HL Deb 19 February 1894 vol 21 cc693-707

Commons Amendments to the Amendments last made by the Lords considered (according to Order).


My Lords, I now rise to move that this House do agree to the Commons Amendments, and it seems to me most for the convenience of the House and for the intelligible discussion of the Amendments if I move each of them separately, because they relate to different matters, and do not all bear on the same point. I therefore propose to move, in the first instance, that your Lordships do agree to the Commons Amendments to the first paragraph of the Amendments of this House identified with the name of my noble Friend Lord Dudley. The first paragraph, as your Lordships are aware, applies to Insurance Societies formed before the passing of this Act, and with regard to those Societies the Amendment introduced by the Commons proposes that contracting out shall be allowed for a period of three years. When that Motion was made in the House by an hon. Gentleman, an independent Member of that House who had been a supporter and, I think, Seconder of Mr. M'Laren's Amendment when the Bill was originally passing through the House of Commons, that hon. Gentleman proposed, as I have said, that the first part of your Lordships' Amendment should be accepted for a period of three years on the ground that it would be a good tiling to give such a period for those who were connected with existing funds of this kind to look carefully into their position and consider the effect of the Bill by the experience which might be obtained in that period before taking whatever steps they might think right in respect of these funds. Your Lordships will recollect that Her Majesty's Government have invariably stated in both Houses that they are in no way hostile to funds of this description—that, on the contrary, they desire their continuance—and they did not believe that any just ground would be afforded by this Bill for the abandonment of these funds. I think we have some reason to suppose that the desire to maintain these funds is not, at all events, universally felt. The other evening I referred to the opinion expressed upon this subject by Mr. Samuel Laing, the Chairman of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, only on his own behalf certainly and without previous consultation with his co-Directors; nevertheless, Mr. Laing is a gentleman of much experience, and he speaks with authority upon a question of this kind. It has been said throughout that there is something like practical unanimity among the working members of these funds in favour of the Amendment of the noble Earl opposite. Evidently that unanimity is not so complete as has sometimes been supposed, because within the last week two meetings have been held in London of the men employed by the London and North Western Railway Company with the object of supporting Lord Dudley's Amendment, but both those meetings by overwhelming majorities rejected the resolution proposed for that purpose, and expressed their desire, on the contrary, that the Bill should remain as it was brought originally into the House of Commons in this respect.


asked whether the noble Marquess could give the dates of those meetings?


One was held on Saturday, and the other on Monday last. The Standard gave this account of the meeting held on the 12th:— A meeting of employe's of the London and North Western Railway Company in the Metropolis was held last night at the Royal Park Hotel. Camden Town, in support of the permissive clause introduced into the Bill by the House of Lords. Then follows an account of the meeting, which I need not read at length; but the result of it was this: — A motion was made that this meeting heartily approved of the clause introduced into the Bill for the protection of Mutual Societies, and calls upon the Government to accept the same, thereby securing to workmen compensation in all cases of accident": but, "eventually the motion was defeated by a majority of 5 to 1. There is an account in the papers this morning of another meeting held on Saturday or yesterday, I do not know which. But, my Lords, I do not wish to press that point too far. I am only alluding to it as showing that there is a division of opinion among the workmen employed by these companies as to the course which it is desirable legislation should take in this matter; and when one sees there is this difference of opinion among those connected with these Societies as employers and employed, it seems to me very reasonable that Parliament should afford such an opportunity as would be given by the adoption of this Amendment to those concerned in these Societies carefully to consider their position. I have all along regretted the determined position taken up by the Directors of the London and North Western Company in this matter, though I quite feel that, having taken up that position, it would be difficult for them to withdraw from it at the present time; but I cannot doubt for a moment that if the experience of three years should show them that the results of this legislation were different from what they had anticipated they would reconsider their position, and not feel themselves bound blindly to adhere to opinions they had expressed under different circumstances. On these grounds, desiring to do everything that can be done consistently with carrying out the principle of this Bill, to afford an opportunity for the maintenance and to avoid the abandonment of institutions of this description, I earnestly hope your Lordships will accept this Amendment of the House of Commons.

