rights.I am very sorry indeed that the other portion of the recommendation of the Holman Gregory Report which appeared in the same Clause does not also appear in the Bill. That is one of the things about which I have a mental reservation and which I think might possibly be included when we come to the Committee stage upstairs. It is a recommendation that the County Court Registrars may act as mediators between the employer and the injured workmen upon the request of both parties, and if both parties consent and in the event of a dispute the matter to be referred to the medical referee whose certificate shall be final. I shall be very glad if that recommendation of the Holman Gregory Committee can be inserted in the Bill during the Committee stage. It has been said by some hon. Members that, this Bill is one-sided, and leans far too much on the side of the workers. I think that is a criticism which does not apply, because I find in this Measure quite a number of cases which I think are most valuable in the interests of the employer. In the first Schedule, paragraph (4), it is provided that
There is also later on in the Clause a similar provision which will be a great help to employers with regard to workmen receiving weekly payments. I quote that as something in the Bill which is certainly not only in the interests of the workmen, but also in the interests of the employer, and it will be found very useful indeed. Personally, I do not think that this is a one-sided Bill. I should like to conclude by saying that, in my opinion, this Bill is a very great step forward, and I hope it will find its way on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment. For these reasons I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
- "(a) Where a workman has given notice of an accident, he shall, if so required by the employer, submit himself for examination by a duly qualified medical practitioner provided and paid by the employer.
- (b) If such workman refuse to submit himself to such examination or in any way obstructs the same, his right to compensation and to take or prosecute any proceedings under this Act in relation to
1839 compensation, shall be suspended until such examination has taken place."
§ Mr. ELLIS
With regard to the reference made by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. F. Hall), as one representing a coalmining part of the West Biding of Yorkshire, and as one interested in that industry, I believe that nothing of the nature which I thought was suggested was at present going on in any of the pits with which I have any connection. I find it difficult to believe that, under the relations which at present exist between two sides, it is possible for such a position to continue without something being done either by one side or the other to put an end to it. If what the hon. Member states is true, it is very deplorable indeed.
§ Mr. ELLIS
My hon. Friend says that it is true. Then I hope that representations will be made and that no time will be lost in letting us know who are the people doing this sort of thing. So far as the interests which I represent are concerned, there is nothing of that kind going on in our pits, and it is all to the bad in the industry if such a thing goes on in other pits. One of the most important things that we have to consider in connection with this or any other amending Bill is the position of the fund from which compensation is drawn. It has been said that we ought to have compulsory insurance. It is easy to deal with a difficulty in a general way, but it is necessary to bear in mind that compulsory insurance may in some cases cause 1840 a great deal of hardship. I think we ought to consider first, this point of view Wherever you have industries capable of being split up into sections, in so far as different classes of work are concerned, it would be a good thing if some kind of mutual indemnity insurance could be formed just as it has been formed in the coal industry. It would be a good thing for a double reason. Where a man in industry passes from one pit or factory to another, under such a scheme all the employers would be responsible for the proper protection of his interests in the trade wherever he might happen to go. It might be applicable, and I hope it would be, to an industry which has grown up in the last two or three years. I mean the electrical distribution industry. It would be a benefit in the textile trade, or at least in parts of the textile trade. In making this recommendation, however, one must bear in wind the suggestions which are now being put forward for unemployment insurance by trades. This may lead to dealing with industry in such a way that insurance of all kinds will be brought under one head. I know that it is a controversial question, but at the same time, when amendments of the law are being made, it should be borne in mind what it is hoped to do in general with regard to insurance by industries.
This method of insurance has an advantage in another way. Clause 3 of the Bill, if it be ever carried out, will be a benefit under any scheme of mutual insurance. If an industry deals with its own insurance, it is inevitable that before long you must have some form of Committee composed both of employers and employed, and, looking at Clause 3 of this Bill, it seems to me that many of the proposals therein would be much better carried out by local committees of the industry than they could be by some rigid form of application to the Court or to the arbitrator. At any rate, it would have this benefit that such committees composed of people entirely belonging to the trade would understand the conditions of the trade in a way that no outsider could possibly understand them. It would also have the further benefit that they would probably work in such a way that their operations would be carried on at practically no cost.
I must say that, in one respect, I view this Bill with some apprehension, because 1841 of the suggestion made to establish a new officer in the form of a Commissioner. I cannot believe that £30,000 would be sufficient if this officer is to carry out his duties efficiently. If he be established at all, it will happen, as it always does happen in the case of new Departments, that the amount of money found for him will not stop at £30,000, but will go on increasing until everybody concerned is satisfied. There appears to be rather a mixture of officials in the Bill. The Registrar of Friendly Societies is mentioned, a new Commissioner is mentioned, and certain obligations are put down in this Bill which are really duties which ought to be performed under the Factory Acts. It is far better in a Bill of this kind to deal solely with the subject under consideration and not to mix it up with the powers and duties of various Departments. If it be necessary to set up a new Commissioner of a new Department, surely it should be considered whether the Department of the Registrar of Friendly Societies, which I understand is going to deal with industrial insurance, could not be extended to look after some of the duties which are to be imposed on this new Commissioner. I hope, whatever is done in the way of amending the Act now in force (whether by this Bill or by the Bill which we understand that my right hon. Friend intends to bring in) there will be a clear definition—such as has been asked for by hon. Members opposite, so that there shall be no difficulty in everyone understanding it, of what is meant by a man's employment. The instances given by hon. Members opposite have been such as to make one feel that there should have been an alteration long ago. I hope I am wrong, but I feel that in giving those instances there has sometimes been a suggestion by hon. Members that the treatment complained of has been owing to want of feeling on the part of employers, when, as a matter of fact, the employers have simply relied upon what they believed to be their rights under the Act.
§ Mr. ELLIS
When you are dealing with an insurance company, you base your costs on certain things, and you pay for those things. Employers pay their premiums on certain terms and conditions, 1842 and, when art employer is called upon by an insurance company to hand over to them the right to deal with a case, my hon. Friend knows that it becomes a question for the insurance company and not for the employer.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Very often there is no difference between the company and the employer. They are the same party.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I admit that, but I want my hon. Friend to understand that it is not just to blame the employer for taking advantage of the law as it exists to-day. It is quite another thing to say that the law ought to be altered. Many employers, and, I hope, all employers who consider their industry worth following at all, believe in some alteration and amendment of the law. I do hope it will not be said that, because an employer takes the law as he finds it, and avails himself of the opportunities afforded for insurance, he has been guilty of any dereliction of moral duty in that respect.
