§ LORD BELPER
, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said the subject of this Measure had frequently attracted the attention of Parliament and had also given rise to much discussion in the country. It affected very largely the interests of some of the most important of the industries and trades of the country, and it touched very nearly the lives and means of living of a large part of the working population of this country. In introducing it to their notice it was no easy task to make an adequate statement on the subject. But he would endeavour as far as lay in his power to lay clearly before the House the provisions of the Bill and, as far as it was necessary, the arguments which had induced the Government to bring the Bill before Parliament. The Act on which the present legislation was founded was the Employers' Liability Act 1880, which made the employer responsible for injuries caused to workmen by defects in plant and machinery and for injuries caused by negligence of either his manager or of those to whom he had intrusted the 516 duty of superintending his works. Since that Bill passed there had been occasions on which attempts had been made to widen legislation with regard to employers' liability, and in 1893 Mr. Asquith, in the House of Commons, and Lord Ripon, in the House of Lords, brought forward a very important Measure which dealt especially with one branch of the question—the doctrine of common employment. On that occasion Lord Ripon dwelt especially on the necessity, owing to decisions in the Law Courts, of widening the liability of employers with regard to negligence connected with their work, and that Bill proposed to abolish the doctrine of common employment and to place the workman in precisely the same position as an outsider, and to make the employer liable for the negligence of his workmen in the same way that he was liable for the negligence of his manager. The principle of that Bill was accepted by this House, and it was admitted in accepting that principle that the employer should be made liable for the negligence of his workman whether he had any control over him or not. The main part of the discussion in that House turned on another, but still very important, point, and that was the question of contracting-out. An Amendment was moved by Lord Dudley, which proposed to give the workmen who were satisfied with any scheme in their business, and preferred it to the proposals in the Bill, leave to contract themselves out of the operation of the Bill. That clause was carried by a considerable majority; it was only defeated in the other House by a very narrow majority, and the whole Bill was finally withdrawn because their Lordships' House insisted upon making that clause a part of the Measure. After being withdrawn it was practically relegated to the country for discussion on the platforms, and it formed one of the principal topics at the General Election of 1895. He did not think it would serve any good purpose to inquire how far any particular election—or the result of the elections generally—was affected by the contracting-out question; but he thought it would be generally admitted that after the challenge that was thrown down with respect to this Measure, after the discussions which took place on the platforms during the General Election, 517 after the very decisive answer which was made to the appeal of the Unionist Government that was then formed, it was absolutely necessary that the Government, in bringing in any Measure with regard to employers' liability, should make the contracting-out question a prominent part of that Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He should have one or two words to say later with regard to the particular form the contracting-out question took in this Bill, but in the meantime, he was only anxious that the House should bear in mind, in the first place, that the principle of Mr. Asquith's Bill was accepted by the House, and in the second place, so far as what took place then, that the Government were pledged to the contracting-out clause. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought it would be admitted that both sides of the House had expressed themselves in favour of a considerable extension of the present liability of the employers; and it would hardly be necessary to labour the question of whether the Government were bound to bring in a Bill at the present moment if it was not that he had seen it stated that this question would never have been brought before the House if it had not been for political exigencies and Party pledges. Anybody who made a statement of that sort could not be aware of the practical effect of the present law. He ventured to go so far as to say it was notorious that the present law with regard to compensation to workmen was unsatisfactory and utterly inadequate to provide any reasonable compensation in a large number of those cases where the workman, at all events, had a strong equitable claim to be considered. ["Hear, hear!"] What was the state of the case? On the one hand the workman now was barred by the doctrine of common employment, which it was proposed in the Bill of Mr. Asquith to remedy. On the other side he was hedged in by the numerous cases in which the question of contributory negligence arose—contributory negligence often of an almost technical character, often very small as to the amount that it might have contributed to the accident, but which would, nevertheless, bar him from obtaining compensation in a large number of cases where he would otherwise be entitled, even under the present law, to get compensation for the injuries he 518 had received. Apart and beyond these two vexed questions, there were numerous cases of accidents that occurred in dangerous employment where no negligence on the part of the employer could be proved, where the workman had not contributed in any way to the cause of the accident—cases which no human foresight had been able to get rid of, and which might be said to be necessarily inseparable from the dangerous employments in which they occurred. He would venture to ask any noble Lord who had experience with regard to these dangerous employments whether there was not a strong moral obligation on the part of the employer to provide some compensation in many of these cases, and whether, on the other hand, there was not an equitable claim on the part of the workman to receive something to make good the injuries he had sustained in the employment in which he had taken part? [" Hear, hear!"] He hoped he might be excused for saying that he was not speaking on this matter entirely on any report or on the information that had been supplied to him. As a director of one of the largest railway companies, as owning and working a mining business which would come directly within the operations of this Bill, he had had some little experience with regard to the class of cases that arose in these employments, and he ventured to say there was nobody who had seen what this class of case really was but would agree that the present state of the law was not satisfactory; that even if it were wished to give compensation difficulties were met with on all sides; and that, in order to get rid of the unsatisfactory position in which an employer was placed by not knowing what he might be actually liable to, there were many employers who would hail the provision of any reasonable compensation to be given to the workmen. Take the question of litigation, and he would venture to add that there was no more important point with regard to this question than that of litigation, because it stood to reason that when a workman sought for compensation, and on that compensation depended very often the livelihood of his family, it was important to him, at all events, that a considerable portion of that sum should not be thrown away in legal expenses. He had constantly seen 519 statements made with regard to the cost of litigation under the present law, but he had certainly never had the matter brought before him in a more pregnant manner than by the latest figures which had been issued in regard to the costs incurred, under the Employers' Liability Act of 1880, in the County Courts. The amount claimed for compensation in the County Courts of England and Wales in 1895 was £73,498, and there was recovered £8,300 odd, or nearly 12 per cent. In giving the cost of recovering this amount, he must mention that the figures were imperfect to the extent that they only included the amount of costs of solicitors which were actually allowed, and there were numerous cases in which the costs were not taxed; therefore, the actual cost was much larger than the figures he was about to quote. In the recovery of that £8,300 odd there was no less a sum spent in 1895 than £2,944, or over 35 per cent. of the amount recovered. That was not an isolated case, because if they took the average of the five years from 1891 to 1895 they obtained a very similar result, £9,215 being recovered in compensation and £2,629 being expended in costs. In the case of Scotland the costs were even greater, being altogether out of proportion to the amount recovered. If that were the state of the case under the present law, he thought it would be at once admitted that some remedy was required, that workmen should not continue to be left in this position owing to the uncertain state of the law, and have to spend these large sums in the recovery of the compensation to which they were entitled. If that were true, what was the remedy? It was natural, in the first place, that they should try and see whether a satisfactory solution of this question could be found in the Bill which Mr. Asquith introduced three years ago, or in any Measure founded on those lines. Undoubtedly that Bill offered a new and great boon indeed to the workmen, and he did not wish to undervalue the advantage it would have been to those who had hitherto been prevented from recovering anything in the case of the negligence of their fellow workmen. But it was necessary in considering this question to point out that even in that particular point with which that Bill dealt it was hampered by the conditions, which 520 in many cases would prove very onerous, that the workman himself had thrown upon him the responsibility in every case of proving negligence. Anybody who had had experience of the working of this Employers' Liability Act would know the extreme difficulty of getting witnesses very often, he would not say to give evidence, but to prove sufficiently to a competent Court that the accident was due to some special cause. It was not unfair to call their Lordships' attention to a case, fortunately not common, but not unlikely to occur, such as might arise under a great explosion. What might happen in the case of a workman, under the Bill