HL Deb 21 June 1894 vol 25 cc1612-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, this Bill has been brought up from the other House. The object of it is to ensure that knowledge shall be furnished in the shape of Returns of accidents occurring during progress of labour. Various Acts of Parliament provide for sufficient Returns in many kinds of labour, but leave large fields without any Return at all. For instance, under the Acts of Parliament we get knowledge of accidents at sea; of acci- dents in the working, though not in the construction, of railways; in the manufacture of explosives; in factories and workshops, and from boiler explosions. In all those industries Returns have to be made, to different Departments of the Government, of accidents, whether fatal or disabling. But, as I have said, there are large fields of labour in which no Returns are made to any Government Department. In these matters our practice varies from that in other countries, where the Returns cover all fields of labour, while we have only a certain number covered. For instance, in the construction of large public works like the Forth Bridge and the Manchester Ship Canal, we have no official Returns; and the consequence is, that very often erroneous and exaggerated notions prevail among the public with regard to the accidents occurring on works of that description. No doubt your Lordships have observed statements of that kind daring the making of the Manchester Ship Canal, that no less than 5,000 accidents had occurred, iucluding 1,000 deaths and 4,000 disablements. These are not at all the true records. The true record is usually less than the popular belief on the point. Down to the opening of the Canal in April last the deaths on the works during their construction had been 137, the permanent injuries caused to the workmen were 157, and the other injuries produced were 1,469. Altogether the accidents during the construction of the Ship Canal were 1,813—a much smaller number than the popular belief that the accidents amounted to more than 5,000. It is very advisable that we should obtain full accounts of these accidents. How far the Returns to be given in this way will make accidents avoidable in future it is difficult to say; but the publicity given in the case of accidents in occupations where they already come under the Acts of Parliament has been exceedingly beneficial, and the inquiries which followed in those cases have prevented accidents or have removed the causes of accidents in a great many cases. The object of the Bill is to require notice to be given to the Board of Trade of all fatal and disabling accidents in certain specified kinds of work. Those will be found in the Schedule to the Bill; but I may state generally that they are —the construction and repair of any railway, tramroad, gas-works, bridges, and so on, all under Parliamentary sanction. Then comes the construction and repair of large buildings, for which there are no Returns of any accidents made and which require them, because both the feelings of the working men and the positive fact that in the building trades the assurances for accidents are large to persons engaged in that trade show that accidents are very numerous. Thirdly, accidents which arise from the working of any traction or other engine used in the open air, and in Clause 2 the Board of Trade has additional power given to it to include any dangerous trades which may spring up. For example, if dynamite were to be invented for the first time the Board of Trade could schedule its manufacture as a dangerous trade, in which accidents occurring must be returned. The Returns must indicate, first, loss of life; secondly, bodily injury incapacitating workmen from working three days a week of five hours each, in order that Returns may not be made of accidents of too trivial a character. Under this Bill the Board of Trade will be enabled to appoint Courts of Inquiry in cases of serious accidents, to ascertain whether it was possible to remove the causes of them, and to obtain better security for life and limb. The Bill originated with the strong desire of the Trade Unions in their Congresses that such accidents should be returnable and should be made public. The Bill will apply in the case of accidents occurring to persons employed by a Government Department. This is not at all a Party measure. It comes from the other House, and has passed through the Grand Committee; and I now ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. Some Amendments may be proposed to it, but I believe your Lordships will all approve of the general motive of the Bill—that full knowledge should be obtained of the accidents which take place during labour in all industries.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Playfair.)


My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill. On the contrary, I think the testimony borne by the noble Lord opposite in support of it, and of its object, must have convinced your Lordships that there is a case for a measure of this kind. The account given of the Bill by the noble Lord was so full and complete that it is not necessary for me to add much to it. But I should like to confirm what has been said by the noble Lord as to the erroneous ideas that have sometimes got abroad in regard to the number of accidents during the construction of large works, such as the Manchester Ship Canal. Exactly the same ideas prevailed during the construction of the Forth Bridge, and has been entertained with regard to other large works whose construction has extended over a considerable number of years. During the construction of the Forth Bridge accounts of accidents, more or less severe, to men employed on the work were often recorded, and created an idea among the public that it was carried on in a reckless and improper fashion; but, when the matter was looked into, it was found that, having regard to the magnitude of the work, the enormous quantities of iron and steel used in it, the numbers of men employed, and taking into account all the factors by which these things should be judged, the number of accidents was relatively very small. As the noble Lord has said, the Bill is to provide for more complete notification of accidents, and it comprises a Schedule specifying manufactures and trades specially brought within scope of the Bill. There is one point upon which I must say a word, not in condemnation, but rather in congratulation, and that is with regard to the almost child-like trust and confidence displayed in the management of the Board of Trade by the terms of Clause 2 of the present Bill. There is possibly as much legislation allowed under the Bill to the Board of Trade as is to be enacted by Parliament. I am far from saying that that is an unwise thing to do. Having some experience of the Board of Trade, I believe it manages its work very well. But not only is the Board of Trade given a large and wide discretion as to the Court they will set up for inquiring into these accidents, but they are allowed to extend the operation of the Bill to other trades not specially mentioned in the Schedule, Railway accidents are at present inquired into by a special permanent staff of officials, familiar with such matters and competent to deal with them. But under the Bill the competence of the persons who are to hold inquiries is left to the Board of Trade to decide, and it seems certain they are not to be permanent officials or necessarily to possess legal knowledge, because there is a further provision that persons having legal or special knowledge may be appointed to act as assessors. I do not know that it is necessary to oppose this provision. I believe it to be a fair experiment, but I think it right to call attention to the matter. I feel confident the Board of Trade will exercise that care in the working of the Act, and therefore I need say no more on that point. With regard to the extension of the Act to other trades, I understand the Board must pass a resolution that the trade to which the Act is to be extended is "specially dangerous." That being so, it seems absurd to exclude specially from the provisions of the Act domestic service. I agree it is not necessary to include it within the provisions of the Bill; but, from the way Clause 2 is drafted, it seems to imply an opinion by the Board of Trade that domestic service is specially dangerous, but that, in spite of that conclusion, it is not necessary to extend the Bill to it. I do not suppose that that is intended. I do not quite understand why, if there is a limitation in the extension of the Bill to especially dangerous trades, it is necessary to go out of the way to prevent the Bill extending to domestic service. There are one or two matters in which the Bill may, I think, require consideration, and possibly amendment in certain particulars. The Bill provides for the case of an injured workman who is not able to work for five hours on any one of the succeeding three days. It should be specified whether that means successive days or includes Sundays, holidays, and so on. There is also an ambiguous provision in the 3rd section, Sub-section 6, that the Court set up by the Board of Trade with regard to these matters shall have the power of ordering persons summoned before it to pay the expenses of the investigation. I propose to put down an Amendment providing that, before a person is fined, the Court must come to the conclusion that he has been rightly summoned before them, and that he was in some way or other negligent or in fault.


suggested that the noble Lord should put down his Amendments at once. He would not take the Committee stage till Monday next, which would give the Board of Trade time to consider the proposed Amendments.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.