So far as this Bill is concerned, I certainly have every intention of voting for it. I hope that this Bill, together with any Measure which the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring in later, will be thoroughly discussed upstairs in Committee and that all of us will have an opportunity of dealing with it. Beyond that, I hope where special trades are covered by this Bill—and what trades are not concerned with it? There are the big industries, such as the textile trade, the iron and coal trade, and the electrical power trades—that the two sides of the trades will meet together before this subject comes to be discussed by the House. Then, when we have to deal with it in Committee, we shall probably find that a great many of the difficulties which we believed to have existed will have disappeared when the time comes to make changes in the Bill upstairs. Then we shall all be able to get along much faster, because we shall have agreed on broad general principles, and not have to discuss details in order to find out how much we agree and disagree.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Many things have happened which make it very desirable indeed that the Workmen's Compensation Law should be amended. Not the least of these has been the very serious change in the cost of living. The recommendations made, apart altogether from 1843 the cost of living, by the Holman Gregory Report, suggest a figure of 66⅔ per cent. for what is now only 50 per cent. I have never been capable of seeing upon what definite principle the 50 per cent. or any other arbitrary figure rested. The 60⅔ per cent. is just as much an arbitrary figure as the 50 per cent. I want to make it perfectly clear, as far as we are concerned, that we follow what I think is the general law of equity that, wherever a man suffers any injury from any cause whatever, he has a right to full compensation for that injury. If an hon. Member on the other side of the House motors through the Strand, and, because of some negligence on the part of some driver, his oar becomes damaged, he will not sue for 66⅔ of 100 per cent., but for the whole 100 per cent. of the damage that has been done. If that be equitable, so far as property is concerned, it should naturally follow that it is equity so far as human life is concerned.
I am not going to question the wisdom of the 66⅔ per cent. I only put in a caveat, and say that so far as we are concerned we do not accept it as a sacred figure. Compromise, after all, is the law of change and of progress. If we do acquiesce in this 66⅔ per cent., it is because we realise that there has to be a give and take in this particular question. I am not going into the question fully with regard to the desirability of this change. It has already been argued at some length to what extent the worker and his family have been seriously affected by the change. I think I can dismiss altogether the question of total incapacity. Provision has been made to compensate a man, to a certain extent, for total incapacity. With regard to fatal accidents, however, nothing has been done since 1906, and the widow, who is left with three or four little children, finds herself in precisely the same position as the widow of 10 years ago. I had a very painful experience some considerable time ago. I had to attend an inquest, where a woman was left with throe children, and a fourth came afterwards. The husband's death occurred just at the time when the cost of living was extremely high. Three years afterwards that widow came to me, and said, "What am I going 1844 to do, Mr. Spencer? The whole of my £300 compensation has been spent in three years." What was £300 for three years for a widow and four children, when prices were so very high? The House will readily admit that that £300 would necessarily be too small for a widow and four children in that period, and that actually was the case. Now the widow is destitute, and her children have to depend on the rates for subsistence.
I am quite convinced that the House readily sympathises with cases of that kind and that, so far as it possibly can, consistent with what it conceives to be the stability of industry, it is prepared to meet such cases. Whatever we may do with regard to that particular point, there is still another matter to which reference has been made. That is in regard to the part compensation. Certain changes in the law have taken place. If nothing else had transpired, if there had been no change in the cost of living, if the 50 per cent. of the lump sum, which is allowed in cases of accident, had been considered in itself perfectly accurate, the changes in the law have made it very desirable that there should be an amendment, at least, of the Workmen's Compensation Act.
I think I shall be perfectly justified in saying that the Government are very sympathetic towards putting the workman back again into the position in which he thought he was some time ago; when, if there were a very serious accident or a fatal accident, he would be assured of his compensation—notwithstanding the fact that there was wilful misconduct, a man who had met with a serious or fatal accident was not debarred from compensation. Certain decisions in the Law Courts have now laid it down that if a man violates some statute, that that man is performing an act which is not within the scope of his employment, and consequently he is deprived of the advantage of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Whatever we may say with regard to certain acts of men, there are certain acts of men, and there is certain conduct of men, in the performance of their work, which are calculated, though they are a violation of law and of statute, to forward the industry itself. I can give a good many illustrations of that. I am dealing with at least two at the present time. 1845 I do not want to mention one of them, because it is sub judice, being at present before the Law Courts. I will deal with another case. In this instance a man was working on a haulage train of trams running backwards and forwards at less than three miles an hour. Now, he is justified in riding upon the top of the tram, but he is not justified, under the Statute, in riding upon what is known as the clivy, although one knows perfectly well that it is quite a natural thing for a man to do when the train is travelling at that rate. He does it in order to speed up the transit of the coal upon the road. A man who is over-zealous in that way in the performance of his duty will do this, as hon. Members who are connected with the mining industry know, and the officials are content so long as no accident happens; but if an accident happens the man is deprived of the advantage of the Workmen's Compensation Act. What I want to say is that, if a man meets his death through being over-zealous in the interests of his employer, although he may have violated some Statute or technical Regulation, that misconduct should not, in the case of a serious or fatal accident, deprive him of his compensation.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Because it is an act which the man has done thousands of times, and may do thousands of times more, without any accident arising from it. If it is laid down that a man must not violate any law or Regulation, especially in the case of the coal-mining industry, you will add 50 per cent. to the cost to-morrow. It is a well-known fact that it is an impossibility to work the mines economically to-day if every Regulation is carried out strictly according to the letter id the law. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I have a little more experience than he has. He may have some theoretical knowledge of the mines, he may be more acquainted with the commercial side, but as far as the practical side is concerned, I know that what I am stating is correct. Therefore, I say that in cases of this character, if a man is guilty of some slight misconduct, it should not deprive him of his compensation.
There is another point to which I want to turn, namely, the giving of notice. It was once thought by the workmen that, if they gave verbal notice to an official at 1846 a mine or works, that verbal notice was sufficient, and that, having given it, they would be entitled to compensation. Now the Law Courts have decided that that is not sufficient, but that, in addition to the verbal notice that he may give to an official in the factory, the mine or elsewhere, the workman must also give a written notice stating the nature and character of the accident; and if he fails to give the written notice, and subsequently finds that the injury he has received has incapacitated him, the Judge, if the case is taken into Court, has no option but to non-suit the man and thereby deprive him of compensation. In this Bill there is no provision with regard to verbal notice being sufficient. I suggest that it ought to be held that verbal notice is sufficient, provided it is given to a responsible official in the works, colliery or factory, in the presence of some witness. I say that because, especially in the mines, a myriad of small trivial accidents occur which in the ordinary course the workman would not think of reporting. He might say to the deputy as he passes through the stall, "I have cut my finger," and he sees it there bleeding, but he would not think it sufficient to give him a written notice. Perhaps, however, in a fortnight or three weeks, septic poisoning sets in, and, because he has not given, in addition to the verbal notice, a written notice stating the nature, date and character of his accident, he is deprived of compensation. I put it to the House whether that is a fair position to take up. Ought it not to be sufficient to secure the man his compensation if he gives verbal notice to a responsible official in the presence of some witness?