proposed by Mr. Asquith, if he wished to recover compensation for the negligence of some fellow workman which had caused a serious explosion? It was not an unreasonable case, for statistics of causes leading to accidents showed that negligence, such as using open lights, or firing shots in mines where such was not allowed, made up a considerable percentage of the causes which had led to serious catastrophes. What would be the case in the event of serious accident? It was possible that somebody might survive to give information of what occurred, but the more serious the accident the more complete the wreck and ruin effected, the more fatal the results, the less chance there would be of the workman being able to get any evidence to prove that he was entitled to compensation, either in regard to negligence on the part of workmen or equally so with regard to the negligence of the manager or employer. Within the last two hours he had been looking through the returns of accidents in mines in 1894, and he found that one of the most serious accidents that had ever taken place occurred in that year, and although statistics showed that in an enormous proportion of cases convictions were obtained where either the manager, or employer, or a workman were prosecuted for negligence, yet in this case, where the loss of life was appalling, a note in the Blue-book gave as the result of prosecution that, although the inspector thought it necessary to prosecute, yet the summons for illegal shot-firing was dismissed, because he was unable to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that shots were fired, the persons who could have given evidence 521 having lost their lives in the explosion, so he could bring forward only circumstantial evidence. He was not quoting this case as an instance where a workman would be deprived of compensation under Mr. Asquith's Bill, for he believed it was a case where it win attempted to prove it was negligence of he employer and not of the workman, but he mentioned this to show that such a case was far from being, impossible; therefore from the workman's point of view, though he was entitled to compensation in all cases where negligence occurred, it was very likely that in a considerable number of cases he would be deprived of it owing to circumstances not within his own control and which ought not to affect his claim to compensation. He had dwelt on this point because it was the particular point with which Mr. Asquith's Bill dealt. It did not attempt to deal with contributory negligence or attempt to do anything in regard to those cases to which he hail referred. He hoped it, would be understood that in his remarks he was actuated simply by a desire to criticise a Bill not now before the House and which, when it was before Parliament, was assented to on both sides, but his contention was that that Bill made a great step towards conferring a great boon on workmen concerned it did all that was possible under an alteration of the existing law, but no Bill founded on an alteration of the general law with regard to employers' liability would effect a satisfactory or permanent solution of the question. ["Hear, hear!"] It would, he thought, be seen that, looking at the very great anomalies that must be created under any Bill, on whatever lines drawn, which only pretended to alter the law in regard to employers' liability, Parliament would be inevitably driven sooner or later in the direction of methods adopted in foreign countries, Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere, to the adoption of some general scale which would provide fair and reasonable compensation for workmen irrespective of the particular technicalities of the law, which might otherwise prevent them from receiving. The Government had decided that the only permanent and satisfactory solution of the question could be found in some great recognition of the principle that in every dangerous trade direct responsibility should be thrown on the 522 business, that was, in the first instance, on the employer, he being made to provide reasonable compensation for accidents occurring in the course of employment. That was the principle endeavoured to be given effect to by the Bill, and at the same time an endeavour was made to clearly define the limits and conditions which should govern such compensation, providing machinery for assessing the amount. It was a new departure, and this, he was well aware, was the first time in this country that it had been proposed to throw the direct onus on the employer of providing compensation in all cases of accident, but the principle was not a new one, and it was assuredly that upon which Mr. Asquith's Bill was founded, though he did not give full effect to the principle he enunciated. In the clearest way Mr. Asquith laid down the principle, and his words in moving the Second Reading of his Bill were adopted by the present Home Secretary and applied to the present Bill, namely:—The principle on which the Bill is founded is this, that where a person on his own responsibility and for his own profit sets in motion agencies which create risks for others he ought to be civilly responsible for the consequences of what he does.That exactly explained the principle the Bill was to give effect to, and, further, it was a principle recognised to a very large extent voluntarily by many employers. Though they may not have great compensation an precisely the same scale as the Bill proposed, they recognised the moral obligation to provide some compensation for those injured in the course of employment carried on for their benefit. He might even go. further and appeal to those of their Lordships who were conversant with the management of large estates whether it was not, he would not say the universal, but the general practice to recognise the fact that those who were injured on an estate in the course of their employment, or even incapacitated from other causes, had a claim to be provided for in their illness or old age, and should not be obliged to rely on charity, the rates, or the workhouse? It would, of course, be said that the fact of a thing being done voluntarily was no reason why Parliament should impose this as a compulsory burden, but if 523 there was a claim in equity that a workman should be considered in this way, if it was admitted there was a strong moral claim on the employer, was it desirable that this should be left to the caprice of the individual employer, that the family of an injured man should be dependent on what might be provided as matter of charity, not matter of right? Many objections had been raised. It had been said the Bill would put a premium on negligence and carelessness, but he could hardly conceive that a workman would be less careful because of the knowledge that compensation would be forthcoming. He believed that if a workman were satisfied with the conditions of his employment he would be far more likely to take those precautions: which were necessary, and far more likely to carry out the regulations of his employer, than if he was discontented, and felt he was not fairly treated under the conditions of his employment. Having made these remarks on the principle of the Bill, leaving unsaid much that might be said, he proceeded to point out how the Bill proposed to give effect to the, principle he had enunciated. Clause 1 of the Bill provided that if, in any employment to which it applied, personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of that employment was caused to a workman, the employer should be liable to pay compensation in accordance with a particular schedule. He would like to call their Lordships' attention to the fact that there were one or two important exceptions or modifications with regard to that rule. In the first place no compensation would be paid for the first two weeks. The intention of that proviso was that, in the case of trivial accidents, the workman should not be entitled to come upon the employer for compensation. Then it was laid down that, where the injury was caused by the personal negligence or the wilful act of the employer, or some person for whom he was responsible, nothing in the Act should affect the civil liability of the employer. That was to say, that if, under the ordinary law, the workman would be entitled to recover a larger sum than he could under this Act, then he might attempt to recover that sum; but the employer was not to be liable to pay compensation both independently and also, under this Act. Then there was an important sub-section 524 which dealt with the serious and wilful misconduct of the workman, and which had given rise to considerable discussion. It was felt that where a workman was guilty of serious and wilful misconduct, where he deliberately broke rules which were framed for his guidance, he should not be allowed to claim compensation. He thought it would be at once obvious that, if a workman put himself in such a position that he might be fined or imprisoned for his misconduct, it would be most unfair that he should be able to come upon an employer afterwards and receive compensation for an accident which was really caused by his own misconduct. In the other House considerable debate arose as to the exact words which were used in this sub-section, but they were finally adopted as covering the cases which it was meant to meet and as not ruling out cases of the breaking of small and technical rules in which it would not be desirable to prevent the workman getting the compensation allowed under the Act. He would now ask their Lordships' attention to the schedule which provided the compensation which was payable under the Bill. By the first schedule it was provided that where death resulted from the injury a sum equal to the man's earnings during the three years next preceding the injury, or the sum of £150, whichever was the larger, but not exceeding in any case £300, should be paid. Although he did not think it was desirable on the Second Reading to argue details which were obviously matters for Committee, he would venture to allude to one point which was of importance, and in regard to which a discussion took place in the other House at a late period of the consideration of the Bill. It was then pointed out that under this clause, where a boy or an old man receiving very small wages indeed was killed, and where the dependants might not be wholly dependent upon him, if it was provided absolutely that a minimum of £150 must be paid, the dependants might in some cases actually benefit by the death and be receiving more after the death of the workman than if he had lived. That having been pointed out, the Home Secretary agreed that it was a matter for proper consideration at a future stage, and that if words could be devised to meet such cases they would be fairly considered.