Moved, that this House do agree with the Commons Amendment to the following Lords Amendment:— (2.) The foregoing enactment shall not apply to any agreement for assurance against injury which has been made between workmen and their employer before the date of the passing of this Act, and which subsequently to the said date shall be approved by two-thirds of the said workmen voting in the prescribed manner, or to any future accession of workmen in the same service to such agreement, provided that any workman shall be free to release himself therefrom by giving due notice. The Commons propose to amend this Amendment:—Line I, after ("not") insert ("until the expiration of three years after the passing of this Act").—(The Marquess of Ripon.)


hoped their Lordships would not accept the Amendment of the House of Commons. These words which, as their Lordships were aware, had been inserted by a very small majority in the other House, were in- tended as a compromise of the Amendment which this House had made that workmen should be permitted under certain conditions to contract out of the provisions of the Bill. A more shallow and unsatisfactory concession could not have been put forward, and it was difficult to imagine that it could have been seriously tendered as a settlement of the controversy which had unhappily arisen between the two Houses of Parliament, for by this proposal the whole question of contracting out was left practically untouched, and the Bill was in almost exactly similar form to that in which it came up to their Lordships originally. It was quite true, as the noble Marquess had pointed out, that by this proposal these private Insurance Societies, which their Lordships on that side of the House were anxious to protect and encourage, were to be exempted for a period of three years; but that exemption was of no value, it merely deferred the destruction of these Societies, and in no way safeguarded their continuance. The proposal was both illogical and unjust; illogical because, if those arrangements were beneficial for three years, there was no reason why they should not be so for 30 or 300 years, and unjust because it involved a direct interference with the liberty of a large number of workmen to consult their own interests as they thought best. The noble Marquess said it would give employers time to turn round, and to estimate their liability under this Bill, and he seemed to suppose that if they found at the end of three years the amount of compensation they would have to pay was not increased to any great extent they would be willing, in consequence, to continue their subscriptions to these private insurance funds, even though contracting out were no longer permitted. That was very unlikely, and the noble Marquess's argument was altogether beside the point. In the first place, employers needed no respite of three years to calculate their increased liabilities—they were perfectly able to do so now. The average of accidents did not vary much from year to year, and it would be easy to estimate the probable number which would come under the provisions of this Bill. Secondly, the employers' contributions to those funds were intended to do much more than cover a mere pecuniary liability: they were intended as a security against constant litigation with all its disturbing effects. For that reason, on purely business grounds, it was worth their while to pay; and if that advantage were taken away, and the gates were thrown open to litigation, the main motive for their contribution would be removed. A respite of three years, therefore, would only postpone the inevitable result, and in no way affected the considerations which had induced their Lordships to send down their Amendment to the other House. Referring to another point, the noble Marquess had told them that on Monday night and last night meetings were held in London at which their Lordships' Amendment was condemned by large majorities; bur meetings held at Camden Town were very different from those held on the London and North Western line itself. The noble Marquess might be right or wrong that the feeling of those meetings was antagonistic to the Amendment. No doubt a minority of the London and North Western men were opposed to these arrangements, but by their Lordships' Amendment they were able to shake themselves clear of them. A list had been handed to him of meetings which had taken place on the North Western system since the Bill had been under discussion in that House, and the figures did not at all bear out the noble Marquess's assertion. In these circumstances, he hoped their Lordships would not accept the Commons Amendment.


