§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The notion of this Bill stirred in my mind a few months ago when the House was discussing the Factories Bill, amending the Act of 1937, which the Minister of Labour was then moving. Several hon. Members on this side of the House, including the hon. Members for Lady-wood (Mr. Yates), Harborough (Mr. Attewell) and Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), tried to make some improvements in the Bill at that time. The Minister, although he agreed that the suggestions were good ones, could not accept them. Therefore, the idea occurred to me that such a Bill as this was necessary, and I had the good fortune to gain first place in the Ballot in order to present it.
There is widespread agreement, which includes that of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself, on the need for improved conditions of work. That need is recognised by every working man and woman, by trade union officials and by lawyers and doctors who are brought in contact with the distressing effects of the present inadequate legislation. In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I have in mind not merely the amendment of the present legislation, but an attempt to make an entirely new approach to the problem of protection for the worker.
The Bill is founded on the principle that all workers have the right to protection from accident and disease, that the employer has a duty to provide the safeguards necessary to ensure such conditions, and also that he is liable for 656 damages where he fails in that duty. Some hon. Members may be under the impression, quite genuinely, that these matters are already provided for in statutory legislation or at common law, and I feel it necessary to explain the present position of the law on this subject. I must, however, explain that I am no lawyer and that whatever I say will not be couched in lawyers' language, though I think I can state the position in conformity with the legislation on the subject.
The law relating to the rights of workers to protection falls into two categories—that under statutory legislation and that under common law. The main Acts of Parliament are the Quarries Act, the Coal Mines Act and the Factories Act, 1937. These Acts, and one or two minor ones, apply only to nine million workers, but there are about 20 million workers in the country, so that 11 million workers are not afforded any statutory protection except that which an employer may provide within the vague terms of common law, based on custom and usage interpreted by the officials of the courts. Thus, while in the case of the nine million workers there is a statutory duty on the employer to provide protection for them, in the case of 11 million workers the main inducement to the employer is the threat of action in the event of accident. Against these risks the employer is able to insure himself. A worker may lose an arm, a leg or an eye, and may sometimes get damages. If he does receive damages, the implication is clear that in that case the employer was guilty of negligence; otherwise, the worker would not have received the damages. Yet, in spite of the fact that the employer has been adjudged guilty of negligence, there is still no further duty on him to provide protection subsequently, and the worker in these cases has no right of protection.
According to the Factory Inspectors' Report, 1947, the number of accidents in that year was 230,000, but that number applies only to the 7 million workers coming within the terms of the Factories Acts. Of the remaining 13 million, nearly 2 million would come under the other Acts; that leaves 11 million who are not accounted for, and it is a fair assumption that in that year there would have been about half a million accidents in the country. The 11 million who are 657 not accounted for include the following types of workers, and it is for this reason that I expect to have support for this Bill from all sides of the House: farm workers, domestic servants, transport workers, road workers, local authority employees, office workers, plumbers, electricians, painters, merchant marines and many other categories. These sections of industry are not covered by statutory legislation.
These workers have no right to protection except what they can gain by the procedure I mentioned. They have a right, however, to claim damages for negligence, and standards are laid down for common law duty on the part of the employer. These standards roughly are these: first, to provide, so far as possible, proper plant and equipment; secondly, to see that the system of work is reasonably safe; thirdly, to ensure that premises are free from traps of which the employer should be aware; and fourthly, to employ, so far as he can, competent staff. I ask the House to note that in every case, certainly in three of the four cases, there are provisos, and very wide ones, which have been interpreted in many ways by the courts.
In the first case the expression "so far as possible" is used; in the second case there is the expression "reasonably"; in the fourth case "so far as he can"—referring to the employer. In all the cases, therefore, there are these provisos as a result of which the employer quite legitimately is able to avoid responsibility and as a result of which very often the courts decide in his favour. Let me give as an example the case of a foundry worker who lost an eye as a result of a splash of molten metal. There is no statutory provision for the wearing of goggles or eye-shields in foundries. The employer was entitled to say to the court that it is a custom that no such provision is made, and hence the worker's claim failed when it would have been perfectly easy to prevent that accident. The employer was able to sustain his argument. I have a further example. This morning I received a letter from Mr. Stanley, known to many Members on this side of the House —[Interruption]. He is the general secretary of the Constructional Engineering Union; this is a mechanical organisation, not a "fiddling" organisation. Mr. Stanley wrote supporting this Bill, and gave me an example of one of the prob- 658 lems which occur in his particular section of industry. He speaks with knowledge. He writes:Our cases, of course, are so numerous that it is very difficult to quote them in detail, but one striking feature is the question of our members working on asbestos sheeting on roofs, especially where they have to take off the old sheeting and replace it. In many instances cat ladders and other means of getting about the roof are not provided and the inexperienced or even experienced man steps on to the sheeting unthinkingly and then falls through, meeting with serious non-fatal and occasionally fatal accidents.These are examples of cases in which workers are not provided for by statutory legislation if their claims under common law fail.
§ Mr. Piratin
We can debate that later. I shall be glad to hear the Attorney-General, who probably has a complete answer to all these points. So doubtful are many workers regarding their rights to protection at common law that the greater number of accidents which take place are not even reported. Particularly is this so with diseases, where the workers do not know their rights and do not think of pursuing them. Further, on information given to me by lawyers who deal with these matters, the majority of these cases when they are taken to a solicitor are not proceeded with on the advice of the solicitor, because he feels that the workers have not got a chance at common law. With respect to all lawyers concerned, it is my belief that no lawyer throws out a case if it has the slightest chance in court.
Further, in many of the cases which are heard—apart from those which are decided in favour of the worker—the decisions are unsatisfactory. I could even use the word "unfair," but I want to cast no reflection on the courts, for it is apparent to me that the courts interpret the law as this House has decided. The inadequacy of common law to protect the workers is shown primarily by the fact that this Government and a number of previous Governments have introduced statutory legislation to replace common law by statute law. Surely, that is one of the best arguments which I can put forward for doing away with common law.
I therefore want to say a few words on the character of factory legislation as 659 it exists at the moment. As I mentioned earlier, protection is given to some 9 million workers. Within the various laws, however—and although I cannot claim to be acquainted with all of them, I am acquainted slightly with one or two—there are anomalies and many restrictions. For example, a worker employed on a job in a factory is covered by the Factories Acts. If that worker is sent out of the factory to do exactly the same job, he is no longer covered by the Factories Acts which covered him while he was in the factory. It must be apparent to all hon. Members, in common sense if not in law, that that is an anomaly which should be removed. The reason I introduced that piece of personal history relating to myself and one or two other hon. Members a few months ago when I was inspired to suggest this Measure, is to mention that at that time we raised points of this description, and although the Minister acknowledged the existence of these anomalies, he could not see his way to redress them at the time.
I want to take the matter much further. Let me give another example. I have with me the official report of the case of Miller v. William Boothman & Sons which went to the Court of Appeal on 12th January, 1944. I want to read from the report some of the facts which explain the position adequately and which need very little comment or elaboration from me. I intend to extract portions from the report, but the points which I pick out are adequate for my case, and the Attorney-General and the Minister of Labour may see this document without going to the Library if they wish. Lord Chief Justice Goddard summed up in these words:The breach complained of was the alleged failure securely to fence a dangerous machine, namely, a circular saw, contrary to the Factories Act, 1937, Section 14 (1).Later he said:If Section 14 stood alone, in our opinion, the obligation would be absolute. The Section itself does not admit of exceptions; it does not say that a dangerous machine is to be fenced as securely as possible, or only so far as will make it commercially or mechanically useful. The object of the Section is to secure safety; not merely to provide an injured workman with a cause of action.He continued:But Section 14 is not the only Section which deals with the matter. Section 60 (1) 660 provides, quoting only the material words: where the Secretary of State is satisfied that any … machinery … used in factories is of such a nature as to cause risk of bodily injury to persons in connection therewith … he may, subject to the provisions of this Act, make such special regulations as appear to him to be reasonably practicable and to meet the necessity of the case.He goes on:By Subsection (2 c) such special regulations may, among other things, modify or extend with respect to any class or description of factory any provisions of … Part II [which includes Section 14]. imposing requirements as to safety.In conclusion, Lord Chief Justice Goddard said:Our decision is based entirely on the ground that Section 60 permits a modification of the absolute obligation and the Woodworking Machinery Regulations have modified it.The appeal was dismissed.
I believe that this one case—of course, time does not permit me to submit many —proves an obvious anomaly within the Factories Act, 1937, itself, and I am quite certain—and I say this with all respect because I am not acquainted with the law proceedings—Lord Chief Justice Goddard would himself agree that such an anomaly should not have been placed on the Statute Book. Of course he is not responsible for that; we are responsible. I believe, therefore, that such regulations and such laws as exist require overhauling. This regulation modifies the law itself and therefore if a regulation is ill-conceived or obsolete, the statutory protection of the worker begins to disappear. Those are the conditions which prevail today.
I claim that the remedy can be provided in this way. Here I move away completely from the existing legislation as it stands; I try to introduce new principles and make a clean sweep. First, all workers should be treated equally with regard to enforcement and recompense. Secondly, there should be a common statutory standard of safety applied to any contract of employment. Thirdly, the Minister should have power to make regulations for all trades, occupations and premises. I submit that this Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving today aims at providing those remedies.
§ The Attorney-General
I am not sure whether I followed the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) in what he said 661 and I want to be able to follow him so that I may deal with his arguments. Did he say that he was proposing to provide a clean sweep by this Bill, to do away with existing factory legislation and replace it? I wanted to be sure.
§ Mr. Piratin
No. I am pleased that the Attorney-General has interrupted on this point because there may be other hon. Members, elsewhere in the House, who may be confused, and I should like to explain the point. I want to do away not with the legislation but with the conception behind some of the legislation which exists, and I want to introduce a new kind of conception—the one which I tried to elaborate earlier in my statement—a new principle, which I feel is in the best and very finest traditions of Labour, and which I am putting forward, therefore, with a certain amount of confidence.
I think Clause 1 of the Bill is quite clear. The legal terminology is necessary. Some of my hon. Friends would have preferred to have it in plain language which every rank of the trade union could understand, but it has been explained to them and they are satisfied. Its purpose is to write into every contract of employment the term that:The employer shall take all practicable measures and provide and maintain all practicable means to prevent injury … to the employee.It also ensures that it shall not be a defence for an employer merely to say he has taken steps that are "customary in the trade," thus closing one of the most obvious loopholes in the present Common Law.
Clause 2 enables the Minister to make regulations in regard to minimum safety measures in particular occupations. Might I respectfully draw the attention of the House to the opening words of Clause 2—"Without prejudice." I am not attempting to give my opinion on previous legislation, in which I have not been concerned, but I feel that this expression is necessary in order to avoid that anomaly to which I drew the attention of the House a few minutes earlier in the summing up by Lord Chief Justice Goddard. "Without prejudice" emphasises, as I would put it, that the first Clause stands as law, and that whatever regulations are made, they are made only and primarily as a minimum guide and a 662 minimum duty to the employer in the factory and not as a maximum responsibility beyond which the court can decide in the employer's favour. It is a minimum and not a maximum. Clause 3 defines the position of contracts.
In closing, may I make the following points: Of course, this is a very short Bill for a very big job, and it may be that some people will feel that such a very big job should have more words attached to it. Perhaps I may speak for all back benchers of this House when I say that it is a common thought that it does not necessarily follow that the bigger the job the wordier should be the Bill. On the contrary, many back benchers would be satisfied more often with shorter Bills which covered the situation adequately. Might I, with respect, suggest that this may be a useful precedent to the Government which will be welcomed by hon. Members on all sides?
Should this Bill be passed into law—and here I deal with the Attorney-General's interjection—the present Acts would continue to work alongside this new Measure. They could ultimately fall into place as if they were particular trade regulations, even in some cases comprehensive regulations, and could therefore help to develop a comprehensive safety scheme. They would come alongside this principal Act which, in a sense, would serve as a principal direction in this matter.