525 In cases where no dependants were left the sum to be paid was not to exceed £10, being the reasonable expenses for medical and burial fees. Where there was total or partial incapacity for work weekly payments were to be made during the incapacity, but not until after the second week, not exceeding 50 per cent. of the workman's average weekly earnings during the previous 12 months. The amount of such weekly payments, however, was not to exceed £1. There was an important sub-section in the latter part of the Bill which provided for the redemption of these weekly payments by the payment of a lump sum to be settled, and, in default of agreement, by arbitration under the Act. The redemption could take place on the application either of the workman or the employer, but the lump sum was not to exceed 312 times the weekly payments. That sub-section was inserted to meet various cases, and it obviously met a want which was felt under the old Employers' Liability Act, that some reasonable lump sum compensation should be provided in eases where these disablements extended over a considerable period of years. The rest of the schedule dealt with what he might call the machinery of the Bill. With regard to that he should like to point out that the very first recommendation in the arbitration clause was that, if there was any committee on which the employés and the employers were represented, they should be empowered to settle the question of compensation if neither party objected. If there was objection then it could be referred to the arbitrator. He would take that occasion to say that, if this Bill was to be worked satisfactorily and to be of the real use he hoped it might be, it must depend in a very large measure on the co-operation of the masters and the men. It was sincerely to be hoped that, where there was a good understanding between the employer and his workmen, they might make use of this clause and so save the expenses which even the arbitration would involve. If there was no such committee, or if the parties objected, or if the matter was not settled by the committee, then the question of compensation was to be settled by a single arbitrator agreed upon by the parties. If they could not agree upon an arbitrator, it would then be 526 settled by the County Court Judge of the district in which the accident occurred. The object of the arbitration clause—hew fully it was carried out it would be for their Lordships to judge—was that no unnecessary expense should be incurred by the parties in recovering what they were entitled to under the Bill. It was hoped that, by providing a procedure as simple as it could be, and by the appointment of an official who would have a large experience in dealing with these matters, these questions would be settled without any unreasonable expense. The seventh clause dealt with the scope of the Bill. It laid down that the Act should apply to employment in or about a railway, a. factory, a mine, a quarry, or engineering work, and to employment about any building which exceeded 30ft. in height, and was being constructed or repaired by means of scaffolding, or on which machinery was driven by steam, water, or other mechanical power. Very much had been said about the scope of the Bill. The object of those who had introduced it was to include the most prominent of the dangerous employments in the country. He was aware that Amendments had been proposed in the other House with the view of including other trades within its purview, and he had been a little surprised to find that some of these Amendments had proceeded from those who appeared to very much dislike its provisions. Perhaps the two most prominent employments which it was sought to include in the Bill in the other House were those of seamen and agricultural labourers. The answer which was given in the other House was that, if they included other trades in the Bill, they would swamp it and absolutely prevent it from passing into law this Session. If that had weight in the other House it would obviously have much greater weight in their Lordships' House, having regard to the period of the Session at which they were asked to enter upon the consideration of the Bill. If it were desirable that these other trades should be included in the Bill—and upon the point he would express no opinion now—it was obvious that the inclusion should be made by a separate Act of Parliament, because there must be provisions and conditions made with respect to those trades, which if imported into 527 this Bill would make it so large and complicated that it would be impossible to pass the Measure this Session. Those who were responsible for the introduction of the Bill admitted that possibly they might not be absolutely logical in the inclusion and exclusion of trades. This, however, was a new departure, and to a certain extent a tentative Measure, and there had been included in the scope of the Bill those trades which the promoters thought the more important to deal with in the first instance, and which were the most dangerous trades of the country. There was one other clause—the contracting out clause—to which he wished to call special attention. The clause provided that,—if the Registrar of Friendly Societies, after taking steps to ascertain the views of the employer and workmen, certifies that any scheme of compensation of insurance for the workmen of an employer in any employment is on the whole not less favourable to the workmen and their dependants than the provisions of this Act, the employer may, until the certificate is revoked, contract with any of those workmen that the provisions of the scheme shall be substituted for the provisions of this Act.It had been said that that clause was not likely to have any real effect, and that it was only a sham and a farce to put it so prominently in the Bill. He believed that the clause would, if it had the effect the promoters hoped it would have, be one of the most important clauses of the Bill. It was of the utmost importance that cordial co-operation between workmen and employer should be continued, and that the advantages which both the employer and the workmen now got from a satisfactory control by the workmen themselves should, if possible, be maintained. Their Lordships would admit it was very necessary to prevent what was called malingering, and he thought that there was a mode under the clause which might be very effective. Take the case of the benefit societies, which in the case of many very large businesses were kept up not merely for the purpose of dealing with accidents, but with sickness. He suggested whether, if the employer paid into the scheme a sum certified by the Registrar of Friendly Societies as sufficient to cover the compensation under the Bill, it might not be possible in many cases to keep alive the benefit societies and thus benefit both the workmen and 528 the employer to a larger degree than they would be benefited if they were directly under the provisions of the Bill. The workmen would be benefited by the fact that if the fund was managed by the committee economically there would be a surplus which would be devoted to the sick fund, and the employer would be benefited because he would know that the payments he had to make were well looked after, that malingering was likely to be stopped as far as possible, and that the satisfactory and efficient management of the past would be continued in the future. If the clause in even so small a degree tended to promote any object of that sort, it would be one of the most valuable clauses of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Some objection had been taken to Sub-section (4),—If the funds under any such scheme are not sufficient to meet the compensation payable under the scheme, the employer shall be liable to make good the amount of compensation which would be payable under this Act.It was said that that was very likely to prevent any employer from paying any money for any scheme outside the Bill. That was not the intention of the Government. The clause was very nearly on the lines of Lord Dudley's Amendment, and if it had at all the effect it was supposed in some quarters it would have, it certainly would not be owing to any wish or intention of the Government to make the contracting-out clause less efficient. He wished to say one word with regard to those whom the Bill specially affected. Although the Measure met with very general approval from a large number of employers of labour, a number of those who represented one of the most important businesses of the country—the coal business—felt that the Measure would very prejudicially affect their interests. They contended that it would almost cripple their industry. He believed they averred that in some cases it would actually cause mines to be closed. The Government believed that the effects of the Bill were very largely exaggerated by the coal owners. In the other House it was computed by a spokesman of the coal owners that the Bill would amount to a charge of 2½d. or 2¾d. per ton of the coal raised. He did not know whether those figures had been actually withdrawn, but he believed that 529 the Gentleman who gave them had admitted that some circumstances which had been brought to his notice had caused him to modify them. The Government had had calculations made with regard to one part of the country and applied to the whole coal-mining industry of England. He did not think it was fair to assume that the whole of the charge was going to fall upon the employers. He knew it was a difficult thing to foretell how a new charge of this kind was likely to be divided. It must depend not only on local circumstances, but on the particular conditions of trade at the time and a variety of circumstances which it was impossible to foresee. He thought that in times of strong competition it was likely that the employer or the workman would have to bear a considerable part of the charge, but under other circumstances a great part of the charge would be placed on the consumer. He noticed in the papers that day a letter from the Duke of Argyll suggesting that it would be possible to divide the charge between the employer and the workman. It was not for him to discuss that point. He believed the proposal that was made by the Government was the only practical way of dealing with the question, and he ventured to ask their Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. That House had never shown itself backward in assisting in the promotion of any measure for the material benefit of the working classes. He thought that by passing that Bill they would be able to settle on a fair and satisfactory basis this vexed question, and do much to cement the good feeling which already existed between employers and their workmen. He thought the Bill was of paramount importance to the great commercial interests of the country, and he begged to move its Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said he had received a Resolution, which appeared that day in The Times, from the Mining Association of Great Britain, and in consequence he did not propose to move the rejection of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
said he should not oppose this Bill if he had not some practical experience, and if he were not honestly convinced that he was justified in the action he was taking. His position now, as last year, was a somewhat painful one. It was painful to 530 him to criticise adversely the details of a Measure proposed by a Government presided over by the noble Marquess. He thought his noble Friend would admit that he hid been a staunch and loyal supporter, and the principles to which he was giving utterance he had learnt at the feet of his noble Friend. Than this he did not think a Bill of a more advanced character had ever been submitted to their Lordships' notice. Certainly no Bill like it had ever been introduced by a Government presided over by a Conservative Minister. He was not going to denounce the Bill. He was not going to call it Socialism, though it had been so called by the Member for Hertfordshire who represented the noble Marquess. [The Marquess of SALISBURY dissented.] The hon. Member represented the constituency in which the noble Marquess resided. He agreed with Mr. Asquith when he said that if the party to which he belonged had introduced this Bill it would not receive 48 hours' consideration by their Lordships. ["Hear, hear!"] Under these circumstances he did not think that he could be accused f departing from Conservative principles if he criticised some of the features of this Bill. He thought the Bill was contrary to Conservative principles. The Bill threatened capital and industries and time employment of many thousands of men dependent upon those industries. It was a strong order for the Government to force that Bill on them as it came up from another place. Why were certain industries selected to be experimented upon? Why were not all the industries brought under the so-called benefits of the Bill? It was a mere question of time, he warned noble Lords, until the Bill was extended so as to include agriculture. Mr. Chamberlain told them that he did not extend this Bill to agriculture, because, he said, there had been no demand for it. Where had the demand for the Bill by the mining classes come from? Mr. Pickard who represented the Yorkshire miners, told the House of Commons that they had never asked for it; Mr. Wilson, who represented the Durham miners, said they had never asked for it; and he was informed by his friends in South Wales that there was no demand for it there. Where, then, had the demand for this Bill originated? He would be glad if his noble Friend would tell the 531 House what deputations in favour of the Bill had waited on the Home Office. [Here the noble Marquess resumed leis seat and paused for a reply.]