regretted that he was prevented by indisposition from expressing his opinion upon the last occasion on the subject before the House. It had been thought that if possible it might be well to arrive at a compromise on something like the lines of the M'Laren Amendment; and the strongest argument in favour of the course taken by their Lordships was that in small establishments, where but few men were employed, the employers might in bad times be able to threaten their workmen with discharge and employ others if they would not agree to contracting out. But that had been completely put an end to by the Amendment of Lord Camper-down. That was not even alluded to in the last discussion in the House of Commons. Like many of their Lordships, he was much averse to quarrelling more than necessary with the other House, par- ticularly when they had such indisputably good grounds for quarrelling with that House already; but seeing how the Commons had dealt with existing arrangements, their Lordships could understand how they would have been met, if they had gone in for anything like Mr. M'Laren's Motion—it would simply have been knocked to pieces, and rendered nugatory. Their Lordships would have had a very narrow ground to light upon, and, therefore, on that ground he had abandoned the idea of compromise. What, then, were they to do now? There was an enormous advantage in being logical in legislation if they could, and in basing it upon sound principles. No doubt, in most of our Statutes care had been taken not to press principles too far, but the best plan was to follow principles if possible. It obviously followed that if they were in favour of preserving the existing Insurance Societies, which worked so well, and which the majority of workmen, in spite of pressure put upon them, were anxious to keep going, it would be very difficult to say the same arrangements should not be allowed in future, more particularly when the men in small businesses as to whom there was a little danger, were now absolutely secured. Therefore, though unwilling to quarrel with the other House, he should certainly vote for maintaining their Lordships' Amendment in the form in which it was originally passed. Allusion had been made to the very small majority by which the Amendment was carried in the House of Commons, but it was comparatively unimportant, when they differed from that House on a question of principle, whether they had to deal with a majority of 2 or the present normal majority of 40. The first question to be decided was whether the Amendment was right in itself, and then they might take into account in some degree whether the feeling of the country was with them? They had very good grounds to go upon in this matter. Of course, the Trades Unions formed an enormously strong body and were very tyrannical. They had undoubtedly done great good, but so had many tyrannies; and they had certainly exercised much more pressure on workmen than any employers that ever existed. The loaders were, of course, anxious that their Lordships' Amendment should not pass, and they had not disguised their reasons. They wished that the men under them should feel that they owed to the Trades Unions any advantage they might obtain from the law, and should be accustomed to look to them to tight their battles for them, and wring whatever they could from their employers. Naturally, therefore, the Trades Unions looked with dislike upon anything that tended to create good feeling between employers and men. But they were not all-powerful in the country. Their Lordships had an enormous number of the working men on their side in this matter, and, what was more important, those men were the pick and cream and backbone of the workmen of the country—manly, independent men, who disliked the idea of being treated like serfs and cyphers, and as utterly unable to tight their own battles and to look after their own interests—as if they needed protection like children. It was the duty of that House to protect them against the tyranny of the Trades Unions. After great difficulty and doubt, having considered the question, and being fully alive to the difficulties in the way, and to the objections to the line of action taken by their Lordships, be should certainly vote in favour of Lord Dudley's Amendment as it stood originally.