Yesterday, in answer to a Question which I put, the Home Secretary said the Gowers Committee will be reporting in March. As I understand it, the terms of reference of the Gowers Committee are very limited in the main, and at the most all it can produce is a report and some recommendations of a narrow character which perhaps can give rise to a further amending Measure and nothing much more. We do not, of course, know its report and therefore we cannot discuss it. Let us by all means wait and see the Gowers Committee report, for its report may provide very useful recommendations for further regulations which will act in the same way as the existing laws on this matter. I do not think, however, that the Gowers Committee report can be taken as an alternative to this Bill for the reason that it deals only with a very restricted aspect of the problem. I 663 have discussed this question in the last fortnight or so with all kinds of people, quite apart from hon. Members—with workers, with trade unionists and with lawyers; and they all agree that this is the kind of law required.
It is true that if this Bill is passed—and hope it will be passed in due course—lawyers will still be able to argue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Put a stop to it."] I do not intend to stop it. Far be it from me to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and I have been accused of interfering with production. There is one production I will not interfere with, and that is legal argument in the courts. Let it proceed. Lawyers will be able to argue any questions in borderline cases of negligence, but the Bill will lay down one thing for the guidance of lawyers and judges—that the worker, in return for the wages he receives, gives his skill, his energy, his time, but on no account is to be expected to give his limbs, his sight, or his health.
Should he lose any of them while at work, and as a result of the conditions of work, then the first principle is to be that there is a responsibility on the employer, when negligence can be shown within the terms of this Bill, to provide him with adequate damages. His health can never be returned, but adequate damages, adequate to the occasion and adequate to the person, should be provided. The general standard of safety in all sections of industry will be raised by this Bill, which will improve the health of workers in industry and indirectly, that of their families and others. It will remove much pain, much distress and much hardship.
I could dilate on this, but I am certain that other hon. Members even, if they are not in full support of the Bill, know of the hardships caused in the country by the absence of such legislation as I am introducing. It will increase productivity. It will even be cheaper for the employers in the long run. I ask employers interested to consider the possible cost, to compare the possible cost entailed by this Bill with the cost of the loss of man hours—indeed, of man years —in industry through injuries. I quoted just now the figure of 230,000 accidents in 1947, and the man years lost by 664 injuries amongst the 7 million people covered by the Factories Acts. I claim that this Bill will even be a financial asset.
I have received support for this Bill from many Members of this House on all sides. This is not a personal matter. I personally do not stand to gain by it. I am myself an employed man, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he deducts National Insurance payments every week from me. It cannot apply to me. But on behalf of the many workers to whom it does apply, let me express gratitude to the hon. Members who have supported me and who are supporting me today.
I have received many letters and telegrams today from trade union organisations and many individuals. I have received a letter from Sir George Chester on behalf of the boot and shoe operatives. I have received letters from other union executives, from the foundry workers, the masons and paviors, the railway men, the distributive workers, the furniture workers, the transport workers, the Post Office engineers, the tailors, the shop assistants, engineers—from almost every section of working-class life in the country there has been support for this Bill. I am confident that the terms and purpose of the Bill express the wishes of these millions of working men and women throughout the country. I trust the House will respond to those wishes, and with confidence I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Ayles (Southall)
I beg to second the Motion.
Let me dispose of the criticism that the Bill is too short for its great purpose. Let me suggest that the greatest Teacher of all time summed up the whole of the Law and the Prophets in a bill of one clause, saying, "That shalt love the Lord thy God and thy neighbour as thyself." This Bill embodies the injunction that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. Those hon. Members who are Biblical students will know that the Biblical interpretation of "love" is "right relationship." This Bill does a good deal to provide right relationships between employers on the one hand and work-people on the other.
665 It is typical of the spirit of our time that the first Private Member's Bill to be introduced on the restoration of Private Members' time should be a Bill to safeguard the life, limbs and health of the workers of our country. Great improvements have been made in the last half century, and a very great Measure has been passed in the last three years by our own Government in regard to industrial insurance. This Bill goes even farther than that. The motive of this Bill is not insurance and is not damages, but the safeguarding of life, limbs, and health.
The provisions of the Bill have already been fully explained by the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), but though his explanation has been perfectly lucid and simple, there may still be some objections to the Bill. It may be said that the Bill is too vague. Actually the Bill removes the present vagueness in the law. It lays down a definite principle that can be precisely interpreted by regulations from time to time as the development of safety devices progresses. In that respect it differs from our common law. The common law lays it down that the employer shall provide safe tools, safe plant, and competent employees. But is it effective?
A decision taken 50 years ago will determine a decision today. It ignores all the progress made by safety devices during the intervening years. This Bill requires the employer to provide such safety measures as are practicable—that is, practicable today and not 50 years ago. So it imposes a higher standard than that imposed by the common law. There are occasions—this is one—when, in respect of the life and limbs and health of the workers, legislation should not be static but dynamic.
I do not know what the attitude of the Government will be towards the Bill. We have heard rumours. However, rumour is a lying jade, and the Government may be supporting the Bill instead of opposing it or trying to sidetrack it. Anyhow, they may have other ideas than those of hon. Members who support the Bill. At the International Labour Office the Government have agreed to proposals for a great many detailed safety regulations far better than exist in our own factory legislation. I expect that at some time they will bring 666 them before the House. I can assure the Government we shall gladly welcome them and give them wholehearted support. I am, however, advised by those who are amongst the most skilled advisers of the trade unions of this country that the I.L.O. regulations apply only to particular jobs and processes, and that all jobs outside factories are omitted from their scope. This Bill provides the minimum of safety for all jobs without exception, and there is nothing in it which would prejudice any further detailed legislation which may be introduced in the future.
Of course, the employers may say, "Industry cannot afford it." Somebody has to afford it. If a workman meets with an accident due to lack of safeguards, who should bear the cost with greater justice than the one who has neglected to safeguard his workpeople from any kind of accident? After all, employers have already made a very handsome profit out of the National Insurance Act of something like £15 million a year. They have had this blessing as the result of the operation of that Act.
We hope that the Bill will reduce the accident rate because, among other things, it will be financially worth while to the employers. It will also save the nation millions of pounds which would otherwise have been lost through death or maiming by preventible accidents. It may be said that the Bill will increase the volume of litigation and unecessarily increase friction between employers and workers. On the face of it, it does look as if there were something in that argument, but on reflection it will be found that exactly the reverse is true. It will reduce litigation. A large volume of litigation is due to the uncertainty of the law—otherwise a judge would not be required to adjudicate. The Bill will clarify the law and so reduce disputes. Some claims will be made, but they will be largely settled without litigation, as most disputes are settled today.
As regards industrial friction, I am a loyal trade unionist and probably one of the oldest trade unionists in this House. I was locked out in 1897 because I refused to take the job of a man already locked out. My trade union and industrial experience extends over 50 years. As a result of a long and active experience in my trade union, 667 for nearly half a century with a clean card, my experience has proved to me that the greatest cause of industrial disputes, whether they are official strikes or unofficial strikes, arises from a sense of injustice. Unequal treatment of workers is a great cause of that sense of injustice. This Bill will do a great deal to remove insecurity. No good employer wants to avoid obligations, and no bad one should be allowed to do so. Men working with a sense of everything having been done to give them security, will work all the better because they know that every safeguard has been provided.
Finally, the greatest disasters of modern times have been due to the fact that industrial systems have outrun moral codes. We have been making tremendous efforts over a century to prevent that from happening in this country. We recognise that that is a policy to be continued. This is a step in that direction. It is right that employers should have equal obligations towards their employees, and that all employees should have the same rights in the eyes of the law. Whether they be employers or employees, they have rights which correspond to each other, and they should gladly apply them. It is right that our legislation should remove, as far as possible, all sense of injustice as between one man and another. Therefore, I hope that, whatever the Government may have in their mind with regard to future legislation, they will give support to this Bill; that they will encourage the individual initiative behind it, and show to the whole of the peoples of this country and of the world that our democratic system does work. Because the Bill will materially help to do this, I heartily commend it to the House.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Moyle (Stourbridge)
May I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) for providing me with the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, and of having the honour of addressing this House for the first time for nearly three years. I assure you, Sir, that in having the temerity to address the House I am not in any way offending against the conventions of the office with which I am concerned.
I listened with very great interest to the speech of the promoter of the Bill, and also to that of the seconder, and I 668 can say at once that I am in complete agreement with the object of the Bill and the principle of common statutory obligation for the safety of those employed; but I do not agree that this Bill is the right vehicle for the responsibility which the proposer suggests should be borne by industry. One of the sponsors of this Bill is the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). I cannot see him in his place this morning, but he evidently has accepted the claim of the proposer that this Billby introducing a general statutory minimum standard of safety aims at improving working conditions and minimising claims for damages which otherwise would be made.That is a quotation from the second paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum.
Clause 1, which is the operative Clause of the Bill, simply states the principle, without in any way indicating what is really meant by the words:all practicable measures.As I see it, speaking as a layman, although with some experience in this field of industrial legislation, the definition or interpretation of this principle will be left entirely to the courts to determine.
If I were a barrister concerned with the economics of my profession, and I had to consider security in the event of my wife becoming a widow, I should back this Bill for all I was worth, because it will, if enacted, provide a veritable lawyers' paradise. I say, with great respect, to the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith that if he accepts the claim made by the proposer that litigation will be reduced as the result of this Bill, I am amazed at his credulity. Neither the proposer nor the seconder, probably due to their enthusiasm, made any reference at all to the fine record of the Government, and other work in this field of industrial safety and welfare.
§ Mr. Moyle
I accept that correction. I referred to the record of the Government in this field, because it disposes me to say that I prefer to wait for the Gowers Report and await the Government's attitude toward this question 669 before considering my attitude. My reason is that if there is a field of legislation requiring the willing consent of those who would be called upon to administer it, it is that of industrial safety and industrial welfare. Before any Bill presented to this House has my support, I want the satisfaction of knowing the views, not merely of the Trades Union Congress, but of every trade union in the country which would be affected by its provisions, as well as of the organised managements in the field of both public service and private industry. For that reason, and because of the comprehensive scope of this Bill, I ask the sponsors to reconsider their attitude this morning, and to withdraw the Bill provided assurances are given that the Government will at once, or at any rate reasonably soon, introduce a comprehensive Bill, having regard not only to the recommendations of the Gowers Committee, but also to the expressed views of all organised workers and organised managements.
Before concluding let me say one other thing, which was not, I think, referred to by my two hon. Friends. In Clause 2 the sponsors seek dictatorial powers for the Minister of Labour. In this field I much prefer the traditions of Westminster to those of Moscow—
§ Mr. Piratin
Would the hon. Member explain what he means by "dictatorial powers"? Would he, without the advice of the Attorney-General, define his interpretation of this Clause? I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, if we can keep Moscow out of our discussions when debating a Private Member's Bill.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not the case that the Minister of Labour has dictatorial powers to call up young men for the Army; and is it not therefore desirable that he should have sufficient powers to protect them when they are at work?
§ Mr. Moyle
It appears that my reference to the traditions of Westminster has been misinterpreted. I had not finished my sentence when I was asked to give way, which naturally I did. Let me now finish what I was saying on the issue raised in Clause 2. I would much prefer the traditions of Westminster to the traditions of Moscow as a guide in this particular matter, because I want Minis- 670 ters in this House to be controlled as much as possible by Parliament.
§ Mr. Moyle
I think that the powers which Clause 2 would give to the Minister to provide for the whole of industry what he deems to be right in safety measures in industry are powers which this House ought not to support. If I thought that the present Minister of Labour would hold his office in perpetuity I might fall for the suggestion; but I tremble to think what would happen under such powers if some of his predecessors were restored to office.
I end by repeating what I said at the outset: I am in favour of the object of this Bill: I am wholeheartedly in favour of the principle upon which it rests; where I part company with the promoters of the Bill is that, I do not think a Private Bill of this sort is the right kind of Bill to achieve such a comprehensive purpose as that expressed in the Explanatory Memorandum.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Before the hon. Member sits down—and I am not asking him to give way now—would he care to explain to the House in what way the powers given to the Minister under Clause 2 differ from the powers which he already exercises, and has exercised for I think two generations, to make regulations under the Factory Act?