There is another provision with regard to the discretionary powers of the Court to fix part compensation. Here, again, recent decisions in the Courts have shown that the Courts possess very wide discretionary powers, but, as the Statute stands to-day, the advantage goes all one way, and that is in the interests of the colliery Company. Let me state a case as an illustration. Suppose that a man 10 years ago met with an accident, perhaps losing a leg or an arm, his wage at that time being very low, say, 32s. a week. Then wages rise, but now he would have no part compensation, because the wage he is getting owing to the rise is higher than his pre-accident wage, though if he were in a lower status and had received 1847 no injury his wage would be £1 or 30s. higher. The Judge has no power whatever to give a man any part compensation in such a case. Let me, however, take the other side, and suppose that, instead of the man having a low pre-accident earning, he had a high pre-accident earning. Then the employer says, "I am not going to pay you half difference"—which is considered to be the lowest—"between what you are earning now and your pre-accident earnings. I am going to take you into Court, and get the Judge to say that you are not to be assessed upon the difference between your pre-accident earnings and your present earnings, but upon the difference between your present earnings and what you would be getting in your pre-accident capacity and status in consequence of the reduction of wages." Therefore, instead of getting, perhaps, £1 a week, half difference, the man gets only 10s. It means, in fact, that when there is a low pre-accident earning, and there is an increase in wages, the man gains no advantage; but if there is a high pre-accident earning, and there is a fall in wages, then the owner gets a great advantage and the workman gets none. This Bill attempts to make some provision for the equalisation of the position—that is to say, when wages go down the employer shall have the right to go to Court and say that the man shall have a less part difference, which is natural, and fits the wage and compensation to the general standard of living of the day; but, on the other hand, if there is an increase in wages, then the man has a right to go to Court and say he must now have his part compensation adjusted to meet the general situation.
I now want to deal with a question which was referred to by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. W. Jenkins), and which, so far as I am concerned, is a very important point. I believe it to be a very sound position that no medical referee should act as an expert for either side. No referee can inspire confidence in either side if he is acting as an expert witness for the other side. I am confident that if the workmen see in Law Court a man giving evidence on behalf of the owners they will have no faith whatever in him when he leaves the witness box and comes to deal with a case in his capacity as medical referee. On the other hand I am convinced that if a 1848 medical referee goes into the Law Courts on behalf of the workmen, representations would very soon be made by the owner that he was not a fit and proper person to discharge his duties as medical referee. At present they are doing that, and I am not over-stating the case when I say that in my locality the men have lost every atom of faith in the medical referee. He may be faithfully discharging his duties, but that is not the point. When he is seen in the Law Courts giving evidence as an expert witness for the owners that is enough to rob him of the confidence the men would probably otherwise repose in him.
But there is a far more serious point. I was going to put down a question about this, but I have given the right hon. Gentleman a hint about it and I knew I should probably have an opportunity of speaking on it. The referee, whoever he is, should agree with the Schedule as to industrial disease. The Act deals withminers' nystagmus, whether oscillation is present or not.In a recent case in my county in which I was very interested the medical referee appeared as a witness. We made sure before we started the case that notes should be taken by the Court, so that every word I am saying can be verified. Our counsel put this question to the medical referee:Do you believe that when oscillation has finished nystagmus is not present?He said,Yes.That man is acting as a referee, and the Act definitely statesthe disease known as miners' nystagmus, whether oscillation is present or not.I said to the referee in that Court:I am going to put a question down to the Home Secretary asking him whether you are a fit and proper person to act as a medical referee.He said,Oh, I do not take that standing when I act in the capacity of medical referee.Would any hon. Member give any credence to a statement of that kind? If a medical referee cannot subscribe, from the point of view of his profession, to the description of a disease in this Schedule he should resign.
There is a further point in regard to the medical referee. It is suggested in this 1849 Bill that his decision should be final. I do not agree with that. I can best give my reason by stating a case, and I think the House will agree that there is a hardship which ought to be got over in some way or other. I can suggest one or two ways in which it could be got over. A man had contracted, as he thought, miners' nystagmus, and he got a certifying surgeon's certificate. The company questioned the validity of the certificate and sent him through the Registrar to the medical referee. The referee said he has not got nystagmus and he could get no compensation there, although his eyes were in such a sorry state that it was an impossibility for him to do any work. So he turned to National Health Insurance. He said he was supposed to be suffering from nystagmus. They said he could get no benefit and they sent him to the regional doctor who certified that he was suffering from nystagmus, so he could get nothing and he committed suicide. The medical authorities differ and the man is ground between the upper and lower mill stones of medical diagnosis. Under those circumstances the referee's decision should not be final. In drafting his own Bill, I suggest that the Home. Secretary should make provision that, if there is a conflict of opinion between the medical referee under Workmen's Compensation and the regional doctor under the National Health Insurance, a third person should be appointed to decide. That is a very reasonable request and I hope the Home Secretary will be able to accede to it.
There are several provisions in this Bill, which is supposed to be our own, Which we cannot entirely subscribe to, and we think it does not go far enough with regard to nystagmus. I could go into a recent report of the Medical Research Committee in which they agree that associated with that disease is the question of psycho-neurosis, and when nystagmus is supposed to have gone and the oscillation has ceased the man is in such a nervous state that it is almost impossible for him to perform any useful service at all. The worst thing that can happen to a man who is suffering from nystagmus is to cease work altogether, If my right hon. Friend can do nothing else, if he can get the colliery owners on the one hand and the workmen on the other, with himself acting as intermediary, to formulate some scheme for the continued 1850 employment of these nystagmus cases he will perform one of the greatest services which any Home Secretary can perform. There is nothing to-day affecting so seriously the mining community, owners and workmen alike, as this fell disease. We have cases on record, according to statistics in his own office, of men being on weekly compensation for total incapacity for over 10 years. As a man with some practical knowledge of this thing I say that if those men had been continued at work on the surface, in suitable employment, with suitable provision, the possibilities are that the disease would have gone long ago. The greatest factor in keeping the disease alive is anxiety and the greatest anxiety which a man can have is having no work to do and nowhere to go.
Sir JOHN COLLIE
As one who has been associated with the Workmen's Compensation Act for more than 20 years, I desire to refer to some points both of omission and commission in this Bill. Unfortunately, it was not until late last night that I had an opportunity of reading the Bill, and with the hurried glance which I was compelled to give I may have omitted to notice some features of importance. There is one point, however, to which I would like to draw attention, that is the disparity that exists between the payments under the Workmen's Compensation (War Addition) Act, 1917, to those who are partially incapacitated and those who are permanently incapacitated. The House is aware that that Act increased the compensation for those who are totally incapacitated by 75 per cent., but, notwithstanding the difficulties with regard to food supplies, no increase was made with regard to those who are only partially incapacitated. In February I put a question on this point to the Home Secretary, and the reply I got was that, as he was considering the introduction of a Bill, no useful purpose would be served by going into further detail at the present moment. I therefore had to content myself with the fact that the Home Secretary is to introduce a Bill. I suggest that, as no mention of the matter to which I have referred is made in this Bill, the forthcoming Bill brought, in by the Government, should deal with this question. It is an important point, because many men who are partially incapacitated are really totally incapacitated owing to the circumstances of the 1851 times. This is not the first time this question has been raised. I have gone to the trouble of referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the discussion which took place when the 1917 Bill was before the House, and I find that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Watson), who has just addressed the House, said:I can find no logical reason why the Bill should be limited to the case of total incapacity. The whole of the Act of 1906 was on the basis of total or partial incapacity. In that Act there is discretion to the County Court Judge to award quite as much in an action in the case of partial incapacity as in the case of total incapacity."—[OFFICAL REPORT, August 14th, 1917; col. 1110, Vol. 97.]The Speaker, however, ruled that as the Bill was then in the Committee Stage this question could not be referred to as it enlarged the scope of the Bill. Nevertheless I think that an Amendment now on this line would remove what I consider to be an obvious injustice. It may, after all, be that it is in the Bill, and that I have not come across it in the short time at my disposal, but if not I cannot understand how the framers of the Bill have not noticed this point and attempted to rectify it.