said, no doubt the resolutions proposed at the two meetings in support of Lord Dudley's Amendment mentioned by the noble Marquess had been defeated, but it had never been contended that the whole 60,000 men on the London and North Western Railway were absolutely unanimous in favour of contracting out; he doubted whether 60,000 men could be got together who would be absolutely unanimous on any subject. But what their Lordships had to take into view was that a considerable number of meetings had been held up and down the country in support of his noble Friend's Amendment. He had in his hand a list of 23 public meetings which had been held for that purpose. At one meeting held at Chester, with an attendance of 1,300 men, the resolution was carried unanimously: at another, held at Crewe, 1,500 being present, the resolution was also carried unanimously; at Birmingham it was carried with three dissentients out of an assemblage of 800 men; while at Man- chester, the attendance being 750, it was carried with 18 dissentients. He would not weary their Lordships by going through a long list of similar meetings. As against the great success attending those meetings, the small percentage of men opposed to the Amendment had at last managed by desperate exertions to defeat resolutions at two meetings in favour of the Amendment; and the noble Marquess had contended that that showed unanimity amongst the London and North Western men. With regard to the three years' compromise, the noble Marquess based his whole argument on the assumption that there would not be litigation. Surely, however, their Lordships were entitled to look at the other side of the question, and to say that if they were prepared to accept this Amendment from another place—if there should happen to be such litigation as compelled the Directors to abandon their contributions, then the men's funds would go once and for all, and there would be absolutely no way of re-constituting them. There was but one opinion among the vast majority of the men as to the advantages they got under the present arrangement. The Lord Chancellor, on. the Second Reading, poured magnificent scorn on the scale of compensation in the London and North Western system. The men knew very well that £80 or £100 was a small sum in the case of fatal accident; but then they recognised that they got it without any demur, or bother, or delay, whereas the chance of getting £500 or £600 from a Court, of Law under the Employers' Liability Act was generally more or loss doubtful. That was an arithmetical fact upon which the men had acted for some time,. and they knew the advantage to themselves. They had entered into these arrangements with their eyes open, and knew perfectly well what they were doing in entering into them. If the men themselves were satisfied that they would be better off under those arrangements than they would be under the Bill, he did not think that it lay in their Lordships' House to adopt a provision that must necessarily put an end to them. It was not for people outside to question the generosity of the London and North Western. Surely it was for the recipients of the generosity of the London and North Western Railway Company rather than for outsiders to say whether or not that arrangement should be allowed to continue. The noble Marquess opposite had said that he would not for the world do anything that would injure the system under which these funds were established, and, in fact, the whole Government Bench had beamed with benevolence towards these insurance funds. The contracting-out clause, however, had been made the stalking horse for an attack upon employers by those who openly gloated over the fact that the clause would inflict great injury upon these funds, and would be only too delighted if they could put an end to what they termed these "union smashing funds," and sec them swept away. Trades Unions had done good in the past, and might be credited with the fact that workmen at the present day were getting better wages and working shorter hours than in times gone by. But the new Trade Unionism was a different thing altogether. The now Trade Unionism created disturbance between employers and employed. No one who desired the welfare of the working men would wish to cause such dissension. It was said that if noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House insisted upon the Earl of Dudley's Amendment they would be answerable to the country for the Bill being dropped. It bad, however, been shown with great eloquence in another place that the contracting-out clause formed only a small part of the Bill, which contained many other most valuable provisions, and, therefore, the only conclusion that any reasonable man could come to was that if Her Majesty's Government insisted upon dropping the Bill if this Amendment were retained, they were more anxious to pick a quarrel with their Lordships' House than to pass the Bill.


said, he would not have troubled the House further on this subject but, for a letter he had received, to which he would call their Lordships' attention. The noble Marquess had taken great credit for the fact that two meetings had been held recently in London where their Lordships' view of contracting out had not prevailed. The whole secret of the action of Her Majesty's Government was to be found in the concluding words of the speech to which they had just listened. The Govern- ment had taken their view of this question from Mr. John Burns, who professed to speak in the name of the whole working class of this country. It must be remembered, however, that there were nor, only Trade Unionists in this country, but free labourers also. It was stated in the evidence taken by the Royal Commission in 1868 on which he sat that at that time for every man in a Trade Union there were 17 free labourers, and at the present time the proportion was one Trade Unionist to nine free labourers. It must further be observed that there were the old Trade Unionism and the new Trade Unionism, the former of which merely aimed at obtaining better terms for the men while preserving a friendly feeling between employers and employed, while the object of the latter was to raise disputes instead of getting rid of differences between employers and employed. The reason why the new Trade Unionists were so opposed to these insurance funds was because such funds tended to preserve harmony, union, and a kindly feeling between the employers and the employed. Mr. Burns himself had admitted that by destroying the kindly relations that existed between capital and labour it was hoped to get all the machinery of production into the hands of the labouring classes. For his own part, he believed that the principle of the liberty of the individual must prevail in the long run. He believed the Trades Union leaders greatly exaggerated the amount of support they would obtain in the constituencies. Be that as it might, he did not wish to trouble their Lordships with a disquisition on that point. He had risen on that occasion for the purpose of reading to their Lordships the following letter which he had received:— Joint Executive Committee, Euston Station, Feb. 19, 1894. My Lord,—We, the undersigned, beg respectfully to request your Lordship to appeal to the House of Lords to stand firm to Earl Dudley's Amendment in preference to any other Amendment that has been moved regarding the contracting out of the Employers' Liability Bill. We remain, my Lord, your most obedient servants, ELIJAH TRUSSLER, Chairman. EDWARD PITT, Hon. Secretary. It had been stated by Mr. M'Laren himself that that joint committee represented 300,000 of certainly not the least intelligent working men of the country, and he begged their Lordships not to allow those 300,000 men to lose the benefit of this Bill which they would do if it were passed in its present form, but that they would steadily stand by Lord Dudley's Amendment.