§ The Attorney-General
May I also ask my hon. Friend before sitting down to assist me by explaining to the House and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that Section 129 of the Factory Act requires those regulations to be laid before Parliament and gives Parliament the right to annul them?
§ Mr. Piratin
Before the hon. Member replies, I would point out that this is merely the Second Reading, and that Amendments could be introduced in Committee.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
Like the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Moyle), I think that most hon. Members are in agreement with the principle of this Bill. As there are other matters to come before the House this morning, I shall not detain hon. Members for more than a few moments. I believe it is true to say that the object of all legislation dealing with labour is to achieve the smooth running and operation of labour between employers on the one side and workers on the other. I felt that both the mover and the seconder gave rather scant recognition to existing legislation, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Stourbridge. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) did refer to it when he spoke of the clean sweep he wished to make; but I, like the Attorney-General, was completely at a loss to understand exactly what he meant, and I was rather glad of the Attorney-General's intervention at that point.
The question on this Bill is not whether any Member, any party, or any section of the House is for the workers, or for the employers, or against either or both. It is in the interests not only of this House but of the whole country that working arrangements between employers and workers shall operate smoothly. There can be no argument on that. I was rather surprised that certainly the seconder, if not the mover, made no mention of the present occupation and activities of trade unions; there has been no mention by any hon. Member opposite of the functions of the trade unions in this sphere. After all, as the hon. Member for Stourbridge said, the present holder of the office of Minister of Labour may not be—
§ Mr. Langford-Holt
I accept unconditionally what the hon. Member has said, although it was only a passing reference that he made. I submit that this Bill will by-pass almost completely that work, and therefore the reference he made was quite inadequate for the occasion. The present occupant of the office of Minister of Labour may not have very dictatorial inclinations, but there is no indication, as has been pointed out, that he will hold that office indefinitely.
The whole crux of this Bill lies in the use of two words "reasonable" and "practicable." It is possible that the present law, which plays on the use of the word "reasonable," might be brought up to date by the addition of such words as "in the light of modern developments," which were used by the seconder. But what exactly will be the interpretation in the light of the word "practicable"—"all practicable measures"? One can only assume that until a court ruling has been given it will be the dictionary meaning. I hesitate to think that in every case of industrial dispute interpretation of "all practicable measures" will be based on the Concise Oxford Dictionary definition. It has been said that the Bill will clarify the law, but it is my view that far from clarifying it it will draw a lot of wool over a lot of eyes. All good employers are anxious, in their own interests, to take all reasonable steps for the safety of their employees.
It will also be noticed that under this Bill an obligation is placed on employers to make an extension to safety regulations and safety provisions within their factories, but there is no corresponding responsibility for the workers to use these appliances. What is to be the position, for example, if a worker fails to use the safety devices that are provided? Under the Bill as it stands it is still the employer's responsibility. I should be interested to hear a legal opinion on that.
The most important thing, apart from the trade union question, is this business of putting more power into the hands of one Minister. I would echo what has been said by the hon. Member for Stourbridge about preferring the traditions of Westminster. It is the duty of this House at all times to control the activities of Ministers and not to put powers into their hands where it is unnecessary to do 673 so. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) tried to point out that the Minister of Labour has powers in regard to calling-up men for the Services, but the Minister is instructed by the House whom he shall call up and whom he shall not call up. That is laid down specifically by this House. The Gowers Committee has also been referred to, and it has been pointed out that it was not damages that this Bill considered but the health and limbs of the employees. I think it might be worth considering what are the terms of reference of that Committee:To inquire into and make recommendations as to extending, strengthening or modifying the statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed persons.If that does not provide for exactly what is being sought, then I do not know what does.
The conferment of these powers on the Minister of Labour is undesirable, and the Minister himself, in his own interests, will not desire to have them at this time. I think it is far better that we should, instead of passing this rather wild and sweeping Bill, await the decision of the Committee that is now sitting. No doubt, we shall have an opportunity presented to us by the Government to consider the results of that inquiry and to put into operation what in our view we consider necessary.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading)
I have to begin by expressing some dissent from the speeches made by the hon. Members for Stourbridge (Mr. Moyle) and Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt). I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge should have broken a long self-imposed silence, to indicate that he forms his views upon Measures not upon the basis of what they contain, but on the basis of the party allegiance of the Members who introduce them to the House.
§ Mr. Moyle
May I say at once that my opposition to the Bill is not based on the political allegiance of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin); my remarks were directed to the provisions of Clause 2, and I wished to indicate that I prefer the historic procedure of Westminster, as against that of Moscow, in as much as Parliament has always insisted on the widest possible control over Ministers. If my hon. Friend the Member for Reading 674 (Mr. Mikardo) can assure me that that principle is upheld in the Kremlin, I shall be happy to withdraw the reference I have made.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am very glad that my observations have drawn from my hon. Friend a partial amende which he might have made more honourably during the course of his speech.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury began by saying that the principal object of legislation in this field is to facilitate harmonious relationships between employers and workers, but I should say that there is one object more important than that. The principal object is to try to reduce the number and severity of accidents which happen in factories and other work-places. I am not greatly concerned with regulations about how compensation is assessed after an accident takes place. The major concern is that, this House so far as it can, shall so alter the arrangements in work-places that accidents become less frequent and less severe. I suggest that, whatever, the law may be in these matters, the hon Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) has done a service to industry as a whole by drawing attention to the importance of giving a great deal more consideration to the question of safety at work. There has been a renewed interest in this question in recent years, and bodies like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Industrial Safety Managers' Association, with some assistance from a comparatively small number of very conscientious and enlightened employers, have done excellent work in extending understanding on the Dart of the working community of what causes accident proneness.
In the field of accidents at work, we have concentrated too much on cure and too much on compensation and not nearly enough on prevention. We have concentrated on doing things physically to try to prevent accidents, instead of dealing with that attitude of mind on the part of both employers and workers which increases the tendency to accident proneness.
With regard to the workers, we have to get people out of the state of mind in which they consider that safety precautions are effeminate and are, to use colloquial language, "sissy." That atti- 675 tude is that it is "sissy" to use guards or goggles or whatever the safety device may be. Happily, through the efforts of many trade unions, workers are at last coming out of that state of mind. We have to induce in the minds of all workers a realisation that industrial disease and injury cause a great deal of trouble to the community and that therefore it is worth while not merely going to some trouble, but even to some indignity to prevent them.
On the part of employers there is far too prevalent a regrettable tendency to contract out of serious thinking about accident prevention by the provision of mere physical gadgets. The easiest and the cheapest method is to provide a guard on a machine, to put a fence against a dangerous place, or to paint a handle a lever or a hot pipe red in order to draw attention to a source of accident. Far too many employers think that they are doing their duty in accident prevention if they spend a few hundred pounds a year on a bit of red paint, on clearing gangways, and on a few pieces of wire fencing. They do not thereby contract out of their duty, which is to take the safety factor carefully into account by relating the man to the job. In the same way as they try to put people into jobs according to aptitude for doing the job competently, their duty is to put people into jobs according to aptitude for doing the job safely.
Many employers go to great lengths in job evaluation, determining with respect to any job what qualities are required in the operator to carry that job out competently. They work out the marriage, so to speak, of job evaluation—the qualities required to do the job competently—and the assessment of the qualities of each applicant for the job. This is carried out in very great detail in order to ensure that they do not put a round peg into a square hole, in other words, put a man into a job when his mental aptitudes and physical capacities make it impossible for the man to do it competently. What employers do not do, and what they ought to do, is to use the same technique to ensure that they do not put a man into a job when his mental aptitudes and physical attributes make it impossible for him to do the job safely. There are very few jobs for which one cannot work out to a high degree of accuracy the minimum physical 676 requirements. There are such things as the minimum standard of visual acuity and of manual dexterity which are necessary in order that the job shall be done without undue danger of accident.
This duty is done very seldom indeed. I hope that the introduction of the Bill by the hon. Member for Mile End, and all other action taken by the Government and by hon. Members in their private capacities in the same sphere, will impress upon employers, upon workers and upon their organisations, the desperate cost to the nation as well as the suffering to individuals which are involved in avoidable industrial disease and accident I hope it will impress upon them that we need to bring to this problem much more thought than has been given in the past to the basic origins of the problem rather than to means of cure and methods of compensation.
I hope that we shall not be prevented by legalistic arguments from showing our concern about these matters by giving a Second Reading to the Bill, even though the demands of clarity of expression and some other points will still have to be met by Amendments in Committee. I support the Measure in order to indicate that this subject of the avoidance of preventable industrial accidents and disease is one with which this House is very closely concerned.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I hope the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) will excuse me if I leave the points which he has placed before the House until that part of my speech in which I propose to deal with the regulations. They are points in which I have the greatest interest and I am glad that he has stressed them to the House. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) upon the able and good-tempered way in which he has put the Bill before us. It was a great pleasure to listen to his arguments even though as I wish to indicate, I cannot accept them for reasons which I hope he will think are the result of thought, even if he is unable to accept them.
Like everyone else in the House, I believe that the review and the raising of standards of care and safety for work-people is a matter with which we are all 677 in sympathy and which must be kept constantly before us. I am glad to think over what has been done during the past years, especially the review of the Factory Acts which took place over a period of years before the new Act was enacted in 1937, and the far more favourable view—this is a point which hon. Members should have in their minds—towards the workman which has been given to our common law rules during the last 16 years, especially in decisions in the House of Lords. I do not think that anyone who has considered the matter can deny, when comparing decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice in the last 15 years with the decisions of the nineteenth century, that they show a completely different approach to the workman's position. It is a change which has been generally welcomed.
Despite that, I believe that the review by the Gowers Committee is necessary and I look forward with interest to discussing the results at which they arrive. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) rightly quoted the initial part of the Committee's terms of reference, which are:To inquire into and make recommendations as to extending, strengthening or modifying. …(a) the statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed persons.I would remind the hon. Member for Mile End, because this point is material to a point that he made, that the terms of reference go on:at places of employment other than those regulated under the Factories, or Mines and Quarries Acts.I therefore hope that we shall get useful results. It would be a pity if we tried to legislate without having these results before us and without the suggestions which the Committee will make and the Department will adjust and put before us as the result of the Committee's Report.
I have given special consideration to this aspect, certainly for all my adult life, and yet I should very much doubt whether in spite of the special knowledge which I happen to have on this point it would be wise to try to place it into legislative form until we have had the special consideration of the Committee which is sitting. However, as the hon. Gentleman has propounded so careful an argument upon it. I should like to con- 678 sider the difficulty—I merely put it forward as a matter of difficulty—of the suggestion which he has made in the Bill. As the hon. Member rightly said, the present law depends upon the employer taking reasonable care and using reasonable skill in providing and maintaining machinery, plant, ways and places of working; in the selection of competent fellow servants; and in the provision of a proper system of working.
I hope the House will not think it old-fashioned or reactionary of me to reiterate my belief that reasonableness—that is, the standard of care of the ordinary prudent man which is the basis of our common law—is a conception which is also the basis of a great many of the qualities admired and treasured among English people. Reasonableness has as its basis the conception of ordinary prudence, the standard of the ordinary person and of the general tolerance of mind which it has been the glory of this country to display to the world. I hope the House will forgive me—it is a matter on which I feel strongly—for reiterating my belief in it as an approach.