§ LORD BELPER
The noble Marquess can hardly expect me to answer a categorical question in the middle of his speech. I will try to get for him the information he asks for.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
said it was a very important matter, and he hoped that the noble Lord would at once communicate with the Home Office, so that the Question might be answered by some noble Lord on the Front Bench before the Debate closed. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Chamberlain, who seemed to take a great interest in the Bill, said that the shipping trade was excluded because it ought to be dealt with separately. If there was any trade that should be dealt with separately, it was the coal trade. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a trade entirely by itself. There were many incidents connected with it which were not connected with any other. There was no industry in which accidents were so unavoidable, in which accidents might occur to so many people owing to the negligence of one man, or in which the wages of the unskilled labourer was so high or the hours of his employment so short. ["Hear, hear!"] He was paid at a higher rate than other workmen to compensate him for the risk he incurred, and to enable him to insure against accident. In the mining industry 65 per cent. of the cost of the article was paid to the man who produced it, and if he was not asked to insure himself, in addition to the high wages which were paid, the burden of insuring the man against that risk against which he originally insured himself, would be added to the expenses of the industry and of the employer. Hitherto the system of mutual insurance had worked admirably and the danger he apprehended from the Bill was that it would abolish those mutual arrangements and friendly societies; because it was not likely that a workman would put his hand into his pocket in order to subscribe to a mutual fund when he knew that if he did not do so the unfortunate employer would have to pay. His right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury said that the Bill would throw no undue burden on the coal trade. That statement was as 532 incorrect as his right hon. Friend's statement last year with regard to the Land Bill that it would not take a penny out of the pockets of the Irish landlords. He had ventured to controvert that latter statement and he thought he had proved up to the hilt that his right hon. Friend was wrong, and he would shew that his statement with regard to this Bill was equally incorrect. For the Northumberland and Durham Miners Fund the men subscribed between £60,000 and £70,000 a year and the sum was spent amongst them as compensation for injury sustained in the course of their employments. The tariff varied from 5s. to 8s. a week according to the injury. If the system of mutual insurance came to an end, the members of the Northumberland and Durham Relief Fund would no longer subscribe the £70,000 per annum now subscribed by them, and that sum must come out of the pockets of the employers. Where else could it come from? And more than that under the proposals of the Bill the tariff of 5s. to 8s. a week was doubled. This money would certainly not come out of the men's pocket and therefore he was right in saying that his right hon. Friend's statement was incorrect. But his right hon. Friend went on to say that this charge would be diffused over the industry. He wanted to know how it would be diffused. There was only one person out of whose pocket the extra burden could come and that was the employer. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said it would be possible for employers to insure themselves against risk at £1 per cent., but they could now do it at 2s. per cent., and therefore the percentage was being increased tenfold by the Bill. Then there was the question of the increase of the cost of production per ton. The noble Lord had repeated the expression of opinion by Mr. Chamberlain that it would not exceed ¾d. per ton. He was not in a position to dispute that so far as Northumberland and Durham were concerned, but he was told by experts that in Lancashire and Yorkshire it would amount to 2d. per ton, and his friends in South Wales said it would cost them 3d. a ton. But he would strike a balance and take the increase at 2d. If that were so, in an average colliery producing 500 tons a day and working 270 days in the year the increase in the cost of 533 production to that colliery would be £1,125, and yet the First Lord of the Treasury declared that no extra burden would be placed on the coal trade. The advocates of the Bill said "Oh, you need not be alarmed. The extra cost will come out of the consumer's pocket or out of the wages of the men." All that he could say to that was, Would it? It certainly would not come out of the pocket of the consumer, for at the present time there was the keenest possible competition with foreign countries with regard to the export coal trade. In Great Britain the total production of coal per annum was something like 190,000,000 tons. Out of that no less than 40 million tons were exported abroad. We were handicapped by having to compete most disadvantageously at the present moment with the German and Belgian trade. Mr. Fenwick, M.P., stated last week in the House of Commons that Northumberland had lost a Russian contract for 100,000 tons, held for many years, due to a fractional rise in price. They must remember also that a large number of iron and steel industries were entirely dependent for their fuel on the coal trade, and if the price of coal was raised they would have to raise the price of their products and would suffer materially in their competition with other countries in consequence. Mr. Martin, President of the Iron and Steel Institute of South Wales, had informed the noble Marquess when he received the deputation that the keenness of competition might be illustrated by the fact that within the last few weeks an Indian railway governed by an English Board of Directors, made with English money, and which he believed was practically now one of the Government railways gave a large order of 7,000 tons to the Americans much to our loss. He also said that if this Bill were passed it must considerably increase the cost of fuel and materials used in the manufacture of steel, and the steel trade which was today none too prosperous, would be still farther heavily handicapped by the extra cost, and possibly a large number of workmen would be thrown out of employment owing to the present limited profits being turned into losses. About 40,000,000 tons of coal, as he had said, were exported from this country annually and if owing to an increase in price we were beaten by our foreign competitors 534 these 40,000,000 tons would be thrown upon the home markets, which would naturally lower the price of coal and materially reduce the rate of wages. It was equally absurd to imagine that this extra cost of production would be got out of wages. If in Northumberland or Durham any attempt were made to lower wages, it would result in a strike at once, and it was well known that after a strike the same trade could never be got back again. This extra cost must, therefore, come out of the pockets of the employers. He gathered that the intention of the Government was not to ruin the employers of labour in the coal trade. It certainly was not the intention of Mr. Chamberlain when he denounced the Bill of Mr. Asquith in 1893. Mr. Chamberlain had then an extraordinary eye to the welfare of the employers of labour. [Laughter]. On November 23, 1893, he said:—The scheme of the Bill is to extend this principle of penalising to cases where the employer has absolutely no control, or discretion, or influence whatever. It makes him liable for the negligence of the ordinary workman. Now, Sir, is there any man in this House who knows anything about manufacturing industry who will say that the employer in a great firm can have the slightest influence upon the negligence of the ordinary workman?But what did this Bill do? It made the employer responsible for the negligence not only of those in his employ, but even for those accidents which might occur by the Act of God. The Bill of Mr. Asquith was thrown out in the House of Commons owing to the action of the noble Marquess in supporting the Amendment of his noble Friend Lord Dudley. He hoped they should hear Lord Dudley speak upon tins Measure; he was connected with the coal trade, and, he had no doubt, liked to be experimented upon. [Laughter.] He did not hesitate to say, so far as they were concerned in Northumberland and Durham, that they would have done much better to have accepted the Bill of Mr. Asquith—[Opposition cheers]—than the Bill which had now been introduced. They knew what they were responsible for under Mr. Asquith's Bill; they did not know what they were responsible for under this. His noble Friend had stated that, according to Mr. Chamberlain, the cost put on the production of coal would 535 be ¾d. a ton. Mr. Chamberlain last week in the House of Commons said:—I feel perfectly convinced that the more this matter is looked into the more it will be seen that, although there has been, I have no doubt, genuine alarm excited by the most exaggerated figures and calculations, yet in fact the charge will not turn out to be anything like the magnitude that has been supposed.He had no doubt that that was very satisfactory to Mr. Chamberlain, but he could not say that it was very satisfactory to those of them who were connected with the coal industry. He maintained that it was absolutely impossible for Mr. Chamberlain or anybody else to make any forecast as to what would be the extra cost to the employers of labour. Mr. Forster in 1870 calculated that the Education Act would result in a School Board rate of 1d. in the pound, which might under extraordinary circumstances rise to a maximum of 3d. He thought most of them would be glad now if they could get off with 3d., and a similar thing would happen with regard to the present Bill. The fact had been ignored that the Bill was simply a premium on malingering, and they could not foresee to what extent this would be taken advantage of in the future. He would not say one word derogatory to the working men of this country, but if a Bill of this sort was put before them it was only human nature to take advantage of it. He held in his hand reports of various learned professors in Germany and newspaper articles, accepted as genuine, and they all showed beyond doubt that malingering would certainly increase if sufficient inducements to it were held out. The one and only remedy was to extend the time from which the pay began. Two weeks was far too short. It would endanger the friendly relations that had hitherto existed between employers and employed. With regard to mutual insurance, as far as he was concerned, he would always be glad to meet the wishes of the men. But if the men's insurance funds failed, the employers might find themselves in the extremely unpleasant position of having, after subscribing to the men's insurance fund for many years, to compensate injured men, just as if they had never subscribed to those funds at all. The maintenance of the mutual insurance funds was of enormous importance, and could only be 536 continued by