On Question? their Lordships divided:—Contents 23; Not-Contents 137.

Commons Amendment disagreed to.


My Lords, I now move that the House do agree with the Commons Amendment to omit Sub-section (3). This, of course, is an Amendment covering much larger ground than that which we have been discussing just now. After the Division which has just taken place I naturally feel it is not very likely that I shall be able to induce your Lordships by anything I can say to adopt the second of the Commons Amendments. The view of Her Majesty's Government is that as this is a measure to afford protection to workmen for life and limb the Government cannot be party to allowing them to deprive themselves of the benefit of it on the larger scale which would result from the adoption of this part of my noble Friend's Amendment. In this Debate it has been said more than once this evening, and frequently at earlier stages of this measure, that noble Lords opposite and noble Lords below the Gangway on this side of the House who rejected the proposals of this Bill with regard to this particular question are the advocates of liberty, and are maintaining the absolute right of every workman to form his own judgment in regard to matters of this kind. It is nothing of the kind. You have, in the portion of the Bill to which you raise no objection, adopted the principle that men are not to contract themselves out of this Bill except under certain circumstances, and the very clause moved by my noble Friend opposite, and which the Commons propose to omit, bristles with restrictions. You hand over to Departments of the Government which are frequently spoken of by noble Lords, and especially by the noble Marquess opposite, with great distrust the settlement of these difficult and complicated questions. This very Amendment of your Lordships is, therefore, a restrictive Amendment, and you have no right to put yourselves forward as the advocates of absolute freedom of contract in this matter. The view Her Majesty's Government take is that this proposal to allow contracting out in the case of all future Societies is one which strikes at the root of the efficiency of this measure. My noble Friend Lord Denbigh spoke about Trades Unions. I was glad to observe that he spoke of them with less hostility than the noble Marquess opposite when he called then "cruel organisations."


I never called them anything of the kind.


I am very sorry if I in common with the general public have misunderstood the noble Marquess.


I will not in the least say that if they have assumed that phrase for themselves it would not be deserved, but I desire to state that I did not say a word about the Trades Unions. I spoke of that cruel organisation—that Radical combination—which is driving the more moderate Members of the Ministry into obedience to their demands. I do not say there is much essential difference, because undoubtedly Trades Unions are to a great extent part of that cruel organisation.


I am quite content to leave the matter upon the basis upon which it now stands. Lord Denbigh drew a distinction between what he called the old and the new Trade Union spirit. I beg to point out to him that there is no distinction whatever in regard to this matter. It is not the question of contracting out of the Employers' Liability Bill that makes any difference between the old Unionists and the new Unionists. I take it that Mr. Broadhurst is a typical old Unionist, and yet he was one of the strongest opponents of contracting out. But your Lordships have the power if you care to use it. You have shown you have the power. You can deal with this Bill now as you please. All I can say is if you are determined to maintain this principle of permitting contracting out in regard to Societies formed hereafter, you strike at the very root of the Bill and make a most serious breach in the provisions which are intended for the protection of workmen in cases of accident.