The hon. Member wishes to substitute for that the word "practicable." My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury said that until it had been dealt with by the courts he would take it that it meant that it had its dictionary meaning. I can reassure my hon. Friend that it has been interpreted by the courts. The Court of Appeal said, in the words of my hon. Friend, that it had its dictionary meaning and that the dictionary meaning was "capable of being carried out in action; feasible." For shortness I take "feasible" as being the meaning which would be relevant here. There is a difficulty in making the standard that the employer must do everything which is feasible and which can be put into operation. I ask the hon. Member for Mile End to consider three possibilities. I do not want to be fantastic, and in order to test them I shall deal with possibilities which have already come up in industry and in the work of the departments concerned. The first is that if it is feasible to provide a certain type of guard, then, on the wording which the hon. Gentleman has used—believe me, I am not tying him to words; I am taking the idea behind the words—it would, of course, be feasible to put a guard on a circular saw which entirely prevents the cutting edge 679 of the saw coming into contact with the wood. The hon. Member will wonder if I am going beyond what I said and taking an unreasonable example. I am not. The difficulty of Section 14 of the Factory Act to which the, hon. Gentleman referred—the very difficulty which was the underlying crux of the Miller and Booth-man case—was the fact that if one carried out in one sense the obligation under Section 14, no circular saw will work, and therefore—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop this because it is rather a technical point. Therefore, in Section 60 of the Act of 1937 Parliament gave not the employer, but a Government Department a right to make regulations by which was laid down the best and safest guard for circular saws which would not interfere with their working. That is the first point and that is the difficulty to which the hon. Gentleman's approach leads us. If we approach it on a basis of "feasible." we are in exactly that difficulty.
§ Mr. Piratin
I would like to put two points to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The first one is a point of law of which I know nothing and therefore I speak on it with modesty. I am informed that not very long ago, Lord Simon said in another place that if machinery was of such a character that it could not be adequately guarded in order to prevent accidents, the machinery should be thrown out. The second point—this is the fundamental point of difference—is that I argued that irrespective of whether a guard is ultimately able to prevent every accident—that is impossible and I know it—the employer cannot be divorced from responsibility merely because that accident cannot be prevented without making the machine impossible to work. Therefore, when it comes to compensation and damages the law is in favour of the management in the present circumstances.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Is it not the case that the word "feasible" and the interpretation put upon it, would include the consideration of the workability of the machine and that that would be part of the consideration in deciding whether the protection was 680 feasible or not, and that has been held to be so?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at the Lee's case again—I am sure he did so before he made that interjection—he will see that the trial judge was over-ruled because he thought that the half-inch gap was permissible under the words "reasonably practicable" and the Court of Appeal held that it was feasible and could be carried into action to reduce that completely or practically completely.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I do not wish to give way. With the greatest courtesy in the world to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think it would be very unfortunate if the Bill became a lawyers' wrangle because it raises much more important points than that. I have been trying to keep it on the broader issue and I am therefore very anxious to deal with the points which the hon. Member for Mile End put before me. The first one concerned the scrapping of the machine. It was the effect of decisions on the Factories Act for some period—the David and Thomas Owen case about 1920 was one—that if one did not comply—that is, its danger remained even though it was a remote danger and might only happen in one case out of a thousand—one was liable to prosecution and therefore the answer was to scrap the machine. That was a conception. Section 60 of the Factory Act, 1937, and the regulations made by the Departments under it departed from that conception. They said, "Let us make regulations which give the greatest reasonable protection compatible with the workability of the machine." And that is what the Departments have been trying to do.
That brings me to the second point. If we have a standard of what is reasonable and what is the best that can be expected, that is where the hon. Member and I join issue. I do not think that anyone should be condemned for negligence if he has complied with that standard.
§ Mr. Piratin
I am following the case as well as I am able, but in regard to that last phrase, I have, in introducing this Bill, not asked that the employer should be condemned for negligence in 681 the circumstances outlined by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I say that the unfortunate fact is that the worker goes without damages in such circumstances.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
As I understand it, the employer would be condemned for negligence under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman tells me that he did not intend that, but that is how I read the Bill.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have not encouraged a legalistic discussion. I have tried to answer completely frankly what the hon. Gentleman said, and I have given my reading of the Bill. If I may say so with all modesty, I am at least as entitled to put it forward as even the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
The second point I want to take—and here I pick up one of the points of the hon. Member for Reading—is that it would be perfectly feasible for an employer to have a preliminary examination or test of those whom he was about to employ and, if he did not, if he accepted the man's word as to what he had done and omitted to have the test, that could be put against him. I do not think the hon. Member for Reading would really suggest that it is practical as opposed to practicable, to lay it down as a rule of management, on which he is such an authority, that the employer or manager in the small factory—which, after all, is four-fifths of our manufacturing capacity in this country—should put his workmen through a test before he engaged them. I do not think workmen would like it; certainly they would not in Liverpool. That is not a legalistic point.
The third is a point which the hon. Gentleman quoted as an example, that where a place is dangerous for one reason or another, it is roped off and a notice is put up. In the ordinary way that is enough, because one relies on the workmen seeing the notice and the obstruction. Of course, it would be perfectly feasible to have a man standing there to direct everyone away. Again, however, we would not expect an employer to go to that extent; we would expect, because of the view we take of the intelligence of our fellow creatures, 682 that he would rely on the intelligence of his workmen to see the notice or the roping off.
I have tried to give points, all of which have arisen, all of which have been argued, and show that the test which the hon. Gentleman not only has put in words, but stands by, is one which would not work at the present time. One has always to consider the looking over the shoulder, the fear that comes into the ordinary carrying on of the business, when one puts on impossible and over-severe restrictions. I have tried to approach it without being legalistic or technical. I only give my understanding, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will correct me if he disagrees.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Because in the nearly 14 years which the hon. Gentleman has been in the House, I have never known him to lose an opportunity of correcting someone with whom he disagrees.
§ Mr. Silverman
It is becoming rather a habit with some hon. Members, as they grow increasingly conscious of the weakness of their own argument, to seek to cover it up by getting a cheap laugh out of a cheap sneer, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting forward an argument that hardly deserves the use of that kind of device.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman must not take it amiss. He is a hard fighter in this House, and if we occasionally get in a quite good-tempered 'retort, he must not mind.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Well, it was intended to be good-tempered, and if I have hurt the feelings of the hon. Gentleman, I sincerely regret that fact. I was saying that in my view Clause 1 (2), and the proviso which the hon. Gentleman has introduced, really makes the employer a complete insurer of the safety of the worker, that is, he is tinder an obligation to prevent any accident although he has acted personally perfectly reasonably.
I wanted to say something about the question of regulations because there one comes to the most interesting aspect of the matter which the hon. Member for 683 Reading has put before us. The Bill suggests that the Minister of Labour will have complete and general powers of making regulations for any kind of employment whatsoever. The position at the moment is that for approximately two generations, we have had regulations made as to certain forms of work which have been greatly extended over the period under the Factories Act, under the Mines Act, and under the Quarries Act, and we shall probably have a suggestion for increasing them as a result of the Gowers Committee.
I say that the powers now suggested by the hon. Member are quite different from the existing powers. They are far too vague and sweeping for proper legislation. I think that the subsidiary legislation should be limited broadly as the Donoughmore Committee has suggested, and that it should not take the place of substantive legislation in this House. Obviously I cannot pursue that, because it might put the Debate on another path, but may I follow the hon. Gentleman more clearly? There is no guidance whatsoever in the Bill as to the kinds of measures or means that are indicated for the various employments. Under the Factories Act, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is guidance in the first part of the Act which shows what is aimed at, the mischief that the legislation is intended to meet, and the general method by which it is to be met. Then Parliament having shown quite clearly and at length its intentions with regard to the mischiefs and the remedy, we leave to the Minister the power of making regulations in order to adapt them to the practical problems that arise. That is a completely legitimate and proper use of regulatory powers. But for Parliament to take no part in the indication of means and measures, and to say that the rest is for subsidiary legislation alone, is, I say, an abdication of our function; because our function is not only to declare general principles; it is to see that these general principles are applied according to the needs of our constituents and the electors who have sent us here.
It does not stop there, because there is another important matter, which, I think, directly affects the point of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading. He will probably remember the way in which Sir William Beveridge, as he then 684 was, dealt with it in his report. I will, if I may, refresh the hon. Gentleman's memory by reading the actual words. At page 102, Article 262, Sir William said:With the inevitable uncertainties of legal proceedings, suits for heavy damages on the ground of negligence cannot escape having something of the character of a lottery. In so far as danger of such proceedings is a penalty for negligence, it is more effective to make the penalty a direct one—of criminal proceedings undertaken by the public department responsible for securing industrial safety. Employers can and normally will insure against civil liabilities; they cannot insure against criminal proceedings.The hon. Gentleman will appreciate the importance of that point, to which the quick retort could be made to me: "Are you not content with civil proceedings? Do you want criminal proceedings also?" I believe that this House would never impose a criminal sanction unless it had condescended to such particulars as to measures and means as would give the person who was to be affected a real chance of complying with what this House wanted. Further, as the hon. Gentleman knows, under the Factories Act an elaborate and generally admirable system of inspection is carried out by factory inspectors under the Home Office. I will not go into details now, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, these two concomitants are explained clearly in Parliament. Secondly, having with that a system of inspection which helps the employer not only to avoid prosecution or action for damages, I agree with the hon. Member that these are the symptoms. He and I want to get at the cause. But the creation of an inspectorate or something of that kind, who will give not only assistance but guidance and so on, is, I think an important matter. That is why I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for dealing with what I consider a very important aspect of the matter, rather than with his speech.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I have listened with very great interest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I get the feeling—and I ask him whether he has the same feeling—that it would be of the utmost value to give the Bill a Second Reading and to discuss in the form of Amendments on the Committee stage, all these matters which he is raising.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me but 685 I have tried, as I said at the beginning, to give my views—if the House will not think me presumptuous in saying so—from a lifetime study of the legal aspect of this matter. I feel that before I know how the question of regulations is to be applied to, for example, agriculture, of which I confess I know very little—I am an urban dweller and have lived in either Liverpool or London for most of my life—I should like to know how an expert committee who had heard the witnesses would apply it. I think the suggestion of awaiting the Report of the Gower Committee is extremely important. We shall have to discuss some such Bill as this later on and our discussions in Committee would be immensely more fruitful if we had that additional knowledge.
I could talk about dock regulations. I have a certain knowledge, through professional matters, of coal mines and the Coal Mines Acts, the way they operate and so on. There are certain other industries with which I am tolerably familiar but there are others, I confess, with which I am not. I take agriculture as being a flagrant example. Many of my hon. Friends in all parts of the House who are also townees would make the same admission as frankly as I do. That is really the point.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I am detaining the House but I am trying to face the points contained in the Bill. There is one other aspect. I do not think the hon. Member for Mile End has considered sufficiently the effect of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, about which many of us, including myself, made changes in our point of view. As we are discussing a private Member's Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will remember my own early history on the point and that on an occasion when he also spoke in the House, I declared quite frankly that I had been most impressed during my time in the House by hearing trade union representatives say that we should take industrial injuries away from contest between employers and employed. I said that if that was the view of my trade union colleagues in the House I was prepared to abandon the view which I put before the Royal Commission as to the existing system. That 686 I did, and I did my share in bringing the improved state into operation.
The hon. Gentleman would rather read this matter as if there was no provision for those who were the casualties of inevitable accident. He did not actually say that, but that was what would have been thought by one who had not the background well in mind. But we have made great advances in the field of compensation for any accident, whether there is negligence or not, and I believe the hon. Gentleman's Bill would greatly increase the litigation and would have the effect which we all, on all sides of the House were anxious to avoid when dealing with industrial injuries: that is, to make the matter appear a contest between a workman and his employer. We all knew in most cases, because we were inside the thing, that it was a contest with an insurance company. But the result in industry, and between employers and employed, was to make the thing appear a contest between the two sides. We want to look at that very carefully before we take the chance that the position may again deteriorate.
I should like the House not to give this Bill a Second Reading today, on the understanding that when the right hon. Gentleman receives the Gowers Report he will, within as reasonably rapid a time as he can in view of his manifold duties, let us know his views on the subject, and as soon as possible introduce legislation with that in mind. I believe that that is the statesmanlike course at the moment, and I ask the House to adopt it as being the one most suited to give us full knowledge of the subject, to enable us to give true consideration to the subject, and, therefore, to produce the best results.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
I should like, first, to refer to the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), in which he made it clear that should we pass this Bill in its present form, legal questions will arise. I am not going to attempt to discuss those legal questions. If I might distort a well-known phrase, I might say that I should be a fool to step in where lawyers love to tread. I am keeping out of that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made one or two important contributions 687 to the consideration of this matter, and he made them in the light of a long experience in this field of law, and from his contributions in the interests of injured workmen for which I, as one who has had experience of them, would like to pay him my tribute. Therefore, I look upon his intervention at the moment as being not against the purposes of the Bill, but because he wishes to see those purposes carried out in another way.