making the men depend upon their societies until they had proved, beyond all doubt, that they had been ill for a certain time. He hoped that at the proper time the House would insist on the period from which pay would begin, being lengthened from two weeks to four weeks. Who was going to benefit materially by this Bill? Sir Joseph Pease, a large coalowner in the North of England, had proved beyond all doubt, that in Northumberland and Durham the requirements of the men with regard to sick pay were thoroughly met by the present system, and better than they would be under this Bill. Be himself maintained that these funds for sick pay should be mutual, and both sides should help to bear general burdens. Upon the employer of labour must fall the cost of the Bill, and it would be only human for the employer to protect himself as far as he could and the law allowed. The first thing the masters would do would be to employ only men who were absolutely sound and healthy. He feared that under the Bill the occupation of old and infirm men who had been connected with collieries or other industries for a long time, and were still kept on, would be gone. A gentleman not connected with the North of England, but another part of industrial England, told him that he had in his employ the hest mortar-maker he had ever known. But the man had only one arm, and as he was more likely to come to grief than a two-armed man he could not afford to keep the man any longer in his employ. Directly this Bill was passed this man would receive notice. He would go from colliery to colliery seeking work and finding none. He himself feared this would be the lot of every man over 50 years of age who was not physically strong. The result would be that elderly men with some physical defect would find themselves dependent on the rates, while at the present moment they were earning good wages and for those wages doing good work. On what grounds was this Bill introduced? If for the purpose of harassing capital and jeopardising the industries of the country it would be a gigantic success; if for political purposes it would be an equally gigantic failure. The Bill would not alienate any Radical voter from his 537 Radical leaders. Every Radical voter knew that if he wanted Radical measures he could get them from his own leaders. The effect of the Bill, unless it was materially altered, would be the alienation of the Conservative rank and file from the following of their leaders. There were men in all parts of Great Britain and Ireland who devoted themselves heart and soul—who, to use a popular expression, "slaved"—at the last General Election to enable the Prime Minister to secure his great majority, but who, if a General Election took place to-morrow, would not cross the street to record their votes in his favour. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] When a general election came the Prime Minister would have a rude awakening. It was in his power to avert that awakening, and he trusted he would take time by the forelock and not allow Conservative principles to be subordinated to Radical principles of the deepest dye. He trusted the House would pass the Second Reading of the Bill—[ironical Ministerial laughter] — yes, because he did not want it to go forth that any of their Lordships connected with trade in any way grudged full compensation of a fair and honest kind to any one injured while in their employ, or did not wish full justice to be done and every safeguard taken to prevent accidents. He trusted the House would insist on materially amending the Bill in Committee. They could minimise the mischief that the Bill contained. It was very easy for the Government, if they found the critics of the Bill had overrated their apprehensions, to increase the compensation or relax the rules laid down if they were too stringent. But if they found their apprehensions were not overrated, it would be impossible to decrease the compensation or make the rules more stringent. He asked the House when the Bill came into Committee to consider the honesty and justice of the case, and he believed they would minimise the mischief in the Bill to the trades and industries of the country against which it seemed to be levelled. [Cheers.]
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
said he did not rise to interfere in the family quarrel between Lord Londonderry and the Government. To interfere in such a quarrel was proverbially unwise. Nor 538 did he feel competent to determine whether the Bill was in accord with orthodox Conservative principles or not. That was a matter on which he was incapable of giving an opinion, because he did not know what those principles were, but he had a suspicion that Lord Londonderry might be right in that respect, because as far as the principle of the Bill was concerned, he himself was prepared to accept it, and therefore it might not be consistent with sound Conservative principles. Lord Belper, who moved the Second Reading, spoke of the principle of the Bill. While he dilated largely on the question of common employment he dealt in a cursory manner with one of the chief features of the Bill—namely, the mode by which it was determined to what trades the Measure was to be made applicable. It was said that the Bill would apply to 40 per cent. of the working men of this country, leaving 6O per cent. outside its scope. The Bill had been frequently described in the House of Commons as an experiment, and Lord Belper had talked of it as a tentative Measure. He could not himself help thinking that a Measure of this kind, so important and far-reaching, which was applied to 40 per cent. of the workmen of the country, was either too wide for an experiment or too narrow for a principle. ["Hear, hear!"] If they wished to lay down the principle that workmen were to be amply compensated for any injuries they might receive in the course of their employment he found it difficult to discover grounds for excluding more than one half of the working classes from this advantage. It had been said that the Bill was intended to apply to the most dangerous trades, but he should dispute that proposition seeing that it was not applicable to the shipping trade, in which accidents were the most frequent and most dangerous. ["Hear, hear!"] Then, again, agricultural labourers were not to have the advantages of the Measure, it being urged that accidents to this class were few. But as the use of machinery spread in agriculture these accidents were likely to increase in number. He did not know that they had any statistics on the subject, but in Germany, where they separated agricultural from the industrial districts and 539 had agricultural and industrial corporations, he found from a useful little book on the subject recently published by his hon. Friend, Mr. Augustine Birrell, that in 1895 there were 103,363 persons injured who had to be compensated by agricultural corporations, while there were 148,696 who had to be compensated by industrial corporations. Of course he admitted that it was difficult to make comparisons with foreign statistics unless they knew the exact basis upon which they rested, but still if these agricultural corporations dealt with accidents as he believed they did—arising in agricultural districts, then he said that the experience is Germany showed that accidents of that kind were numerous and that they could not safely or justly omit the agricultural labourers from the Bill on the ground that they were little liable to accidents. ["Hear, hear!"] Did anybody think it would be very long possible when the Bill passed to maintain these differences between trade and trade? The noble Marquess opposite had very justly asked why the trade in which he was particularly interested was to be subjected to this Bill while the shipping trade was to be exempted from it? In the same way workmen who were excluded from its scope would ask why compensation was to be given to their fellows in other trades whilst it was denied to them. His main criticism of the Bill was that, whilst it placed the workmen employed in certain large and important industries at a disadvantage by excluding them from its operation, it still left them subject to the doctrine of common employment. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading admitted that that was an exploded doctrine which was given up in that House in 1893, and on all hands it was admitted in the Debates of that period that it was a doctrine which could no longer be maintained. Still if the Government could not give to the exempted trades the whole advantages of their Bill, why had they insisted upon leaving them under a law which the noble Lord did not himself attempt to defend and which he had said had been given up by everybody? ["Hear, hear!"] It would have been perfectly easy to have got rid of the doctrine of common employment in the Bill. It was got rid of in regard to the favoured trades because they were given compensation upon 540 principles perfectly distinct from those of the common law, but the Government in their Measure left other trades under the common law in that respect. He was bound to say he could not understand why they had determined to do that, and he could not think it was a just or wise proceeding. ["Hear, hear!"] They had reappearing in the present Bill their old friend the question of contracting out. He was not going to discuss this subject now, and he confessed that, looking at the nature of the clause, he was in doubt whether it would be made very much use of. As to the contention that the Bill was an experiment and a tentative Measure, it might be true that in regard to the methods by which compensation was to be given to workmen it was a tentative Measure. He thought it would be found to be an experiment in that respect, but in respect of the principle of the Bill, of giving compensation to workmen for injuries they received in their employment, it was not an experiment and it was not tentative. Once they gave compensation to certain trades, the Government could not withdraw that advantage from those trades in the future. Give them once that compensation, as he hoped they would by passing this Bill, they would be entitled to it for ever. No doubt the Government might find their clause relating to bankruptcy and winding-up was not effective for its purpose, and that in many cases in consequence of these liabilities the workmen did not get the whole of the compensation they ought to get. If that were so, they might have to adopt the German principle and transfer the liability from the individual employer to the trade, although he saw great difficulty in applying such a principle in this country. But there was another thing which might be done. He could not help thinking that this Bill was taking a very long step in the direction of making the State responsible for this compensation. Of one thing he was certain. They might secure this compensation in one way or another, but if they found that the workmen did not get it, or if they found it was oppressive to the employer, they would have to take some other wider and more general Measure for continuing it, because this compensation once given could not be withdrawn; and, given to 40 per cent. of the working classes of this country, it 541 must ultimately be given to all ["Hear, hear!"]