Moved, "That this House do agree with the Commons Amendment to omit Sub-section (3)."— (The Marquess of Ripon.)


said, he wished, before the discussion proceeded, to call attention to a particular circumstance in connection with the Amendment. When Lord Dudley's clause was under discussion in the House on January 29 he moved to insert in Sub-section (3) words providing that the Board of Trade should not certify an agreement if, in their judgment, "by reason of the small number of the workmen employed," it was not possible to ascertain the free opinion of the men. That Amendment was proposed to meet the objection of the Home Secretary, that where only a small number of men were employed the ballot would be futile, because the master would know the opinions of the men. It was supported by Lord Selborne, and by the Government. It was accepted by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and was agreed to by consent. Hut by a clerical error it was not inserted in the copy of the clause sent down to the House of Commons, and consequently had not been considered by that House. Nor was there any record that the Amendment had been accepted by their Lordships, and he therefore again proposed the words, and asked the House to endorse the view to which it agreed on the former occasion.

Moved, In Sub section (3), line 17, after the words ("by reason"), to insert ("of the small number of workmen employed or").—(The Lord Monk Bretton.)


Of course, if by any mishap a portion of the clause passed by this House did not find its way into the printed copy and go down to the other House, it is expedient to put it right, and make the Amendment now. There can be no doubt about that, I suppose?


My Lords, the question arises, what course ought now to be taken? The noble Lord has stated that the Amendment as passed by this House has not been before the House of Commons. No doubt it would be open to the House now, instead of agreeing with the House of Commons, to amend their own Amendment by inserting the words that have been omitted. Your Lordships could not, however, disagree with the Commons Amendment and then insert these words, as you would in that case be disagreeing with something which the House of Commons had never had before them. I apprehend that the clause must be amended and sent back to the House of Commons for their consideration before the question of agreeing or disagreeing is decided.


The House of Commons has struck the whole clause out. We, instead of insisting upon the clause, now insert these words and send it back in that form. That seems to be perfectly reasonable.


Of course, it is competent for the House to amend the sub-section by putting in these words and then to send it to the other House for consideration in its altered form. That would be quite apart from the question of agreeing or disagreeing.


The simplest course would be that I should for the moment withdraw the Motion I have made, and let it be put again with this Amendment.


That could not be done, because if anything is inserted now it would be agreeing to something which the other House has not considered. If amended now it must go back to the other House to consider before we can deal with it.


Surely that is the right course. The House of Commons has never had the clause before it in this form with these words inserted. We insert another clause. It is not really a new clause, because many of the words in it are the same; but it will be practically a new clause now, and it will go back to the House of Commons. They will then form their own judgment as to whether they will adopt it or not.


I think your Lordships would not do justice either to yourselves or to the House of Commons if you do not send the clause to the House in the form in which it was intended that they should have it.


Does the noble Marquess withdraw his Motion?


I entirely agree that the House of Commons should have the Amendment before them in the form in which it was passed by your Lordships. I am therefore prepared to withdraw my Motion in order that the words omitted may be inserted.


It is perfectly understood that my noble Friend only withdraws his Motion in order that this mistake may be corrected. It is without prejudice to the question before us.

Motion (The Marquess of Ripon) (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Amendment (The Lord Monk Bretton) agreed to.


The last Amendment of the Commons is to leave out from the word "constraint" in the 4th sub-section, line 31, to the end. That, I think, is consequential upon the first decision of your Lordships.

Motion to agree with Commons Amendment negatived.

A Committee appointed to prepare Reasons to be offered to the Commons for the Lords disagreeing to certain of their Amendments. The Committee to meet forthwith.