I wish also very sincerely to congratulate the mover of the Motion now before the House on the form and content of his speech. It is an indication of our Parliamentary methods that, no matter what political opinions may divide us, we can and do recognise merit when we see it. I also agree with the good which the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) has done in exposing all the anomalies that exist, and in having made clear the fields that need to be remedied. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Southall (Mr. Ayles) who seconded the Motion, made one of those thoughtful and kindly speeches which he usually makes to help us in the consideration of these matters. I suggest to him that he had better see the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) and settle the question with him as to which of them has the longest trade union membership of any hon. Member in this House. My own is a pretty long one.
The hon. Member for Mile End said that this question requires an entirely new approach. We think it might be proper to make an entirely new approach, but, with all respect, we feel that the approach suggested is not an entirely new one. I repeat, it is a new approach, but not an entirely new approach. I am afraid that I might slip into legal points, and I certainly have no wish to do that.
We have three major Acts, the Mines Act, the Quarries Act, and the Factories Act. We have somewhere in the region of 600 orders and regulations working under the Factories Act, all made after consultation and contact with those who can help in drafting such Measures. I am wondering whether, if we adopted the proposals in this Bill, those regulations would all go by the board, or, if they did not, whether they would fit in with the law as altered. There is need for 688 changes. There have been changes in industrial methods regarding machinery, materials used in chemicals, ventilation, lighting, and so on. There is also need for the protection of those who are outside the Act and who, as the hon. Member knows, are a very great number. There is also need for correcting some of the legal decisions made from time to time, which have caused us great difficulties.
I intend to keep the House only a very short time because I want to make it clear, as has been evidenced on both sides, that there is need for some attention to be given to this matter. However, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill after what I have said, or, if that is not possible, I hope that hon. Members will not press the matter to a Division because, in that case, we should have to ask the House to reject the Bill for the reasons which I shall give. I thought I had better make that clear.
As I have indicated, the Government realise that there is a case for further legislation with a view to preventing injury or loss of life within that very wide range of occupations not covered by the three major Acts now in operation. As hon. Members know, shop, agricultural and a vast number of other workers are not covered by these Acts. Quite frankly, the Government feel that if we are going to legislate in that wide field, with further protection for those already covered, it ought be done by way of a Government Bill prepared by and produced by the Government with all the opportunities for consultation, examination, and so on, available to them. For that reason, the Government set up the Gowers Committee. There have been several references to that Committee, and I think it would help if I quoted its terms of reference in full. Sir Ernest Gowers is is the chairman. The Committee was appointed, not by the Ministry of Labour, but by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Secretary of State for Scotland. In other words, it looks as if those two right hon. Gentlemen were saying, "The Minister of Labour has not all the powers he needs to protect these people; we had better find out what is needed." That is how I am looking at the position. As soon as the Gowers Committee's report is received, it will be dealt with, and the 689 Government's opinion on it expressed. The terms of reference of that Committee were:(1) To inquire into the provisions of the Shops Acts relating to closing hours (general or local) and to report as soon as possible whether any alterations are desirable:"—Even in shops the number of hours worked has something to do with accidents—(2) To inquire into and make recommendations as to extending, strengthening or modifying:
- (a) the statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed persons at places of employment other than those regulated under the Factories or Mines and Quarries Acts, and
- (b) the statutory regulation of the hours of employment of young persons.(3) To inquire into and make recommendations as to the machinery for enforcing statutory provisions within the scope of (1) and (2) above."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 19th December, 1945; Vol. 417, c. 1494.]
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I should like to know whether the Minister believes that those terms of reference are wide enough to cover the class of case which he agreed needed legislation where difficulties had been created by unexpected or unwelcome decisions of the court. It seems to me that if the terms of reference are limited to those cases not covered by the Factories Act and the other Acts, one of the two things which he desires to be done cannot be done by the Gowers Committee's report.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Without wishing to be unkind to my hon. Friend, I would say that had I been allowed to continue my statement I could have explained without that little speech intervening. The first point is that, in our opinion, those terms of reference are wide enough to cover all the industrial aspects of the case. As for the legal decisions that have been given from time to time, that is a matter which is being constantly examined by the Ministry of Labour in consultation with the National Joint Advisory Council, with the Trades Union Congress and with the individual trade unions concerned. What we have in mind at the moment is not merely that we should take steps later on to deal with what may come out of the Gowers Committee's report, and the recommendations made therein, but that we should also consider the various other points which have arisen from time to time. I 690 hope that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman. What we have in mind is covering the whole field and making a completely new approach, instead of a partial approach, and to come before the House with a complete review of the whole situation.
§ Mr. McLeavy (Bradford, East)
Could my right hon. Friend tell us the composition of the Gowers Committee?
§ Mr. Isaacs
At the moment, I could not, but I can say that there are representatives of trade unionists and other people.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Could my right hon. Friend say when the Gowers Committee's report is expected?
§ Mr. Isaacs
I should think that we shall get it within three or four weeks from now, and it will, of course, be laid before the House. I think that report ought to be studied before we jump into this new legislation, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that what I am saying is not merely an excuse to get this Bill put away, but that we really want to give complete scope for consideration of a Bill dealing with the whole circumstances, after examination of the Gowers Committee's report and of legal decisions and the constant communications and contacts which we have had with the Factory and Welfare Advisory Board, the National Joint Advisory Council and others. We can then get right down to the actual operation of plant, machinery and equipment and consider the variety of experience of its use and so on.
With all respect, it is not always a question of what the lawyers think ought to happen in workshops, but what the workpeople in them, who have had practical experience of what is necessary, think ought to happen. We should also have the advice and the very wide experience of the factory inspectors and mines inspectors all over the country, and their great experience can be drawn upon in framing and discussing any Bill. The Government feel that we should not achieve our objective by giving this Bill a Second Reading now, in the hope that we could amend it upstairs. After a short time in Government service, but after a very long experience of these matters by acting on behalf of injured workmen, like so many of my hon. Friends—in which work I have been en- 691 gaged for 20 years—I have come to the conclusion that it may not be possible in one Bill, and certainly not in a Bill of two Clauses like this one, and in general terms, to avoid all the complexities and difficulties that would undoubtedly arise.
I do not want to start a discussion on what are "practicable" measures," but as one who has himself worked in a large machine room, I can give an illustration which will be known to a great many hon. Members. In very small printing plants, there is what is known as a platen machine, which is the one on which they generally put the youngsters. I know how to make that machine absolutely safe—by putting a glass case over it and allowing no workman to go near it. That is the only possible way to make it absolutely safe. There must always be some risk of danger. My hon. Friends have asked whether where there is a risk of danger, the proper course would not be to provide for compensation for those who may be injured; and we are completely agreed on that.
There is only one other point, and that is that this Bill does not deal and could not, as a Private Member's Bill, deal with questions of administration and enforcement of safety and health provisions. It would probably require a host of additional inspectors and enforcement officers, because I agree that it is not enough only to find out that a machine was dangerous, and that work-people should have been protected against it, when a person has been injured. We want people to go round and begin at the beginning by saying "This machine is dangerous" before work is started on it and have it put right then. That has already been done to a great extent in some industries, but this Bill would require many additional inspectors. We prefer to put the matter right by careful examination of the problem, and with the co-operation of the manufacturers, so as to ensure that all these dangers do not arise where moving machinery is involved. But it is not only a question of moving machinery. There are such things as defective gang-ways, and the fellow on the top stage dropping a hammer on the fellow below; all the protection in the world could not 692 prevent things like that happening, and they always give rise to difficult questions.
Many people have said for years that it is absolutely essential that the workers should be given a measure of protection of this kind, and that it should be applied in shops and offices. I am a little apprehensive that, if we had a Bill of this kind immediately, applying to clerical workers in offices, one or two Government Departments would have to run around pretty quickly in order to see that they kept themselves inside the law. But if the present Bill were applied to all shops and offices, I am wondering whether a little shopkeeper who employs a girl, and is under an obligation to protect her, might not be liable if a customer came in the shop suffering from some infectious disease which was passed on to the girl. I would not mind betting that it would not be long before we had a case sent to the House of Lords to decide that point of law.
I ask those who are supporting this Bill not to take it as empty flattery when I say to them that they have made out a good case. We think there is need for a review of the situation, and the Government have already appointed a Committee which is reporting shortly. We will take that Committee's report, and I think that my hon. Friends can take it that we will bring it before the House with a view to implementing the report by such legislation as may be necessary. One of my hon. Friends asked the Government to give an undertaking; and I give the undertaking to the House that the report of the Committee will be brought before the House as soon as that is possible, and that the Government will study it with a view to bringing in fresh legislation to meet most, if not all, of the problems raised. Perhaps on that undertaking, the hon. Gentleman may feel that he can withdraw the Bill, but if not, we must ask the House to vote against it, in view of the circumstances which I have explained.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Do I understand that what the Minister has given is an undertaking by the Government to introduce a Bill based on the recommendations of the Gowers Committee's report in the lifetime of this Parliament?
§ Mr. Isaacs
I hope I shall not be pinned down to that. I cannot say that we will introduce a Bill covering all the recommendations of the Gowers Committee's report at once. What I did say is that as soon as the report is received, the Government will examine it and will have discussions with all parties concerned, with a view to bringing in legislation to correct these things, but the House should not assume that we shall be able to do it in this Parliament. I could not say that, because I am not the Leader of the House. All I am saying is that the Government will want something done on these lines, but that we should like to do it in our way.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Solley (Thurrock)
I welcome the undertaking which has been given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, but I venture to say that that undertaking is in no way incompatible with the objective of this Bill or with the desirability of passing this Bill in this Parliament. It seems to me that hon. Members may have missed the real point of this Bill, which is a point of fundamental principle. It was referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). He said that he placed great reliance upon the British legal tradition of reasonableness, but when we consider the legal conception of the relationships between master and servant we find that this question of reasonableness has been in the past, and is even now, interpreted, broadly speaking, from the point of view of the employer rather than from the point of view of the employee. It is to remedy that fundamental approach, as I understand it, that this Bill has been placed before the House.
In the early part of last century, during the period of laissez faire economy and when the common law relating to master and servant was being crystallised, it was true to say, as was said by Lord Cranworth in 1858, that when workmen engage to serve a master they ought to know the risks to which they are exposing themselves and they must be supposed to contract with reference to such risks. In other words, what the common law said was that a workman implicitly contracted to suffer the risks of his employment. As time went on the 694 common law, and the statute law to some extent, altered the incidence of that risk, because it became transparently clear that the law as enunciated in the early part of the last century was grossly unfair to the workmen, but the fundamental principle remains: the law says that the employer is not an insurer of the health or safety of the workman. The fundamental reason for that legal conception—a conception to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred as being reasonable, and which I suggest is most unreasonable, certainly from the Socialist point of view—was that the workman was supposed to undertake the risk of loss of limb, loss of life and all risks of his employment by virtue of the laissez faire conception of economy which existed at the beginning and during the greater part of last century.
This Bill says that no longer shall it be the fundamental principle of English law that a worker must take the risk, subject to certain statutory modifications which have existed hitherto and subject to certain modifications which the common law has introduced during the last 100 years or so. The Bill says that that shall no longer be the rule; the rule shall be that, in effect, the employer shall be the insurer of the safety of the workers. That is my reading of this Bill, and I was grateful for the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby when he stated, as one of the reasons for his opposition to this Bill, that the Bill departed from what he quite rightly considered to be the fundamental law of master and servant, to which he referred as reasonable but which I, as a Socialist, say is most unreasonable.