Turning to the Bill itself, I find that the Commissioner who is to be appointed, and whose services I think will be a great acquisition, will have, among other duties, to see to the establishment of schemes of surgical and medical treatment of, and for training in suitable places for, all workmen entitled to a weekly payment under the Act. I think that that is an excellent provision. I can say so as the result of daily experience of these Acts. I know nothing that will hasten the recovery of injured men, diminish suffering, and restore men who are anxious to work, to their rightful places in the industrial community. It will, above all, save what I have noticed is one of the great troubles of these partial incapacity cases, namely, that the work habit is so quickly lost.
Mention has been made of medical referees. I wish to speak exclusively of the question of medical referees who sit with the Judge. The House is aware that at present the Judge can summon a medical referee, appointed by the Home Office, to sit with him on the Bench and advise him. He need not take his advice 1852 unless he likes, but he can have the medical referee. That is not so in the case of the applicant. If an applicant wants a medical referee he cannot have it unless the other side also agree. This Bill proposes, I think very rightly, to amend that, but there again it seems to me astonishing that my hon. Friends should have agreed to take away with one hand what is given with the other, for it says that the Judge shall summon such a medical referee on the understanding that the second party applying shall bear the expense of the medical referee's fees. A workman should not have to give security for the payment of Court fees. If it is right to have a medical referee in the one case, surely it is right that the applicant should have a referee if he wishes for one. If he wishes it and it is right, why should he be asked to pay for it?
There has been one very serious omission from all the Acts. If a man loses an eye in the execution of his duty, when at work arising out of and in the course of his employment, and that injury is due to a defect in plant or to any cause for which the employer can be made liable, the workman can sue his employer and he can obtain damages, to the extent that he can induce a Judge and jury to give damages to him. Thus he can get compensation for the loss of his eye, if anything can compensate him. Under the Ministry of Pensions, if a man lost an eye during the War, he was entitled for life to 50 per cent. of the sum of money which he received at the time of the injury, and that sum, in the case of non-commissioned officers, as it is based on the size of a man's family, may sometimes be considerable. I do not say it is too much. Compared with it, the sum paid to men under the Workmen's Compensation Act is grossly inadequate. If a man under the Workmen's Compensation Act loses an eye during his employment, what is his position? If it is a very serious injury he goes to an ophthalmic surgeon, who forthwith removes the eye for the sake of the uninjured eye. It is not a difficult or serious or very terrible operation, and I have seen men recover in a fortnight. Let us assume three weeks' illness as the result of the operation, and another fortnight in the country to recuperate. Then the man comes hack. Such men have come to me, and I have known them to say, "I will not go back." I have 1853 asked the reason. They have replied, "Where is the compensation for the loss of my eye?" I confess that I have felt ashamed when I have had to explain to them, "My man, the only compensation you get is half wages for four or five weeks. Now you must go back, and there is nothing more for you." I cannot convince them, but I generally send them to a lawyer, and he convinces them.
It is true that something is done for these men. [HON. AIEMBERS: "Not always."] Not always, but in the case of the large corporations, which I have the honour to serve, I invariably recommend that these people shall be given work under altered conditions, so that if a workman has lost one eye he shall not again work under the conditions that resulted in the injury. But all employers of labour cannot afford to do that, or they have not the opportunity. Some may not care to do it. I am sorry that the framers of this Bill have not dealt with the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Moderation!"] It is immoderate moderation. Something must be done in this direction. I am in entire sympathy with the spirit of this Bill. These compensation Acts have done a great deal for the working man. I think they help to cement the feeling of good will between employers and employed. I hope that the House in this Bill, and in the one which may follow from the Home Secretary, will see to it that the blots which I have endeavoured to point out are obliterated.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think it will be agreed that we have had a Debate full of interest, and that the law with which this Bill endeavours to deal requires amendment. To take one side of the matter alone. If the 75 per cent. war addition were taken off altogether, we should find ourselves back to where we were in prewar times. I am not arguing whether it is too high or too low, although it is only fair to say that at present it is on the high side. If there were no other consideration but that, it would be necessary to amend the law. But there have been brought forward many other considerations which make it necessary to amend the law. That is fully recognised on all sides. This is a subject in which all parties have taken an interest from the beginning to the end. It is a subject that we have been learning all the time. But we have made slow progress and have 1854 profited slowly by our mistakes, if we have learned at all. I am certain, however, that something has to be done. I have already stated that the Government intend to introduce a Bill of their own. I hope to get it printed before Whitsuntide and to get a Debate upon it immediately afterwards. Let me say what is the attitude of the Government to the Bill now before us. The Mover of the Second Reading made the simple suggestion that, because the previous Government had set up the Holman Gregory Committee, the present Government were pledged to carry out in full all that Committee's recommendations. That is a doctrine which I cannot accept for this or any other Government. I am sure that the Government which set up the Committee never undertook to carry into law every recommendation made by the Committee, and still less is it possible to contend that the present Government is bound to every item in that report.
It must be remembered that the Committee's Report was issued in the middle of the year 1920. That was at the top of the trade boom, when prices were almost as high as they have ever been. I think they were 170 per cent. above par, and they rose to 176 shortly afterwards. Although it may have appeared then that industries were prepared for a charge like that, at such a time of prosperity, it is obvious that the same figures cannot be applicable at a time when the cost of living is only 74 per cent. above par. It is only right that the House should remember the subsequent history of the Report of that Committee. My predecessor at the Home Office called together the representatives of the workmen and the employers to see if they could arrive at a joint agreement for dealing with this question. He made great efforts to bring the parties together, but I am sorry to say those efforts were not successful. I have not attempted to bring about any meeting between the two parties because I am advised by those who can speak for either side that it would be a waste of time. Therefore, when the Government Bill is introduced, it will probably be a Bill which will endeavour to steer between the extreme views of both parties, and will satisfy neither of them. I quite admit that this particular Bill is, in many respects, marked by restraint and moderation, but it has been hinted by several 1855 speakers that this is simply a tactical move and that it should not be difficult to improve very largely or extend very widely some of its Clauses.