*The EARL OF DUNRAVEN
would be very sorry to give an exposition of true Conservative principles, but he was bound to say that from what he knew of its history he thought the very strong determination to bring in legislation for the purpose of putting labour on a sounder basis and surer foundation had always been a very constant and well-defined note in Tory or Conservative principles and practice, and he failed utterly to see what there was in the main in the principle of this Bill which could possibly be said to be dissonant to the ordinary tone of the Conservative legislation dealing with labour problems. ["Hear, hear!"] It was not at all necessary to consider whether the Bill would have to be further extended to other trades at some future time, or to follow the noble Marquess in contemplating the possible necessity of placing the burden on the whole community instead of on the industry. What the House had to deal with was the present Bill, to which in its principle so far as he could gather from speeches he had heard and read, there was really no great objection made. What was the principle of the Bill? It was that the practice which had always obtained as regards the inanimate instruments, the machinery of trade and manufactures, should be applied to the animate, the living, instruments of production. It had always been a charge, he might say a first charge, in manufacturing industries of every kind to make provision for the wear and tear of machinery, and now it was the intention, by the Bill, to make provision for the wear and tear of the human beings employed. That appeared to him to be a sound, business-like, humane principle, and so far as he knew no one had been bold enough to challenge the principle of the Bill, though serious objection had been taken to many of its details. It was said that the whole of this new charge must come upon one partner interested in the trade, the employer. He was speaking principally with reference to the coal trade, because undoubtedly the coal trade would be most affected by the Bill, and undoubtedly that portion of the coal-field with which he was acquainted, that of South Wales, would feel it more 542 than other parts of the country, because, owing to the nature of the coal, fatal accidents were much more frequent in South Wales and Monmouth than in other parts of the country; the percentage of fatal accidents to numbers of workmen and to loss of coal was about double that of the whole of Great Britain. It was said that the whole of the charge, whatever it might amount to, must of necessity be borne by the employer, but he could not see why this should be so. When it was a question of taking a burden off the industry of agriculture last year, the great objection to the proposal was that the whole benefit would be reaped by one of the partners interested in agriculture, the landlord, and the reply to that made on the part of the Government and made by landowners generally, was that the idea was a false one, because it was a well-known truth, established by experience and in accordance with sound theory, that such benefit would be diffused over all the parties interested, landlords, tenants, and labourers. If then it was true that a burden taken off a trade was a relief shared in by all interested in the industry, that the industry as a whole was lightened, then the converse must be equally true, and if an additional burden were imposed the incidence of it would be borne not by one particular partner but diffused over the whole trade. He was quite ready to admit that a change of this sort would cause friction, and would cause trouble, but he hoped it would be but a temporary trouble and a temporary friction. It was of course a thousand pities that a principle so just and fair as this had not always been recognised; if it had been, trades would have grown up under it, and wages, estimated cost of production, and prices would have been settled in reference to the principle, but unfortunately that had not been the case. They would, however, adapt themselves to it in time; it was impossible to say in what particular way, it was impossible to say how far the charge would be paid out of wages, or by the capitalists, or by royalty owners, that was a question that could only settle itself in reference to economic causes affecting trade all over the country. But he must demur to the statement that the whole charge would fall on one partner, for he believed that 543 eventually trade would adapt itself and the extra charge would be diffused generally throughout the industry. As to the amount of this extra charge it had been estimated by the Home Office at ¾d. per ton of coals, and by the coal-owners in South Wales as high as 3d. per ton, and he might say it lay between these estimates. He did not propose to give any opinion of his own; his noble Friend the Marquess of Londonderry, who spoke with much greater authority than he could claim as to the coal industry, said it was quite impossible for Mr. Chamberlain or anyone else to tell exactly what the amount would be. He was, however, bound to say he thought the coal-owners in making their calculations had a little over-stated the charge that would fall upon them. Of course, if you take isolated instances, or look at the matter over a comparatively small area, it might be easy to show that the probable charge would be very high, but a matter of this kind must not be looked at with microscopic eye, it would be necessary to consider the effect of the Bill over a large area, and looking at it over a sufficiently large area, he could not but think that the estimate of 3d. a ton was somewhat of an exaggeration. Besides, it must be remembered that coal-owners would be free not only from contributions to other funds, but—and this he did not think had been calculated at all—they would be free from the obligation which they had always nobly recognised, of making, very large donations whenever a very serious accident or great loss of life necessitated the starting of a fund, and in view of the fact that no doubt a system of insurance would be made use of, he was bound to say, that in his opinion the official estimate was at any rate as near the truth as the estimate of the coal-owners. It was obvious if a large business made an insurance fund for itself, and that was done in many large businesses, and was fortunate enough to escape very serious accidents involving great loss of life for many years, that the insurance fund would accumulate and very largely minimise any possible loss the Bill might seem to show, and the same was equally true in regard to mutual insurance. He would say a word or two about the contracting-out clause, because he did not clearly understand it. He agreed with every 544 word his noble Friend the Marquess of Londonderry had said as to the vast importance of keeping up existing provident associations. It was absolutely impossible to over-estimate the good these associations had done and were doing. Of the great associations in the North and in the Midlands he knew absolutely nothing, but he knew something of the Miners' Provident Association for South Wales and Monmouth. He did not want to trouble their Lordships with figures, but the income was about £75,000 or £76,000 a year, and they had invested about £198,000. It would be obvious that the income was principally derived from subscriptions, and the amount derived from investments comparatively small. If subscriptions were to cease, as they might under the operation of this Bill, the society would have to draw upon its capital to fulfil its obligations to those at present dependent upon it; and making a very rough calculation fur himself, he came to the conclusion that for the society to support its liabilities without receiving subscriptions, would make a difference of £15,000 or £16,000 a year or more, and it would be obvious that in a very short time the capital of that association would be eaten up. Of course many of its dependents would in course of time cease to be dependent, widows would die, or marry again, and children now being supported would grow up, but still it was perfectly certain that the assets of that association would disappear altogether long before its liabilities disappeared, and he wanted to know what was to become of the dependents of the society when there was no more money to support them? If the result of this Bill should be that the association would be wound up, or if they went on paying liabilities out of capital until it was exhausted, if that should be the result of legislation,—he could not see how any Government could escape from admitting that, under such circumstances, it would be the duty of the State to take over the assets and fulfil the liabilities of an association of that kind. The only alternative, and which he much preferred, would be to give such encouragement in the Bill as would perpetuate these provident 545 societies. He could see certain advantages to workmen of going on contributing, they would get paid for the first two weeks, and they would get immediate payment without going to an arbitrator, and having any trouble about it and for serious accidents they would get a larger sum for compensation than this Bill would allow, and if there was an overplus, it would be to their advantage. Moreover, perhaps the greatest inducement would be the immense superiority of the security of a great society of this kind as compared with the security of a single coal-owner. But he could not see any inducement to the coal-owner to continue his subscriptions. He would enter into an actuarial computation and would say that his liabilities under the Bill would amount to a particular sum. It might be supposed that it would lie just the same to him whether he paid that sum over to a provident association or not. But, obviously, it was to his advantage not to do so. If he invested the stun he founded an insurance fund, of which he had the benefit of the interest. If he handed it over to an association he had no benefit, or at any rate the benefit in the way of interest was a very small and very remote one. Therefore he could not see any possible inducement whatever in this Bill to encourage any employer to continue his subscriptions to these voluntary mutual provident associations. He was bound to say that he thought this a great blot on the Bill The fourth clause, which dealt with the question of contracting out, was, he thought, plain enough, but it seemed to him somewhat difficult to understand when read in the light of the various speeches which had been made by Members of the Government on this subject in the other House. In all those speeches and, he thought, in the speech of his noble Friend that night, it was assumed that the employer must subscribe to one of these associations a sum not less than his calculated under the Bill. He should like to know what was the intention of the Government, because it perfectly conceivable that it might be to the benefit of the workmen to substitute for the Act a scheme, even though the employer had not contributed to that scheme as much as his calculated liability under the Bill. The men might, and very likely would say to themselves that the 546 advantages they would gain by prompt payment, without any arbitration or any bother, by getting paid for the first two weeks, and by having the security of a great and strong association, were so great that they would prefer substituting that scheme for the Bill, even though the employer did not contribute the full amount that he ought to do under the Bill. Their Lordships must remember that in the case of many small collieries any great disaster, involving a very great loss of life would certainly mean the bankruptcy of the colliery, and under these circumstances the men would get little or nothing. The men knew this perfectly well, he could well understand that they might think that a certain