If my conception of this Bill is right it is a complete answer to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, because what he is saying, quite rightly, is that we cannot here and now make statutory provision for all the sorts of possibilities which might be brought to our notice when the Gowers Committee's report is complete. I agree entirely, but what the right hon. Gentleman overlooks is that in addition to what may be needed in concrete and specific cases as a result of the report of the Gowers Committee, there is need for a new lead to the judges of our country and a new enunciation of the law which shall obtain as between master and servant. That lead is given 695 in this Bill, because if this Bill becomes law it shall be the duty of the employer in all cases totake all practicable measures and provide and maintain all practicable means to prevent injury, including injury to health ….That is a fundamentally new principle which we are seeking to introduce into our law, and it has nothing to do with any specific suggestions or recommendations which may be made by the Gowers Committee. Indeed, when one looks at Clause 2, which gives the Minister of Labour power to make regulations, I apprehend that the Gowers Committee's report will be of the greatest assistance to my right hon. Friend in framing and making those regulations. It will assist him; it will certainly not make it impossible for him to make those regulations.
I should like to deal with further points which were made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby. First, he referred to the difficulties which might be envisaged and which might make it impossible to work machinery at all if the machinery could not be made absolutely safe. I am sorry the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not here, because I differ from him. I suggest that when a Bill uses the expression "all practicable measures", it means all such measures as are practicable in the circumstances if the machine is to operate at all. If the view I am putting forward be considered wrong, let it be noted that for many years, and even now, the law as stated in the Factories Acts has said, subject to any special regulations which have been made under Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1937, "If you cannot work a machine safely, then you are not entitled to work it at all." It may be said that this Bill introduces a new principle from the point of view of feasibility of taking measures to provide safety. Our obvious answer to that must be that this Bill goes no further than what has obtained under the Factories Acts.
On the question of definition, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Moyle) said that the Bill does not contain any definition of the phrase "practicable measures." That offers no difficulty at all to any lawyer. The mass of Statutes relating to Income Tax do not contain a definition of income. One can look through a thousand pages of the Statute Book relat- 696 ing to the Revenue Law and thousands of references to Income Tax and income, and there is not a single definition of income anywhere. Therefore, I do not think we need bother very much about the fact that "practicable measures" is not defined. The word "practicable" can be easily understood, and it is a question of fact in each case whether the measures have been practicable or not.
The hon. Member for Stourbridge then referred, in my opinion in most ungracious and unnecessary terms, to Clause 2, which he described as dictatorial. In addition to the remarks of the hon. Member for Stourbridge, there was a certain amount of comment on the Clause by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby. Clause 2 says:Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of section one of this Act, the Minister of Labour and National Service may make regulations as to the minimum measures to be taken and means to be provided and maintained for the said purposes in such trades …I cannot for the life of me understand why that should be regarded as dictatorial. If one looks, for example, at Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1937, one finds a very similar Section. It says:Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that any manufacture … is of such nature as to cause risk of bodily injury he may … make such special regulations as appear to him to be reasonably practicable.There is no difference between the Clause of this Bill and the Section of that Act in the constitutional manner in which powers are conferred upon the Minister of Labour. It is perfectly true that this Bill does not contain a Clause which in any terms asserts that such regulations shall be brought before this House. That is a small Committee point, however. I take it the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) would have no objection to Amendments being made in the Committee stage as a result of which Parliament would have the power to consider these regulations before they became law. Perhaps the hon. Member would tell us whether he would have any objection to that?
§ Mr. Piratin
I am grateful for the opportunity. I thought I made it clear, when the Attorney-General spoke on this matter, that I am prepared to accept any Amendment to that effect, in Committee.
§ Mr. Solley
In the light of what has just been said by the proposer of the Bill, any talk about dictatorial powers and Moscow in relation to Clause 2 is so much puerile and ridiculous nonsense, not worthy of any hon. Member of this House.
In conclusion, I urge upon hon. Members that, grateful though we are for the undertaking which has been given by the Government, we must recognise that that undertaking is in no way incompatible with or in contradiction of the terms of this Bill. This Bill introduces a new principle in the law of master and servant. That principle will have to be worked out in practice, but I can conceive no better way of working out the principle in practice, than by having the assistance of the Gowers Committee's report. I can conceive no better way of introducing that principle in practice than by the implementation of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend, but over and above that undertaking, we must be aware that we are introducing this new principle.
It would assist in the implementation of the Socialist approach to the problems of workmen and employer if this Bill were accepted. I support the Bill because, as I see it, in no way is it a contradiction of the Government's case. It will assist the Government's intention. In taking the view that it would be better to wait for the report of the Gowers Committee before accepting a Bill such as this, I venture to suggest that the Minister of Labour is under a fallacy. He has failed to see what the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby saw—that this Bill introduces a new principle of law which will in no way be incompatible with any statutory provisions which may be made hereafter, in the light of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I rise to give the strongest support I can to the plea which was made by my right hon. Friend to the mover of the Second Reading of this Bill, the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), to withdraw the Measure on the basis of the undertaking which my right hon. Friend has given. I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will be well aware of the fact that I approach this particular Measure with a very heavy and sustained 698 prejudice in its favour, that is to say, I consider that the principle underlying the Bill and the motives which clearly were present in bringing it forward are wholly admirable in every way. It is because I am convinced that the Bill as it is drafted contains provisions which would result in the frustration of the intention of the mover and his friends that I rise to make a few observations at this stage of the Debate.
It seems to me that if one thing is clear from the measures of safety, health and welfare which are negotiated by the great trade unions in this country, it is surely that there must be precision. It is quite useless and in some cases very heartbreaking to give the appearance of giving a right when, in fact, no right is given, or worse, when the matter to which one is addressing oneself is full of ambiguity. In this Bill reference is made to the inclusion, as a condition of every contract of employment, that the employershall take all practicable measures and provide and maintain all practicable means to prevent injury, including injury to health.I must say that I entirely disagree with the view propounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley). My opinion, which I put with great respect and deference to the House, is that it would probably be at least another generation in the complicated field of British industry before these expressions were clearly understood; that is to say, one of the results which would immediately flow from the passing of a Bill such as this would be that every effort would be made by one side to constrict the effect of this Clause as much as possible and by the other side to extend it as much as possible. For my own part, feeling as I do that everything possible should be done to assist the injured worker, I should be prepared to argue in almost every conceivable circumstance, that if an accident and an injury occurred and there were any means at all which could have been taken to prevent such an accident, then under the Act the claimant should be entitled to come before the court and say, "Since it was possible that this accident could have been prevented, then the employers are liable."
I know the Bill does not say "possible," but it seems to me that to introduce a Clause of this sort means that anything short of the theoretical is admissible in 699 argument in any case which might be submitted. That means that the Bill goes much too far in attempting to establish a right with which I think all of us, and certainly all right-thinking Members of this House, would feel the fullest sympathy. It is as an advocate of the injured worker that I put my point, and not as one who opposes his views. In other words, I should like to see established a state of affairs in our legal world which would enable the intentions of the proposer of this Bill to be put into effect, but if this Bill were passed in this form it is my firm conviction that those intentions would be frustrated. I have given a lot of thought—
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the Bill were given its Second Reading, are there not valuable Amendments which the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) could make in order to make the Bill do what he wants it to do?
§ Mr. Williams
The friendly impetuosity which prompted the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to leap to his feet prevented him from hearing the rest of my sentence. I was telling the House before that interjection occurred that I had given a great deal of thought to the question of whether it was possible so to amend these words in Committee as to avoid the misgivings which I feel concerning them. I have, very reluctantly, come to the conclusion that the presentation of a Bill in this form is entirely the wrong approach, and that nothing we could possibly do in Committee could result in providing a satisfactory solution. These measures for safety, health and welfare, which are so highly complicated, so difficult, so highly specialised, are matters which are within the province particularly of the great trade unions concerned, and the proper way to establish the state of affairs which the proposer of this Bill has in mind is to bring the parties together—as, indeed, they come together—with the Departments concerned to provide legislation as a result of the joint experience of those specialists.
It seems to me that if an attempt is made on general lines to introduce a Measure regardless of the complicated factors of the problem itself, that Measure can result only in creating false hopes and hardships and very difficult cases indeed. 700 It seems to me to be quite clear that if we start having an argument as to the operative words in Clause 1, we could carry that argument on for a very long time, probably for as long a time as we carried on the argument about the words "arising out of and in the course of the employment." The argument about those words has now reached the stage at which the words are reasonably well understood, but what we should be doing in this would be this: we should be introducing a new expression which would defy analysis for many years to come.
One of the other difficulties that I feel is that this Bill, by an over-simplification, would place in the hands of the Minister of Labour and National Service a responsibility entirely beyond the resources of his Department. This Bill is intended to deal, for example, with cases arising in the mining industry. That being so, I feel very strongly that the National Union of Mineworkers and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, having spent such a great deal of time and having such skill in dealing with the special difficulties arising in the coalmining industry, would surely find it very difficult to accept a situation in which the Minister of Labour and National Service would be the authority to decide the minimum standard there. That example can be multiplied by relating the matter to other Ministries and other industries. I am particularly concerned, however, about the miners.
The proper method of dealing with these questions is the method which has been put forward by the right hon. Gentlemen today. Along that road it is possible to achieve the ends which the proposer of this Bill and his supporters have in view. Let me assure them that they will find no greater ally in moving towards the achievement of those ends than myself. I have spent many years in this particular field, and I am concerned with bringing about the result which the proposer of the Bill has in mind, and that he desires this Bill to promote. I conclude by saying that I sincerely hope that he will accept the suggestion which has been put forward by my right hon. Friend.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I do not know what course the mover and seconder of the Motion will take today, 701 but I rather hope that they will ask the House to vote on it. I do not propose in any case to enter into the legalistic arguments in the case. I want to refer to a matter which is germane to the subject—my own experience in promoting a Private Member's Bill in the last Parliament. It is a sobering experience. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin)—and let me join in the compliments paid to him upon the way he presented his argument today—will find this a sobering experience. The Bill which I had to do with dealt with night baking. When it was presented to the House and passed on Second Reading, I had high hopes of abolishing night baking, but the Bill, in fact, achieved nothing of the sort: it achieved only a small improvement in the conditions in the baking industry. I mention this today because I think we have had too much—if I may say so without offence—too much high-flown legalistic argument on the matter as if the Bill would be very wide.
The proposals of the Bill are very simple—to provide protection at work which is needed by all workers in this country at the present time, except those who are already protected under existing legislation. This is a very important question indeed and ought not to be passed over as though it were merely a question of a difference of opinion between one lawyer and another. It is a question which has a medical aspect, too. I have had a great deal to do with workmen's compensation. The greatest difficulty always, when cases go before the courts, is to get justice for the workers from those who are working against them on the other side, employing legal arguments of the worst kind. It seems to me there is a strong argument for having this matter threshed out in detail in Committee. Some of the speeches which have been made on the Bill would have been very much more germane in Committee, concerned as they are with detail, than they have been in this Debate on Second Reading, when we are concerned only with the general principle.
The Minister of Labour has already told the House that the Government are studying this problem. I was aware of that. I realise the anxiety of the Government to carry out proposals to extend 702 protection to workers of all grades at all times in connection with their work, largely on the lines proposed in this Bill. However, the Minister of Labour did not give an assurance that a Bill would be introduced in this Parliament. That seems to me to put off the realisation of the excellent proposals contained in this Bill for a very long time. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, before we conclude the Debate, will, at least, give us some hope—if he wishes us to vote against Second Reading—that a Bill will be brought in during the life of this Parliament.