What I have to say is, therefore firstly, that I cannot admit the Government are pledged to the Holman Gregory Report; and, secondly, I issue a note of warning that I cannot myself agree that figures which might have been possible when that Report was made, are applicable at the present moment. There has not been much said to-day about the arrangement with the insurance companies. In other Debates it has been pointed out that the amount recovered from the insurance companies is miserably small compared with the amount that goes in. In that I entirely agree. It is appalling to look at the figures that could be shown for some past years and I am very glad to be be able to feel that the insurance companies themselves recognise that some improvement is necessary. It has been said by some speakers that they did agree with the Holman Gregory Committee to a 70 per cent. return out of the 100 per cent. paid in, but I have spoken to them on this subject and they point out that at that time they were in a much better financial position than they are in now, and they do not admit that the agreement they made with the Holman Gregory Committee at that time binds them to anything at the present moment. I think it is not quite reasonable to say they shall be bound or can be bound by those figures. At the same time, I feel it is essential that they should produce more for the benefit of the workman who applies for compensation than they do at present.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not care whether they are behind me or in front of me. I am quite certain the general public are of one opinion on this subject, and think that more should be returned than has been returned in the course of past years. Therefore I hope that some arrangement will be made, even though it will not be as good as that which was made with the Holman Gregory Committee. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt) that everybody would like to see as much compensation as is possible without crippling the employer, but to my mind 1856 it is not a question of crippling the employer so much as of crippling industry, and we must be moderate in view of that consideration. As far as insurance goes, it is true that a very large number of the industries are self-insured, and therefore do not deal with the insurance companies in order to meet the requirements which they have to face under the Act.
A large part of the discussion to-day has centred round cases which have been ruled out owing to the words "arising out of" in the Act. That is one departure which the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has made from the Holman Gregory Report, and I do not blame him for it. It is not however a very easy question. I could quote far more, and even worse instances than those the right hon. Gentleman quoted, of what seem to be gross injustices, resulting from these words. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. G. A. Spencer) I think put it very well. I understood him to say that where a man had gone off to do something totally different from his employment, where he was not engaged in his work or business, but had gone off on a joy ride—I think that was the phrase used—that it could not be claimed that such a man was entitled to compensation. What we are trying to do is to draw the line between what could not be legitimately claimed as the work of the employer and what could be so legitimately claimed.
§ Mr. G. A. SPENCER
I must not assume laurels which are not mine. I think it was the hon. Member for the Hartlepools who made that statement.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think it was the hon. Member for Broxtowe who made the statement I have in mind. I will read his speech, but I am quite sure he used words which came very near to expressing what I should like to express myself. It is this—where a man generally thinks he is advancing the work of his employer, it is unfair that he should be ruled out by the words "arising out of." That is a point on which we should all agree. There is also the question as between a fatal accident, or one which causes permanent disablement, and a trivial accident. I think, as regards the trivial accident, if a man breaks rules it is a kind of carelessness for which he ought to suffer.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I hope we are all trying to do the best we can for those affected, but we want to have justice; we want to have safety, and we want to make a man less ready to break the rules and risk, not only his own life, but the lives of his fellow workmen. For my own part, I would be more inclined to be severe on a man who suffered a trivial accident through carelessness than on the relations of the man who has met with death or total disablement in the same circumstances. I cannot believe there is anybody who would act carelessly in a case where he knew that it would cause grave danger, merely because he thinks his wife will get £200 or £300. It seems quite absurd. Therefore I think, with these limitations, sometthing should be done. I do not say I would go so far as striking out the words "arising out of" altogether, but something should be done to prevent the use of these words debarring men who generally thought they were doing the best they could for their employer, from getting compensation because of some trivial rule or some want of instruction.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will think they are any better, but I will try to get some words which will, in my opinion, do justice. [An HON. MEMBER: "They cannot be worse than the present words."] I hope the hon. Member will like my words. In regard to the position of the Government on this Bill, I may say that I hope to introduce my Bill very shortly. I have spoken to the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the subject of his Bill, and pointed out to him that if mine was introduced as quickly as I hope it will be, and goes to a Committee, it will be open to the party which he represents, and to everybody else, to move Amendments to it, and that that course would be the most rapid way of bringing this legislation into law. It is impossible for two Bills on the same subject to be running side by side in Committee upstairs. Two similar Bills are sometimes referred to a Select Committee, but that is a very slow process. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed with me that the Government, in order to show that they feel that something ought to be done, although they do 1858 not commit themselves to the details of this Bill, will not oppose the Second Reading, and the party opposite will undertake not to try to run these two Bills concurrently upstairs, but will give the Government Bill precedence and move Amendments to it. I also hope that when we get the Second Reading of my Bill we shall not take up a great deal of time in covering the same points that we have covered this afternoon.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
May I express the gratitude of the party to which I belong for the extremely generous discussion that has taken place? I speak because I happen to be one of the three Members who signed the Minority Report of the Holman Gregory Committee, and I still hold to the opinion that I signed in that Report. I still hold that when a man has been injured at his work the man ought certainly not to suffer financially as well as physically. Although I hold to these opinions, my party has decided that in order to get something done we should present a Bill on the lines of the Holman Gregory Report, believing that that is the only possible way of effectively remedying the present position of affairs. To the critics of the Bill on our own benches, and to the hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Liberal benches and who accused us of being too modest, may I say that it is not modesty at all, but simply a desire to get something done quickly to remedy what will be, if the War Additions Act runs out, an intolerable state of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman who presented the Bill said that those who feel that the Bill does not go far enough will have an opportunity upstairs of doing what they can to improve the Bill. As far as we as a party are concerned, we have definitely produced the Bill on the lines of the Holman Gregory Committee's Report, with the idea of getting the House to accept it. We owe a debt of gratitude for the work done by Mr. Holman Gregory. I heard the ex-Home Secretary state that the Holman Gregory Committee's Report was one of the best Departmental Reports he had ever seen. I, as a member of the Committee, would like to say that, very largely, the Report was the work of Mr. Holman Gregory himself, and the House will wish to pay a debt of gratitude to him and to the technical staff from the Home Office for 1859 producing a Report which was based upon an enormous amount of evidence which had taken months to acquire and had been very carefully sifted by the Chair man and the staff.
May I now deal with some of the statements that have been made to-day? The Home Secretary acknowledges no responsibility for pledges given by previous Governments. May I point out that the majority of his supporters are people who were sitting on the Government Benches in the last Parliament, and there is some little responsibility for the pledges of their former partners.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I did not say that this Government is not responsible for any pledges given by any previous Government. What I did say was that I do not think that either the previous Government or this Government or any other Government would pledge itself necessarily to carry out the recommendations of any Committee that they set up.
§ Mr. SHAW
I accept that. There is only uric thing that counts with me for the moment, and that is the quickest way of getting something effective done. I want to call attention to one fact. It was stated very definitely by the right hon. Gentleman, and it has been stated by other speakers, that the Holman Gregory Report was based on an extraordinary condition of affairs, when prices were at their highest. The Committee was perfectly well aware of the abnormal state of affairs, and its findings were not based on the extraordinary conditions which still existed, but were based on a computation of what might exist. Certainly in the Committee the abnormal condition of affairs was never lost sight of. I know that that predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman brought together two of the sides of the triangle that the Committee had to deal with. Besides the employers and the employed there was the insurance side of the triangle. No settlement was arrived at, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take a generous view of his responsibilities under the conditions and not allow himself to be bound by either side, but to be bound by the necessities of the situation and the rights and wrongs of the case. If either side is 1860 absolutely incalcitrant, that is no reason why the Home Secretary should bow to its wishes.