pecuniary loss was really a gain if they could substitute the good security of a large association for the somewhat doubt-full security of an individual owner. He should like to know, therefore, whether the Registrar could approve that scheme and give a certificate if the employer had subscribed a less sum than his calculated liability under the Act. He thought also that the Registrar ought to be directed to take into consideration the question of security. He gathered from the Bill that he had to consider the case as between an individual employer and an individual workman. If he thought a certain scheme was as good as the Act as between an individual employer and an individual workman, then he could give a certificate to such a scheme, but he did not know whether, in considering, say, the South Wales and Monmouthshire Miners' Association, he was entitled to consider its greatly enhanced security as against that of an individual colliery owner. He thought he ought to be able to do so, and he thought he ought to be instructed to consider all the circumstances of the case, and if he considered that, as a whole, the scheme was as favourable or more favourable than the Bill, he should he able to certify it as a scheme. There would be some friction, some trouble as a consequence of this Bill. Whenever legislation made any great change in the way in which an important industry was carried out, there must be some difficulty in adjustments, at any rate for some time. The only way in which that friction could, as it appeared to him, be minimised was in encouraging, not the creation of new 547 societies, but in keeping up the present great provident societies throughout the country. He did not see how that could possibly be done without giving some encouragement to a proprietor to contribute to these societies instead of insuring himself either by a large mutual insurance scheme or by insuring himself individually. He admitted it would be exceedingly difficult to devise an Amendment which would carry out his ideas on that subject, but he ventured to express a hope that Her Majesty's Government would very seriously consider it. If these great societies came to an end it would inflict immense loss and suffering upon those who at present depended on them, and they would be doing away, at the same time, with a factor which had done very much to do away with bitterness and to bring employer and employed closer together and better able to understand each other. He thought it also a matter of the greatest importance that those societies should be preserved if possible, because by their means they more or less roughly apportioned the cost of the Act between the several parties interested in an industry. He did not suppose there was any thing more difficult than to attempt by legislation to make adjustments which could only really be made by the operation of natural and economic laws, but at the same time the matter of these societies appeared to him so important that he ventured to hope the Government would give it their serious consideration.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I shall not detain the House more than a very few minutes, and I shall carefully abstain from going into the details of this Bill, which we shall have ample opportunity of considering in Committee. As to the point raised, I think, by the noble Marquess opposite, as to whether the Bill is in accordance with the principles of the Party opposite, that is a subject which I do not think it is at all necessary I should introduce. I will simply say this that if, as the noble Marquess appeared to contemplate, it is to be an advantage to the Party which I represent that his Party, after throwing out a Bill which we proposed on the same subject, bring in a Bill, more drastic in its principles, on the same lines, then I can truly say that that will be, so far, a matter of satisfaction to us. But into the domestic quarrels which 548 seem to prevail to a certain extent on the other side I do not think it in the least necessary that I should enter. A matter of much greater importance is before us—namely, a measure of a very far-reaching and important character. I doubt if a more important measure has for many years been brought into Parliament. As to the principle of the Bill, it has my hearty concurrence. That principle I take to be this—that you are securing, or you intend to secure, to every workman, so far as it is applicable to certain trades, a compensation for accidents which may occur in the course of his employment. So far I entirely concur in the Bill, and I must say that I feel, as I am sure many of your Lordships must feel, a strong sympathy with the men who work in these dangerous employments and who conduct industries upon the success of which the good fortune of this country mainly depends. Anything, therefore, which is done to lighten their lot and to compensate them or their families for inevitable accidents in dangerous trades must, I think, commend itself in principle to every right-thinking man. But when I come to the way in which the Bill carries into effect this principle I cannot help thinking that, to a considerable extent, while it keeps the promise to the ear it breaks it to the hope. The essential principle of this Bill, I contend, must be to secure, as far as it is possible for Parliament to secure it, that which you promise the workman. You are promising the workman that he shall have compensation in certain events; but by the Bill you leave the workman dependent upon a variety of circumstances which, by no fault whatever of his own, may deprive him of that which you have promised to secure to him. Take a very simple case. One man meets with an accident. He is a workman employed by a very wealthy company which is well able to provide him with the compensation which will be due to him under the Bill. It will be practically certain to continue to pay him that portion of his wages which may be allotted to him if the accident is not a fatal one. But suppose, on the other hand, he chances to serve a company which is upon the eve of bankruptcy, or a company which may be now solvent 549 but which, in the course of events, perhaps through no fault of its own, may become bankrupt. Or suppose he is serving sonic small employer who may very easily get into serious difficulties; suppose again that the person who is bound to pay him the compensation emigrates from this country and no trace of him can be found? In fact, there are a long series of cases in which the workman will get no compensation whatever. That is to say, he may get compensation for a certain time, and no doubt, in the case of a fatal accident, there probably would be the means, except in the case of a very small employer, to provide the sum to be paid to his family. But in the case where he is to have a pension extending over a great number of years, this man, to whom you profess to secure the compensation, may, in many years, when he becomes an old man, suddenly find himself without a farthing of the compensation which you profess to have secured to him. It seems to me that that is an indelible blot on the measure. I do not think that it is possible permanently to maintain a measure which is subject to such imperfections. There seem to me only two modes in which you can carry into effect the principle you have laid down. I do not profess to fully understand the German system, and I do not feel any great disposition towards its adoption; but you must either adopt the German system and make an association of trades liable for the compensation, or you must throw the compensation upon the State. I am firmly persuaded that now that you have brought in a Bill of this kind there is no way in which you can insure a workman compensation in the case of accidents except by providing that it shall be paid by the State. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not insensible of the heavy burden which such a proceeding would throw upon the State, but I apprehend that the very basis upon which this Bill rests is that, in your belief, the industry of the country is perfectly able to support this new burden. You throw it, I think somewhat unfairly, upon particular trades, but if you throw it upon the whole State it will be fairly distributed throughout. In that case the workman himself, so far as he pays taxes, will contribute towards the amount which is to be provided. Then, again, by that 550 means you avoid a difficulty which now stares you in the face and which is preventing you from extending this Measure to trades where the workman has just as great a claim to be compensated in case of an accident as he has in the trades to which you have applied the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] It is no consolation to a particular workman to be told that you have selected certain trades which are specially dangerous; an accident may befall him just the same. It appears to me that once you have introduced this principle it is absolutely impossible to avoid extending it to every employment in the country—["Hear, hear!"]—and placing the burden of it upon the State. [Cheers.] There is, no doubt, force in what the noble Marquess has said with regard to the mining industry. You must remember that when you speak of throwing the burden upon the consumer you have to compete not merely as regards the home demand but with all those abroad to whom you sell, and in that case very often the continuance of our exports depends upon a very small margin. In these cases I have very little doubt the Bill will produce a dislocation of industry. It seems to me that another inevitable effect of the Measure will be that many men who are partially disabled, either through age or accident, will cease to be employed. I do not think employers will desire to employ any man who is not thoroughly capable and therefore less likely to meet with any accident. You will find hat the only way in which you can avoid all these evils is to throw the burden on the State. ["Hear, hear!"] There will then be no dislocation of industry, but it will mean a considerable increase of taxation, distributed fairly over the wealth of the country. From every point of view I am most profoundly convinced that this Measure must end in throwing the whole burden on the country. I am not raising any objection to compensation for accident. If the country is rich enough to hear the burden I think it would be a matter of the greatest satisfaction to everyone that the workman should have compensation. But I warn the House against telling the labouring population—a very powerful body and perhaps the most important body in the country—that you offer them a certain boon and not 551 securing that boon to them. That is an unsafe mode of proceeding, one which may give rise to a considerable amount of discontent, and inflict upon many men very serious injustice. I naturally take a great interest in the agricultural industry, and, whilst I fully admit the difficulties, on account of the unfortunate present far from thriving circumstances of the employer, of admitting the agricultural labourers to the benefits of the Bill, I do not think that when you have introduced the principle of compensation you have any right to deprive the agricultural labourers of their compensation, because it chances that those by whom they are employed are not in circumstances which allow you to venture to impose compensation upon them. There, again, I find a powerful argument why it will be impossible to permanently maintain a Bill which is based upon these principles. These are the broad grounds upon which I do not feel satisfied with the Bill; but, at the same time, as I desire to see compensation for accident secured to the labourer, the Bill, imperfect as it is in many respects, will, if it is seriously attacked, receive the support of myself, and, I believe, of those who act with me. [Cheers.]