I do not myself think that the next Election will modify the control of this House. That is, of course, a matter of opinion, and I may be wrong. But if the opportunity is not taken of bringing forward this legislation now, one cannot be quite certain that it will be so easy to bring it forward in the future. I do not believe for one moment that at the next Election the composition of the House will be changed as far as the majority is concerned, but I do not see any reason why an important matter of this kind should not now be decided. I hope that, unless the mover and seconder in their wisdom and for reasons which appeal to them, propose to withdraw it, the House will support the Motion.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I will be only a few minutes but I wish to make my own position clear. The Minister of Labour has placed those of us who were proposing to support this Bill in the Division Lobby today in some difficulty. He has given an undertaking, but only a qualified undertaking. He has gone a long way to meet those of us who think that the present law is unsatisfactory and that it should be changed, and I was impressed by the point that this subject is still under consideration by the Gowers Committee. But the Minister has not given any unqualified undertaking that a Bill dealing with this matter will be introduced during the lifetime of the present Parliament. I therefore find myself in a position where, without having had any previous experience of Private Members' Bills, I have to decide—if the mover should press this Bill to a Division—whether or not I should give my vote in support of it or against it, notwithstanding the Minister's qualified undertaking.
703 I conceive it to be my duty to support it because I believe in the principle which it embodies. I am not impressed with the argument which some of my hon. Friends have put forward to the effect that the Bill requires amendment, but that no Amendments to improve this Bill can be made in Committee. This Bill, like any other, is capable of considerable amendment in Committee. It might well be possible to carry out by Amendments to this Bill in Committee some of the recommendations that may come from the Gowers Committee when they report next month.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) and some other hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill have put forward the view that it enshrines a new principle, and that is why they support it. I believe that it restores on old principle. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) in a very able and eloquent speech, told us a good deal about common law and statute law on the subject of master and servant. I would remind him that the old common law of England which dates from pre-Industrial Revolution days, and indeed right back into fuedal times, was much more tender and had more strict regard to the status and condition of workmen and labourers than the common law of the 19th Century. Unfortunately the old common law was not equipped to deal with the complicated problems of the Industrial Revolution, and in the nineteenth century became obsessed with the economic doctrine of freedom of contract, a theory which in its absurdity, ignored the fact that there was no equality of bargaining power between employer and employee. But the common law of the nineteenth century sacrificed everything to that unholy doctrine of freedom of contract. The legal history of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century has seen in the whole field of industrial relations a continuous inroad by Statute into that doctrine of the common law, largely as a result of the sustained pressure of the trade union movement. As a result it is now everywhere recognised that it is the duty of Parliament to impose statutory obligations on employers in the interests of social justice. I am proposing, if this Bill is forced to a Division, to support it because I believe this tendency has not 704 yet gone far enough, and has not yet reached its logical and final conclusion. As the law stands today, it still produces injustice.
May I also remind the House that whereas a century ago labour was still regarded as a commodity to be exploited by employers in a capitalist society, we now live in days when the policy of full employment has been accepted, and in which the sanctity of the life and limb and health of the working classes and of all workers is of national concern, and of national interest. This is a Bill dealing with the standard of liability to be imposed on employers in the event of employees suffering industrial accident. It may well be argued that the proper standard should be substantially that of insurer against all events other than those caused by the wilful default or negligence of the labourer himself. If therefore the Bill is forced to a Division I shall support it in the Division Lobby.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby)
I should have liked to support the Bill, and I have been most interested in reading and studying it but it contains to my mind one or two serious deficiencies—so serious that I think this subject should be dealt with at a later stage by the Government.
I am very much disturbed by the thought that if we introduce by legislation statutory limitations to too great an extent, they will take away altogether from the employer his responsibilities and obligations. There is a great danger of that happening. There has been much talk today of machines and accidents as the result of machines, but I have a feeling that a large number of accidents are not caused by machines at all, but through many other reasons. So many trades are concerned and so many provisions will have to be made to cover employment for risks in the various trades, that this Bill as introduced is an over-simplification. Only a short time ago it was necessary to introduce Measures for the safety of workers employed in processes connected with atomic energy. There is always a time-lag in these matters. We cannot have regulations and laws which will catch up immediately with progress, and we must, therefore, leave the obligation upon 705 the employer in many respects to act in a humane and proper manner.
There are many good employers, and I feel that we must not take everything out of the hands of the employer, in this field of safety in industry otherwise he may say "those are the laws, I comply with them and I have no further responsibility." The proposer of this Bill, unless I misunderstood him, has missed one very important point. Is he in trying to protect people against accidents also trying to get compensation for them at a higher rate should an accident occur?
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I will give my hon. Friend an opportunity of replying, but perhaps he will first allow me to amplify what I was saying. I heard him say on one or two occasions that if there had been no negligence by the employer, the employee was entitled only to compensation, within the Workmen's Compensation Act, and I believe this is so. Therefore, if an employee is injured, and the employer has not shown negligence, the employee suffers in regard to compensation, but if the employer has displayed negligence, then the employee does not suffer materially so much in that respect. As an example, if an employee is injured by a piece of machinery which has broken off and hits him in the eye, and he loses his eye, that is not negligence on the part of the employer. If, on the other hand, the employer has not done something which he should have done to protect the workman, and the piece of machinery hits him in the eye, he still loses his eye, but he is paid higher compensation. A Bill of this description should make provision for equal compensation to be paid to the worker who loses an eye when doing his job, and there should not be the fine distinction involved in this matter of negligence or act of God. That is why I say that in one respect there is over-simplification in this Bill, and in another that my hon. Friend has not gone far enough. I have every sympathy with the Bill, and I am sure that every Member would like to see better provision made not only to prevent accidents, but to give proper compensation when an accident has occurred, whether it is due to the negligence or not of the employer.
§ Mr. Piratin
I do not want to deal with the question of compensation because I think that my hon. Friend is mistaken about that matter. Throughout my speech of 30 minutes, I hardly mentioned compensation, except in an exchange with another hon. Member, and I confined it almost exclusively to the question of protection.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. McAdam (Salford, North)
Over a period of years I have, as a trade union representative, attended numerous inquiries into fatal and non-fatal accidents, and I could quote from my own experience many examples to support this Bill. I content myself with giving two, the first concerning a fatal accident and the second a non-fatal accident.
A railway goods worker met with an accident, suffering injuries from which he subsequently died, as a result of a log of wood falling off a lorry as it was being placed against a railway wagon, in position for unloading. At the Sheriff's Court of Inquiry I put these questions to the representative of the firm. First: "Was the wood secured by a rope or chain at the time the lorry was being placed in position for unloading?" Second: "Had unloading actually commenced at the time the accident took place?" The reply I received to both questions was: "No." I then went on to claim that had the wood been properly secured in the manner I had suggested the accident would not have occurred.
The Sheriff's Court intimated in its report that it agreed with the views I had expressed, and as a result we were able to claim for the widow damages at common law instead of the £300 she would have received as compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The point is that the widow would have preferred the company of her man and his weekly wage to the compensation she ultimately received and had the safety measures I suggested been compulsory by regulation a life could have been saved.
The second case concerns a railway fireman who suffered a badly-damaged ankle through slipping on some sleepers which had been placed between the running roads over which he had to make his way to get to his locomotive. The Ministry of Transport inquiry was held 707 on the spot where the accident took place, and as the sleepers had then been removed I put two questions to the local representative of the railway company. First: "When were the sleepers placed in the position they were in at the time the accident took place?" The reply was: "A week before." My second question was: "When were the sleepers removed, and where are they now situated?" The local official of the railway company intimated that following the accident he had given instructions to have the sleepers removed, and that they were then situated some distance away. When we adjourned to the spot where the sleepers were then lying, the Ministry of Transport inspector said to the local railway official: "Would it not have been better to have had the sleepers removed here the day before, instead of the day after the accident occurred?"
That is my case in support of this Bill. We want to prevent accidents, because the safety of life and limb is of far more importance to working people than the damages they can receive either at common law or under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
I do not approach this Bill from a lawyer's point of view, because I think that on this matter, which is unquestionably very urgent and important, the discussion should have as wide a view as possible. There are one or two matters which I would ask the House to consider for a moment or two. First, we must face the fact that the number of accidents in factories and workshops is increasing very rapidly indeed—not only accidents involving small injury, but those causing very serious injury. That comes in a setting in which production is being greatly intensified, and when people are being asked to work harder and to work longer hours. When one takes into consideration the deterioration of machinery during the war and the inability to replace it, together with the out-of-dateness of some machinery, the risks become even greater still. The matter is therefore one which ought to have the most careful consideration in this House.
No doubt certain Statutes cover quite a number of workers: we have had the figure of nine million mentioned this 708 morning. There is no doubt however that over and above that there is a much larger field of non-protection, and it is to this that I am certain the mover applied his mind and for which he is asking for our support. There is one feature which has not so far been mentioned, and it is because of that I formed the view that the Bill ought to be supported. I shall refer to it later on. Meanwhile, we have had the intervention of a plea from the Minister of Labour, and I think that it is very difficult to resist that plea. On the other hand, one would like to feel that the plea will have a practical helpfulness in the sense that such action as may be taken because of it will not be unduly delayed. As I have indicated, this is a very urgent matter indeed, and not only should it not be unduly delayed, but the Bill, when introduced, ought to be sufficiently comprehensive to cover the wide field of non-protection to which I have alluded.
Let me give an example of the sort of thing that happens in the industrial factory or workshop. There is the well-known case of Nichol and F. Austin, Ltd., which went to the House of Lords, in which it was held that, although under the Statute the employer was liable to fence and protect the machinery so that the body or the limb of the worker should not be able to penetrate it, that nevertheless did not include liability for consequences resulting from something flying out of the machine. In the event, of course, the material which in that case flew out of the machine caused a very serious accident. But that reverse process left the employer protected, while leaving the injured worker unprotected and uncompensated.
There is another class of case, and a very serious class, which concerns young people. With young people supervision is perhaps more necessary than anything else; there is not the care taken which ought to be taken, resulting in the most appalling accidents. There are two cases which I personally recall to mind. The first concerns a brick works where during the breakfast interval some of the boys employed there were playing, and being naturally high spirited, as boys are, one of them climbed a girder. Subsequently some clothes were seen whirling round a shaft, and when a search was made the boy was discovered hiding in 709 a corner absolutely naked except for his shoes and socks. Fortunately that did not turn out to be a fatal accident; but it might have been, and it is no answer for the employer to say: "This happened out of work hours during the breakfast interval. We cannot help it if the boys play with the machinery." That is no answer. There ought to be supervision to prevent that sort of thing from taking place, and the employer should be made liable, as this Bill would in such a case make him liable. There was another case which happened at work during a night shift. A rat got into a bin of maize and a lad jumped into the bin after it. He got sucked in and was suffocated. There were no means at law for successfully suing the employer to get compensation. These are the sort of cases where supervision is required and where liability ought to be placed upon the employer for absence of that supervision.
There is one point in regard to which I cannot understand why there should be any opposition. I quite agree, in view of what the Minister has said, that we ought to wait. It is right that the Report of the Gowers Committee should be considered, and that this matter should be treated as comprehensively as can be so that a Bill as explicit and specific as possible may be introduced to cover all the cases, and cover them clearly. It is, however, the fact that the mover is merely seeking to do precisely what applies under Statute Law today. In other words, he is making the position under the Statutes, such as the Factories Act, dealing with these matters apply precisely to the Common Law position. That was accepted by the Government when the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Bill was discussed by the House before it became an Act of Parliament. The House will recall that by Section 2 of that Act it was sought to make provision to protect the employer if it were shown that it was not reasonably practicable for him to prevent a breach. As a matter of fact, the Government withdrew that Clause and left the liability of the employer absolute, apart from such exceptions Is may he provided in the Statute.