May I here touch upon the point where the difference of opinion took place. It took place on the financial provisions of the Holman Gregory Report. Statements have been made, one has been made this afternoon, to the effect that if the findings of the Committee were carried into effect it would mean nearly the ruin of the industry. A more preposterous statement was never made, either in the House or in the country. I venture to say that in the most dangerous trade in the country, the trade where the men work in hourly danger of their lives, where accidents ought to be freely compensated, and where the men should not suffer at all—I speak of the mining industry—a farthing a hundredweight on the coal would pay three times over every demand that is made in the Holman Gregory Report, and in these circumstances, to speak of the extra burden paralysing industry is to say a thing that is not true, that is grossly exaggerated, and that is, in fact, grotesque in its essence.
Now may I deal with the question of the Commissioner? This Commissioner is required by the very nature of the scheme laid down by the Holman Gregory Report. If we are to have an entirely new method of paying compensation in mortal accident cases, then we must have, if we adopt the system laid down by the Holman Gregory Committee, some responsible source that can attend to the pooling of the fund. Hon. and right hon. Members will note that the very essence of the suggestion as to payments in the case of mortal accidents is that the circumstances of the family shall be taken into account. Those family circumstances are largely determined by the number of young children, and the scheme laid down in the Bill is to deal with mortal accident cases on the basis of family responsibility, and to provide for a certain stock, level payment in the case of children under 15 years of age, whatever the number of the family, so that these payments, going into a pool on actuarial calculations, can pay the benefits provided in the Bill, whether the children under 15 be one, or six, or seven. That is the essence of the provision. It will be necessary somewhere to have an office which will attend 1861 to this pooling arrangement. Then again, with regard to the Commissioner's duties, it is evident that if you make insurance compulsory on an employer, you must give that employer a guarantee that he shall not be placed at a disadvantage in dealing with an insurance company. You cannot both compel an employer to insure and leave him to the tender mercies of the people who take his premiums. The Commissioner again is the person who will deal with the relations between insurance companies and employers. My personal opinion, as a member of the Committee, was that the insurance representative of the Committee spoke with weight and authority, and spoke frankly and in a perfectly fair way, throughout the course of the negotiations.
I disbelieve in private insurance companies touching workmen's compensation for reasons that I have not the time to develop now, but I want to admit that, if insurance companies do exist, they have to be dealt with fairly. I believe that the men who represented them in the negotiations that took place were as fair men as could be found. It is a soulless business, where a man who has been injured, is dealt with by a concern that neither knows him personally nor knows his circumstances, a concern to whom he is just a mark on a piece of paper, an actuarial calculation, and not a living being at all. That, in essence, is why I object to the insurance companies. But as to the efficiency of their work, the quickness of their payments, and other details, I have no complaint. I oppose the whole system, and not the persons or the methods. Another thing the Commissioner would be expected to do would be to deal with those who have been injured, and cannot work at their own employment. Finally, I hope that if the principle of the Bill be accepted, the Commissioner will come to be the person most essential of all persons in this country, the person who will collect reports, who will be able to put his finger on the danger spot, and will be able to do a thing far more valuable than paying compensation, and that is to avoid accidents, because, after all, the real point of compensation ought not to be primarily the payment, but the prevention of accidents. May I turn to the debatable question of the words which have been referred to? I can understand 1862 the defence of words such as "wilful and serious misconduct," but the present words give rise to any number of cases in which, I think, grave injustice is done to the injured person. I have heard it asserted over and over again that if the railwaymen of this country strictly followed instructions, and refused to go beyond them, the railway system would be dislocated to-morrow.
Sir F. BANBURY
I was going to say that we were like the two doctors an hon. Member spoke of just now.
§ Mr. SHAW
I would like to say, "a plague on both your houses." I have heard the same thing with regard to the mining industry. I am told that if in the mining industry Regulations were strictly followed, the immediate consequence would be dislocation, and a tremendous drop in production. These are not the only cases where the same thing applies. I have known in Lancashire weaving sheds, where if the weavers strictly complied with the Regulations about sweeping the machine, the first thing would be that the overlooker would want to know why the machine was stopped. After all, because a man here and there does something that is out of all question a wrong thing to do, it is not right to penalise thousands of people who do things that are perfectly legitimate under the circumstances, and I do hope the Home Secretary, when he is considering this particular Clause, will bear in mind the objections that have been urged from this side of the House against the words as they now appear in the Workmen's Compensation Act.
May I make an appeal to the employers in the House. We hear a great deal nowadays of class war, and we see many expressions of it from both sides of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Mr. SHAW
In order to get agreement, I will admit that the other side is successful, and we are not. All I want 1863 is to get along with my statement. The worst possible thing that could happen in any industry is for the workman or the workwoman to feel that the person he or she works for is a heartless person. Here is a case where undoubtedly those who are injured in industry could be adequately compensated, could be better treated, and in case of mortal accident the dependants could be better placed without adding seriously to the burden of industry. I do not believe, and never have believed, that this is a charge on the employer. As a matter of fact the employer pays the expenses just like he buys any article he uses in his business; it is calculated as a working charge. It is taken out of the industry, and not out of the pocket of the employer. Even if it were, will some hon. or right hon. Gentleman who opposes our 66⅔ per cent. increase in the case of accidents—to which point I now come—take the trouble to go into the figures, and get actuarial estimates of what the cost on production would be in giving this 66⅔ per cent. for which we ask? When the House is in full possession of the facts I say there will be no hesitation in responding to the appeal in the Bill to take the percentage in the case of non-fatal accidents and those of permanent disability, from 50 to 66⅔.
Take the ordinary accidents that arise. I know from my own personal experience, which is not limited in years and which is very wide in extent, that the danger has not been that the working people do not go back to their work until long after they are fit; the real fact is that the workers now go back to their work after an accident before they are fit. Over and over again I have seen people go back to work and break down again because they have not been able to stay at home another week or fortnight which would have given them the chance of really recovering. That is the state of affairs. When a man in the country's service is injured in the course of his employment we do not dream of penalising him, and of making his financial position worse. If in any way we do then it is wrong! In effect the man who works in industry, who is really producing or distributing goods, who is doing useful work, and who is injured in the course of that work, is entitled, at any rate, to expect that he shall not have both physical suffering and 1864 financial suffering as well. The 50 per cent. which is said to be half the burden of the man and half the burden of the employer is totally illusory. The employer does not bear half the responsibility at all. He does not suffer at all in any way. The injured person not only bears the physical pain, but just at the moment that his physical stringency is greatest, when his need for food and surgical dressings and a hundred and one things of the kind following an accident is greatest, his income is cut down, not to half his weekly wages, but to half the sum he might have earned during the preceding 12 months.
Take the case of two men working side by side. One of them, very unfortunate, has been off his work for a considerable time during the previous 12 months. He happens to meet with an accident. His compensation might be a minimum, while the man working under the same circumstances next to him and happening to have a similar accident will have a much higher proportion, but the man who gets the biggest sum does not get enough What about the poor fellow who gets the smallest? I plead with the House to recognise that 50 per cent. is totally inadequate and does not meet the case, and that 62⅔ per cent. is little enough. As to the fear of malingering, I think you may take the experience of any man who knows this work in connection with compensation. I think my own experience will be borne out that where you get one malingerer you get a great many more who go back to work before they are really fit. In conclusion. I wish to say that this Bill is not what the Labour party believes to be a really efficient and generous Measure, but it is an attempt to get down to a compromise that will meet the wishes of the House. It is far below our ideals, but we submit it as a compromise, and we hope that we shall have, as we had in regard to the Motion for compensation, a sympathetic hearing and a Second Reading of this Bill, and I trust that its principle will be finally embodied in an Act of Parliament.