*THE PRIME MINISTER (The MARQUESS of SALISBURY)
My Lords, a great many different topics have been raised in this Debate, and certainly at this period of the evening I shall not attempt to answer much that has been said. Some portion of the reasoning has risen to the height of the subject with which we are dealing, while some of the reasoning has, I think, fallen below it. When my noble Friend Lord Londonderry eloquently urged us not to pass this Bill in its present shape for fear of the injury we should do ourselves at elections, I am bound to say I think his reasons did not rise to the dignity of the subject, and I do not propose to follow him upon that field. Another perhaps analogous but rather more elevated consideration is whether we have been guilty of fraud or perfidy towards our supporters in bringing in our Bill, which is stamped, by him at least, as not Conservative. That is a matter upon which, fortunately, it is possible to point to more exact grounds of consideration. During the last Parliament this subject was greatly discussed. Mr. Chamberlain, it 552 is well known, was the spokesman of our Party upon these subjects, and upon this matter especially. He never concealed his opinion in favour of this particular solution of the problem. Many of us supported him on the platform. A Bill was introduced into the House of Commons by a Conservative Member, and it had Mr. Chamberlain's name on the back, by which this solution of the difficulty of compensation was carried into effect. My Lords, under these circumstances you may put names as you like, but it is perfectly clear that Mr. Chamberlain, having joined our Government and we having held language of this character when we went to the country two years ago, there could have been no doubt whatever as to what our general views on this subject were, and if any Gentleman who supported us intended to take the view which my noble Friend has supported to-night, he was, I think, destitute of that prudence which should guide political judges. The notion that there is anything repugnant to the principles of the Party to which I belong, or to its historical action in a Measure of this kind is a pretension which can only be put forward by the merest ignorance. I do not wish in the least to boast over hon. Gentlemen elsewhere and noble Lords opposite. I have no doubt they have been equally earnest in their desire to shape legislation for the benefit of the people, but when I remember that those Statesmen who seceded from Sir Robert Peel. were the founders of the more recent Conservative Party, and that the first Measure upon which they resisted and defeated Sir Robert Peel was the Ten Hours Bill, limiting the labour of women and children in manufacturing districts, which no one now would venture to criticise or condemn, I could not help reflecting that many of the arguments that are used against this Measure would have been equally forcible against the Bill for limiting the labour of women and children to 10 hours. It was a flagrant interference with liberty. Nobody will maintain, least of all in the present day, that women have not as much right to liberty as men. It was an interference with their liberty inasmuch as it did not allow them to bestow their labour as they pleased. It was an interference with property, because it 553 fined the owner of fixed machinery something like a sixth part of the time during which the interest by which that machinery was to be paid for could be earned. All the fears which the noble Lord has expressed so freely that the principles we have adopted would he like a voracious monster going through the country swallowing up every class and subduing everything under its rule might have been equally urged against the Ten Hours Bill. It might have been argued, "If you introduce this for any workmen why not apply it to all; if you introduce it for women it will have to be applied to Wren; you will not stop until you have placed every servant in the country under the protection of the Ten Hours' Rule." But these things have not happened. What we have to consider is whether the advantages we obtain outweigh the disadvantages. I do not think that we should distrust ourselves, and imagine that we cannot give proper restraint and proportions to the principle that we are accepting. I do not think that, looking at all these considerations, we ought to take the gloomy prophecies of the noble Lord into very serious consideration. I do not think they are justified by past experience in dealing with labour problems. I will not go far, in view of the hour at which we have arrived, into the questions raised by my noble Friend. A good deal has been said with respect to the cost that this Measure will involve, and to the effect which it will have upon the hopes of the working man. Dealing with the last matter first, the noble Lord seemed to think that it was our duty, not only to regulate the liability of employers, but to provide for the future solvency of the employers; and that anybody who, under this legislation, obtained the right over any other person had a right to complain if it should turn out that a person so indebted was insolvent and would have the right to come on the State and call upon it to undertake the burden of the debts which that particular employer was unable to satisfy. I do not think the noble Lord on further reflection will accept that exceedingly far-reaching principle.
*THE PRIME MINISTER
The State would be bound to undertake every possible payment for all insolvent employers.
*THE PRIME MINISTER
For all employers. I think the noble Lord proves too much. As to the other question—the, enormous cost which this Measure will inflict—we are told that it is to be so heavy that the noble Lord indulged in a series of gloomy prophecies. But I can indulge in prophecies on the other side. With respect to the burden on the coal industries, there are one or two considerations that I wish the Rouse to regard. We are told that it will mean an increase of 2d. per ton on coal. That is assumed to be a very formidable sum, which will bear down the English coal industry in competition with the foreigner. It should be remembered that when coal comes to the consumer a large portion of the cost consists of carriage. Now, the cost of carriage may be taken at a halfpenny in the ton per mile, so that the 2d. only represents to the consumer four miles further. I cannot conceive that that addition to the price of coal can destroy the industry. My noble Friend, in referring to foreign competition, spoke of some Russian order for coal having been cancelled owing to a fractional difference. But it depends what the fraction is of. It will be well within the knowledge of my noble Friend that Russia is making tremendous efforts to develop her own coal industry, and I think it is very likely that she gives supplies which were formerly obtained from England. I have lately referred to consular reports, and they show how exaggerated the notion is of the burden of 2d. per ton. From Genoa, which affords a fair representation of what is going on in the Mediterranean, coal freights vary from 8s. 3d. in December to 5s. 11d. in September. What effect will 2a. a ton have on prices that are varying ways to this extent? There is another matter respecting price which will bring home a practical lesson. Eleven years ago a Conservative Government took off a tax on coal of 1s. a ton coming to the metropolis. That was six times as much as the 2d. I never heard a suggestion that the ratepayers of London should 555 come down upon my noble Friend for compensation for the reduction on the coal which he sends to London. [Laughter.] There is another consideration in respect to the justice of this burden as to which I should like to say a word. I do not see Lord Wemyss in his place, but we have been told in an exhortation or little sermon which he has been good enough to circulate that this is a socialistic Measure. Now socialism is the undertaking by the State of a burden or a duty which should be borne by the individual. What is the case here, however? Supposing there is a tremendous colliery accident, and 50 or 100 persons are killed, and their wives and children left destitute, who pays? The parish, that is to say, that I with my 500 acres of meadow-land, who do not get the slightest profit from the mine, have to pay for the accident. If anything can be called socialism it is this. So far as this Bill goes it goes back to sounder and healthier principles, and the last thing to be said is that it neither seeks to throw upon the State that which the individual should bear, nor places unjustly upon the shoulders of one that burden which is incurred by the position and profits of another. This minute analysis of profit and loss which there will be to the coal-owners after the Bill has been applied is scarcely worthy of the subject with which we are dealing. To my mind the great attraction of this Bill is that I believe it will turn out a great machinery for the saving of life. This is the real history of this law of compensation. The law of compensation at the beginning of this century was taken up by the juries, and instead of compensation for the real injury incurred being given, it was used by them as a punitive instrument to force these great companies, these great owners, and railway companies to strain their efforts to the utmost in avoiding and preventing the accidents which at one time were so numerous. It has been very successful as far as regards the ordinary passenger or ordinary citizen, but the law of common employment has damaged its efficacy as regards the working man. ["Hear, hear!"] We are now, by a wise and general revision of the principle in which the law rests, applying it for the purpose for which it was originally destined, and for which 556 it has been commonly and most profitably employed, the purpose of forcing all who by the process of their industry or the accident of their position have the lives of their fellow men in their power—forcing them to spare neither labour nor ingenuity nor money in making our industries as safe as possible to those by whom they are carried on. (Cheers.)
Motion agreed to; Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.