If under the statutory provisions the employer is made absolutely liable, why should it not be the same under common law, especially now that the defence of 710 common employment has gone? There was something to be said about the Common Law position, as distinct from the Statutory position, when the defence of common employment was there, because the employer could say: You had a fellow-workman working with you and he was careless and that carelessness caused grave injury. I cannot help that because you impliedly took the risk of his carelessness. Therefore, I am not liable." Now that that defence has been done away with I can see no reason why the position as to the employer's liability ought not to be made the same under the common law as it is under statutory law. Under the relevant Statutes, subject to exceptions provided by them, there is an absolute liability. All the mover is seeking to do, is to approximate that position to the position at common law. That being the case, it seems to me it ought to have the wholehearted and unanimous support of the House. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) moved the Second Reading of this Bill with great clarity and effectiveness almost qualifying himself in doing so to become a lawyer. It is only because of what the Minister has said, that I hope the Bill will be withdrawn so that we can have an opportunity to deal with the matter more fully when we get the Gowers Report.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I do not propose to follow very closely the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). His speech referred more to the legal aspects of the problem of compensation than to what I regard as being the commonsense view of members of the working class movement, and particularly of the trade union movement, in regard to these problems. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) is to be congratulated on having brought forward this Bill and upon the very clear way in which he stated his case for it. I confess that if this Bill had been brought forward without the possibility of further Government legislation arising from the Gowers Committee's report, I should have felt inclined to support it in the Division Lobby. But I ask Members on this side to apply common sense to the Measure before them. There is no doubt that the Bill's intentions are ex- 711 ceedingly good, but it is far too wide and vague. It places far too much responsibility on the Minister of Labour in the making of subsequent regulations.
During the Debate on this important question of the protection of workers in industry, too little emphasis has been laid upon the tremendous work that has been done in this field by the Trades Union Congress over a long period of years. Those of us who have been closely associated with the trade union movement in the past 25 or 30 years know the constant attention which the Trades Union Congress and its affiliated unions have given to the provision of legislation for the protection of workers in industry. It is no criticism of the trade union movement that our legislation in this field is not so advanced, but a criticism of the Governments which were in office up to 1945 that have not been too sympathetic towards adequate provision of protection and compensation to the workers. I prefer to accept the assurance given by the Minister.
The Gowers Committee is representative of all sides of industry, and I prefer to wait for its report to be presented to the House of Commons and for the Government to be given a reasonable time to consider both the provisions of that report and its short-comings and then to announce the legislation they propose to bring forward. I believe the safest and most effective and democratic way to proceed is by consultation with all sides. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mile End realises the importance of the point I am making. I believe that arising from the Gowers Committee's report, there will be further representations from the Trades Union Congress and from affiliated trade unions to the Government upon the application of what is contained in the report.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
I appreciate the argument which my hon. Friend is putting forward in regard to the Government coming to a conclusion only after examination of the findings of the Gowers Committee, but would he not agree that if the Government took unduly long in arriving at their conclusions the present injustices would be perpetuated in the meantime?
§ Mr. McLeavy
The intervention of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) 712 is very largely by way of implication rather than of question. He is assuming, and it is not the first time that he has assumed, that the Government are not moving as speedily along a particular line as he thinks they should. It may well be that there will be delay in the application of the Gowers Committee's report, but I believe that reasonable delay is inevitable if we are to ascertain the viewpoint of organised labour and others, in trying to find a basis upon which to draft a Bill which would have to last for many years. Therefore, there should be no undue criticism about delay, provided that hon. Members on this side of the House exercise their rights in regard to any provisions which the Government may make.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I hope that the hon. Member will not make the same accusation against me, as he made against the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin), but I would ask him one simple question. He has heard what the Minister of Labour said and the assurance he has given. I am certain that if the right hon. Gentleman were to give an assurance that a Government Bill would be introduced within, shall we say, six months at the maximum, most of us would be satisfied and that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill would be prepared to withdraw it. What does the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy) say to that?
§ Mr. McLeavy
I do not think that that question should be addressed to me. It should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I do not speak for the Government, I am speaking, as on all occasions, as a very humble back bencher. I am expressing my own personal views, built upon a very considerable experience in the trade union movement of this country.
In view of the very reasonable and clear statement by the Minister of Labour and the assurance he gave that the Gowers Committee's report will be presented to the House and that legislation will follow, I appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End to withdraw the Bill. If there were no possibility of acceptance of the Gowers Committee's report and if we had no assurance from the Minister of Labour that 713 legislation was pending after consultation with all sections of industry, including the trade union movement, I should be prepared to go into the Lobby for the Bill. In the light of all the circumstances, I believe that common sense dictates that I should, if necessary, vote against the Bill.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
First, I should like to say something on which I hope there will be general agreement. If there was ever any doubt about the desirability of restoring to Private Members their right to initiate legislation in this House, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) this morning and the Measure which he has introduced, remove any doubt about it at all.
The second thing may not command general agreement, or even the agreement of my hon. Friend himself. I detected in the speech made early in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Moyle) some kind of feeling with regard to the Bill arising out of the fact that it was not moved by a member of the party to which he and I belong, but by a member of the Communist Party. There were references to Moscow and to the traditions of Westminster, and I thought that they were a little misconceived, especially on a Private Members' Day when we endeavour—we always have done, and I hope always will do—to bring our own honest consciences and judgment to bear upon the issues that are raised, without regard to party or to political obligations or affiliations of any kind.
I thought it was particularly out of place on this occasion, when my hon. Friend was not appearing in the character of a wild revolutionary seeking to overthrow the system in order to get improvements more rapidly and violently than has been the case in the past. On the contrary, he has accepted in his speech and in his Bill the old approach of Social Democracy by way of the development of legislation. What has he done? He has taken a specific social evil and he has sought to persuade the House of Commons to make a further advance by way of an Act of Parliament along the road of social well-being that we have been trying to travel as rapidly 714 as possible for so long. He is a constitutional Socialist revolutionary this morning just as the rest of us are. That is the reply to some of the criticisms that have been advanced against this Bill.
A new approach there may be in the Bill. I think that was admitted to be necessary, even by the Minister who said, and I agree with him, that it was not an entirely new approach. Of course, it is not. It is another long step along the road which we have been travelling for some time. We have been travelling much more rapidly along it during the past three years than in any other period of our history. I do not want to take up a lot of time paying tribute to the Labour Movement in the past, because we all know our obligations to it and the obligations of the working class of this country and of the nation as a whole.
In this very Parliament a number of small and useful Bills have made valuable additions to the apparatus of legislation with which the Bill is concerned. I am thinking in particular of the Measure to abolish the doctrine of common employment, which we have been trying to adopt for many years. I have heard three Private Members on Private Members' days introduce Bills to abolish it. The right hon. and learned Member who spoke for the Opposition so kindly and generously about social amelioration led the battle against the abolition of the doctrine of common employment and prevented us from abolishing it.
The Bill takes one large and one small gap in that legislation, and endeavours to fill them. The one large gap is all that mass—and I understand that there are millions of them—of workpeople employed in places to which none of the Acts giving the Minister power to make safety and health regulations apply. There cannot possibly at this time of day be any objection to that. The protection which miners and people working in factories, workshops and quarries get ought equally to be available wherever people are employed by other people for profit and on a commercial basis in commercial and industrial undertakings. One of the pleasing facts of the Debate is that nobody has attacked the principle. It is remarkable that every speaker—there has not been a single exception—has accepted the principle of the Bill and welcomed what it intends to do. Some 715 have had objections and some have had reasons for not being quite satisfied, but no one has contested the principle. That is the large gap which the Bill attempts to fill.
There is a much smaller gap which the Bill attempts to fill. In the industries and places to which regulations apply there are a number of anomalies either because of the drafting of the Acts in question or because of certain decisions in the courts, all because of the very heavy onus of proof which the law leaves to the plaintiff who brings a claim for damages. One case which was referred to was that of a workman who fell into a hole two feet deep and 2½ feet square which clearly ought not to have been there. He suffered great injury and brought an action for damages. Nobody said that the hole ought to have been there, that there was not negligence by somebody and that his injuries did not result from that negligence, but it was said expressly by, I think, the Master of the Rolls that in our law the onus of proof of negligence lies on the plaintiff, and as the plaintiff could not tell which of the contractors or sub-contractors was responsible, who took the safety planks away and whose servant it was, and could not discharge the onus of proof which rested on him, his claim could not succeed. That was upheld in the House of Lords.
If Clause 1 were accepted such a man would not be in that difficulty. All will admit that he ought not to be in that difficulty. The Clause provides that it shall be the obligation of the employer to see that the place is safe. If it is not, then without imputing any moral delinquency or blame of any kind to the employer on matters in which he may be just as innocent as the injured workman, the enterprise shall bear the loss as part of its overhead costs, insurance premium or something of that kind, instead of leaving the workman to bear the whole of the burden of the consequent cost because he is not in a position to prove beyond doubt whose negligence it was.
It is not necessary to dilate on that because all who have spoken have accepted the principle. Nor is there anything in some of the other objections which have been raised. Two hon. Members said that this is a very 716 bad Bill and that it would never be possible to interpret it properly in the courts because it only provides that the employer shall do what is practicable. It would be very easy to put absolute liability on him and avoid all reference to what is reasonable or practicable, but that would be most unfair. There is nothing new in the phrase. It is very frequently used in the Factories Act. Section 60 says that where the Secretary of State is satisfied about certain things he may make such special regulations as appear to him to be reasonably practicable.
§ Mr. Silverman
Yes, reasonably practicable. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will not invite the House to think that the court will make any essential difference between the interpretation of what is reasonably practical and what is practicable.
§ Mr. Silverman
I prefer not to give way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is only because I do not want to be too long and the point does not matter because even if I am mistaken, as I very likely am, and even if there is a vital difference between "reasonably practicable" and "practicable," it is obviously only a Committee point, and there would be no reason whatever for rejecting a Second Reading of a Bill merely because it did not include the word "reasonably" where it should. Such an Amendment could easily be made in Committee and I am sure that my hon. Friends would not resist it. I certainly would not resist it because it does not seem to me to make a great deal of difference. If there is a risk that it does make a difference, an Amendment can readily be inserted. However, it is not necessary to argue this point at any greater length.
I want to express my thanks and, I am sure, the thanks of a number of my hon. Friends to the Minister of Labour for the very friendly and helpful speech he made. We are all very grateful to him. Today's Debate would be well worth while if only because it elicited from my right hon. Friend the speech which he made. It is quite clear that he is sympathetic, and not merely vaguely sympathetic, but warmly, actively and co-operatively sympathetic towards the 717 objects which the Bill is intended to achieve. I should like him to make the position of the Government a little clearer than he did. I do not ask him to undertake to accept the recommendations of the Gowers Committee today. I am not ready to undertake to accept them in advance myself, and the Government and all of us are quite right to say that we would prefer to see them before we undertake to adopt them. We may not agree with all of them.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman said that we shall have the Gowers Committee's report within three or four weeks, and that, on the basis of that report, the Government undertake to introduce legislation to cover not merely the points within the terms of reference of the Committee but to fill both of the gaps intended to be filled by the Bill. However, I thought that my right hon. Friend was a little vague about time. There would be a very good case for saying that we could dispense with the Second Reading of this Bill if the Government would undertake to introduce legislation to cover the same point as soon as it was "reasonably practicable" and I feel certain that if my right hon. Friend could say that, none of my hon. Friends would make any difficulty about the interpretation of that phrase.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for giving way. As to his point about the legislation, I would like to give him a definite assurance from myself as Minister, that whatever may be in the Gowers Committee's report and whatever consultations may be necessary, I will take into consultation any hon. Members who are interested in the subject of workmen's compensation and get their views. On the second point, I am confident that the Government will make every effort to bring in during the lifetime of this Parliament any legislation consequent upon the Gowers Committee's report which is reasonably practicable.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am grateful for that, and speaking for myself I say that it meets any demand that could reasonably be made. It is a promise of legislation to cover the whole field, it is a promise of consultation with all who may be interested, and it is a promise to do it within the lifetime of this Parliament, unless it is impossible to do so, and with that I should be content.
§ Mr. Piratin
In the light of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, particularly during the last minute, I should like to ask leave to withdraw the Motion. Before doing so, however, may I say that, although the result of this Debate is not as satisfactory as I should have liked, inasmuch as I wished my Bill to go through, I am by nature a practical man and I have a certain thing in mind. As I have been told by one or two old-time Members of this House—I am a novice in this—
§ Mr. Piratin
May I just make the point, Mr. Speaker. Were the Bill even to go to Committee, it might still be bandied about a long while with nothing gained. I am thinking of the merits of the issue in this sense, that it would be for the benefit of the workers for whom the Bill is intended, if the Government will take the steps to which the Minister has so kindly agreed, and therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.