Sir F. BANBURY
I will not discuss the Government Bill, because, first of all. I should not be able to do so as it has not been introduced, and, in the second place, it would be out of order to attempt to do so on this Bill. I do trust, however, that the Home Secretary will not 1865 be led away too much by the hard cases which have been given by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member who has just sat down stated that this is an extremely moderate Bill, and does not go as far as the Labour party wish to go. In fact they say that it is only a compromise. All I can say on this point is that opinions differ, and when I read this Bill last night I stood aghast at the length to which it goes, and my impression was that the Labour party had brought in this Bill not with any idea of carrying it in its present form, but with the intention of making a compromise. It seems, however, that I was entirely wrong, and that the Labour party wish to go much further than this Bill.
The Labour party have always championed the cause of manual labour, but I think they might also champion the cause of other sections of the community. They might follow the example of hon. Members on this side of the House who champion the cause of everybody in the country, whether they happen to be capitalists or lawyers or any other class. I thoroughly agree with the desire to do away with cases of hardship, and the instances which have been mentioned have been, no doubt, sorrowful ones. As has already been indicated by one hon. Member, the usual question when any Bill of this kind is brought in is, where is the money to come from? It has been said that in the mining industry 83 per cent. of the money required to be paid as compensation to the miners is provided by the miners, and 17 per cent. is paid by the owners. I am not in a position to state whether those figures are correct or not, but I cannot understand how the miner pays 83 per cent. of the compensation which he receives. I have the honour of being chairman of one of the great railway companies, and in this case I can speak with some knowledge, even in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), and I have no hesitation in saying that I doubt very much that the railwaymen pay even 1 per cent. of the compensation which they receive.
Sir F. BANBURY
If the hon. Member who interrupts will take the accounts of any railway company he likes, and show me where money comes from the employés to compensate them for the accidents 1866 from which they suffer, I shall be much obliged to him. I have never been able to find them. Though we all should like, if we could, to see that persons who suffer are made as comfortable as possible, we must remember that we have to get the money from somewhere. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that he did not believe that this Bill would cast any insuperable burden upon the employers. There, again, that is a matter of opinion. Let me call his attention to the Report of the Committee of which, I think, he was a member. This is what they say on the first page:The present system, which is based upon the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906, is so comprehensive in its character that it is a matter of immediate concern to the majority of the community. It imposes upon employers a burden of upwards of £8,000,000 a year, and its cost is an item which every business enterprise must take into account.That statement shows that the Act of 1906 imposed upon the employers a burden of at least £8,000,000 a year. This Report was issued in 1920. It was made by a Committee set up in 1919. I am Chairman of the Estimates Committee, and I have been going into the various Estimates during this Session, and I always come back to the fatal year, 1919. In that year everybody seems to have gone stark, staring mad and to have thought that we were going to live, as stated by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lloyd George) in a new world where all misery and privation would be banished and we should all be in an Elysian state. With that very absurd view, they appear to have entered into proposals by which everybody's salaries and wages were to be increased, utterly regardless of the fact whether or not the people who paid them could afford to do so.
Sir F. BANBURY
That does not make it any better. My reply to that is that was the one sensible thing that they did. I am not concerned to defend that at the present moment. The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) gave us some very interesting figures. His statement was that in 1914 there were 4,215 fatal accidents and 437,900 odd non-fatal accidents. He also told us, what I am sure we were all very glad to hear, that in 1921 the fatal accidents had decreased to 2,385, and the non-fatal accidents to 1867 283,000. I am sure everybody will be glad to know that we are getting into an improved condition in that respect. That, however, is not any great evidence in favour of casting an enormous increase in the burden on the employers.
With regard to the fatal accidents, there is nothing to be said. As to the non-fatal accidents, let me point out that every single man who scratches his finger, who scratches his cheek, or who bruises his shin, reports it. I am not blaming him—he is bound to do it—but when you say that the non-fatal accidents amount to 283,000, you must remember that a very large number of them are composed of minor accidents, which, if it were not for the Act, would not be reported. That is evidence, not that there are a large number of serious accidents, but that there are a large number of accidents which have been reported. The proper way is to say that, of the non-fatal accidents, 283,000 have been reported. It does not follow that they were of any importance, though they have been reported, as no doubt the men were within their rights in doing. The actual position at the present time, as I understand it, is that the allowance in the case of total disablement has been increased, apart from this Bill, from 20s. a week to 35s. a week—an increase of 75 per cent.
Let the House consider this question. I believe unemployment is going down slightly, but there can be no doubt there has been and is a very great quantity of unemployment. That arises, not because the employer does not wish to employ a workman, but because he is not able to employ the workman at the price the workman asks and yet get profit out of his business. Is this the time to put an enormous burden on the employers, such as will be cast by this Bill, when we want to do everything to encourage them, and to enable this country to compete with foreign countries, which, owing to a variety of circumstances—longer hours of work, lower wages, the fall in the exchange, and a variety of other circumstances—are able to produce goods at a price at which we cannot produce them here?
I come to the question which was raised, as to whether or not a workman should receive compensations because of 1868 his negligence. I quite agree that there are cases where a workman does something which is outside his duty. One of my last acts as chairman of the Great Northern Railway was to deal with a case brought to me by a man who went to attend to a windlass, although it was not his duty to do so. He was not killed, he was injured; and it was held that the Workmen's Compensation Act would not apply to him. I at once said, "We will make it apply to him. The man did his best. He went there because the man who ought to have been there happened to be away. He did his best to promote the work of the company, and certainly we shall pay him what we should have paid if he had been legally at work." And that was done. I am not putting that forward as anything to my credit. It is what any ordinary man would do in the circumstances. It is a very different thing, however, to say that, where a man is negligent, although he has been negligent, and has done something which he has been told not to do, and has not even taken ordinary precautions in doing that, the employer is to be burdened by being compelled to pay a large sum. Now we come to compulsory insurance. I am altogether against compulsion; I believe in liberty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite pose as being supporters of liberty, but they are not. Everything they bring in is accompanied by compulsion. What they call liberty is, "If you agree with me, then you can do it, but if you do not agree with me, you have jolly well got to." That is not my idea of liberty.
Sir F. BANBURY
Certainly, but I do not very often do it. On page 19, the Report of the Committee says:In our opinion the foregoing arguments, taken together, make out a strong case for requiring the employer—especially the smaller employer—to cover his workmen's compensation risk by insurance.I read that, in order to put the point of view of hon. Members opposite. The Report goes on, however:On the other hand, arguments can be advanced against compulsory insurance under the present system. It was, in the first place, pressed upon us that no employer should be compelled to insure with an insurance company that is admittedly making a, profit out of the business—1869 and so on. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will the right hon. Gentleman continue that quotation?"]
Sir F. BANBURY
I will read on—It has also to be recognised that those employers who are financially capable of carrying their own risk should be permitted to do so, land it was urged that, to secure exception from insurance, employers would have to submit accounts disclosing their financial position to some authority competent to judge whether exception could safely be granted. It was also urged that in the event of a general system of compulsory insurance, the arrangements necessary for its enforcement would entail considerable expenditure. We have arrived at the conclusion that it is necessary for the protection of workmen, and is not contrary to the interests of the employers themselves, that those who are unable safely to carry the risk should be compelled to insure.That argument is all very well, but what does it mean? A friend of mine told me that, for every £100 that the employer pays for insurance, £48 goes to the workmen and £52 to the insurance company. I said to him that it seemed to be very hard on the employer that he should be compelled, besides bearing the burden of being contributing to insurance, he should be compelled also to contribute to the profits of the insurance company. An hon. Member opposite said that they ought not to make profits out of injuries. It is not, however, a question of making profits out of injuries, but of whether or not the employer should be compelled to go to an insurance company. It is quite true that the employer who may be paying thousands of pounds weekly in wages can go to a Commissioner and say he wishes to be exempted, and will have to show his balance sheet and so on, but why should he have to go to an official and show his books and all that is going on inside his business in order that he may do what he would prefer to do, namely, to insure himself? I quite agree that there are a few cases of small employers who have not the money, and who, if they do not insure with a company, may find the liability too much for them and become bankrupt; but the workman knows that he runs that risk if he works for a small employer, and he goes into it with his eyes open. The sixth point is, how are you going to compel the insurance companies to insure? You are going to set up a Commission which is going to say what 1870 the premiums are to be. They will say to the insurance companies, "You are to insure at 1s. 6d. or 2s. 6d.," or whatever the sum may be. Supposing the insurance companies say, "We will not do business," what will happen? The only solution is that you are to have a State Department to carry out the insurance.
Sir F. BANBURY
Because on this side of the House we are not Socialists. Hon. Members opposite are Socialists. All their Bills tend ultimately in the direction of State Departments, and of some degree of Socialism. Now we come to the Commission. I do not know what the Labour party said at the General Election, but the vast majority of the Conservative party, and I should say the vast majority of the Independent Liberals and the National Liberals, said, "We do not want any more State Departments, any more Ministers, or any more clerks." I understand the Holman-Gregory Report said the cost would be £30,000. It will cost a great deal more. When you have a Commission you will want a Parliamentary representative, and you will get back into the state we were in when, by the mercy of God, the Coalition Government departed. Reference has been made to the treatment of engine drivers. There were disputes for a long time with the drivers, especially on the North Eastern and to a certain extent on the Great Northern as to the eyesight tests. As we get older our sight goes. My sight is not as good as it was and I have to use glasses. In our opinion it was necessary that we should test the sight of the drivers to be quite sure they could see the signals. It was the safety of the public that was involved. I believe they gave way a little on the North Eastern but I insisted on it on the Great Northern Railway. There may be some hard cases, but there are always hard cases, and hard cases make bad laws.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said that because this Committee was set up, we are bound to accept its findings. My experience is that as a rule the Government set up a committee when they do not want to do anything. Very rarely they carry out the findings of these committees. It is said that the Committee was presided over by a very 1871 good lawyer. I do not think that lawyers, as a rule, know much about business, as is seen sometimes when they try to invest their own money. I have here the volume which shows the results of the efforts of the Committee. They have made a very long report, but because it is very long it does not follow that it is a very wise Report. I think that it is rather the habit of the legal profession, when they are not certain of what they ought to report, to make a long Report, full of long words, which nobody can understand, so that if one portion is quoted, they will be able to point to some other portion, with the result that they are not committed to anything in particular. It is said that the words "arising out of, or in the course of his employment" ought to be taken out. I am sorry that the Home Secretary has departed, but as his representative, the Under-Secretary for the Home Office is here, I hope that he will appreciate that leaving out these words would be a very serious thing. If these words are left out, any accident, whether it was in the course of employment or not—I may be wrong—even an accident in going to work or coming from work, would be held to be an accident for which the employer was liable. It is not so long since an hon. Member of this House was run over and killed outside St. George's Hospital. No one gave him any compensation. Why should everyone be given compensation? There is no hole in the ground out of which you can dig money and hand it round. Remember that money is produced only by saving. [HON. MEMBERS: "By labour!"] Partly by labour, but labour cannot do anything without capital. We want not only labour, but capital and brains. There is another serious proposal in the Bill. In cases of fatal accidents no notice need be given. That is establishing a very dangerous precedent. Human nature being what it is, the dependant of any one who dies will immediately say, "We did not give you notice. We do not know exactly what it was, but he is dead," and the employer would have to pay. There is Sub-section (3) of Clause 1:If, within the time hereinafter in this Act limited for making a claim for compensation under this Act an action is brought to recover damages independently of this Act for injury caused by any accident, and it is determined in such action that the injury is one for which the 1872 employer is not liable in such action, but that he would have been liable to pay compensation under the provisions of this Act, the action shall be dismissed; but the Court in which the action is tried shall, without prejudice to the right of the plantiff to appeal from such determination, proceed to assess such compensation.…How on earth, if they dismiss an action, they can proceed to assess compensation, I do not know. I am only a layman. The Sub-section goes on:… but may, if it so think fit, deduct from such compensation all or part of the costs which, in its judgment, have been caused by the plantiff bringing the action instead of proceeding under this Act.To-day we had a discussion upon an Act which had resulted in very great trouble owing to certain actions in various Law Courts. That trouble arose because of the difficulty of comprehending public legislation. It seems to me that this is a Clause which would lend itself to litigation. It ought therefore not to be passed. Before sitting down, I should like to refer to the inclusion of taxi-cab drivers in the Bill. I did not hear any conclusive reasons advanced for their inclusion. I understand that they hire the cars from the owners and drive themselves, subject to certain regulations. They take the place of the old cab drivers who hired their cabs at 12s. or 14s. per day and made what they could out of fares. The owner of the car has no control over the taxi-cab driver, some of whom are excellent drivers, but some of whom, according to my ideas, drive a great deal too fast. How is the owner to deal with a driver who runs into a lorry or some other vehicle? If the driver wishes to become a servant there is nothing to prevent him going to the owner and saying he prefers, instead of hiring the cab, to be employed as a servant and paid wages. You cannot have it both ways. If he is to be a servant, very well; if he is not to be a servant he should not be included in the Bill. It seems absurd to bring in all these people and put an additional burden on industry, which at the moment is slowly recovering. I am glad to see the Home Secretary has returned to his place and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will impress on him, the, seriousness of leaving out the words "arising out of." The right hon. Gentleman, I think, says he has some other words. Lawyers say that these words are understood in the law. It is 1873 a dangerous thing to introduce other words which will give the lawyers an opportunity of seeing how many different interpretations can be placed upon them.
The best course would be for hon. Gentlemen opposite to withdraw the Bill and allow the Bill of the Home Secretary to come on. We have not had much time to consider this Bill. If I sit down without moving the rejection of the Bill, it will be because I understand that all we have done is to have had a Friday afternoon Debate on the Bill, that the Bill will pass its Second Reading, and that nobody will know anything more about it. Then probably the Government Bill will come forward.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four of the Clock till Monday next (7th May).