§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
My Lords, when the Seats for Shop Assistants Bill was before your Lordships' House, I made a statement which was challenged by my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire that led to a little friendly difference, and a catechismal conversation between us. I should like to point out for a moment what led to my making the statement. My noble friend the Prime Minister had very strongly opposed the Bill, and his main argument on that occasion was that the result of the Bill would be that shop girls would not be employed, and that they would be superseded by the weaker sex—man. That might or might not be the case. From my experience of legislation of this description, I believe that that was a very sound argument on the part of my noble friend, and he certainly gave very pregnant reasons and good data for the opinion which he then expressed. The tendency, I venture to think, of all this excessive humanitarian legislation—what is called goody-goody legislation—is to overleap itself and to do no good but more often harm to trade and commerce, and to do injury to those whom it is intended to benefit, either as regards wages or as regards employment. But 1007 be that as it may, I made a statement which I will now repeat to your Lordships from the Report in The Parliamentary Debates:I contend that legislation of this kind is a degradation of Parliament, and it is a matter of great regret that it should have been treated in the way it has been by your Lordships. It will prove more hurtful than useful. What has been the result of the Workmen's Compensation Bill? Why, at the Barrow Works—I see the noble Duke present—no man is admitted over fifty years of age.THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE: That is not a fact.THE EARL OF WEMYSS: Then my noble friend should take care that no official paper is issued stating that no man is received over fifty. Has not the noble Duke seen it?THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE: Yes; I have seen it. Have you got the paper?THE EARL OF WEMYSS: I have read it.THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE: Have you got the paper?THE EARL OF WEMYSS: No; not in my pocket.THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE: That is not the effect of the bill.I think he meant "the effect of the paper." That was what passed; that is what I call this friendly catechismal conversation that took place between my noble friend and myself. I had not the paper in my pocket or even at home, but I have now got what I hope your Lordships will think is a sufficient justification of the statement I then made. In the first place I will read to your Lordships this extract from the Liberty Review of the 15th December, 1898:—Our prediction with regard to aged workmen has been fulfilled. The newspapers report that they have received from industries all over the country accounts of the eviction of, or refusal to employ, old workers who, in the opinion of the masters, expose them unduly to the risk of accidents, and, therefore, compensation. The Manchester Guardian of the 6th inst. contained the following paragraph:—'The Barrow Hematite Steel Company have issued an order that in future persons defective in limbs, sight, or hearing, or who are over fifty years of age, are not to be engaged by the company. The order does not apply to men at present employed in the works.'Now, my Lords, that extract from the Manchester Guardian is, of course, secondhand, and on such a question as this your Lordships would expect that I should 1008 give you something more direct—something coming if possible from the fountain head. I have here a paper which my noble friend no doubt takes in; it is the Iron and Coal Trades Review, a well-known journal, which represents the views of employers and owners in those trades. Under the head of "Work and Wages: Iron and Steel Work" in the Iron and Coal Trades Review of the 9th December, 1898,I find this:—The employés—My Lords, I hate that word; I do not know why we should take hold of a French word when we have the good English word "employed," which would answer every purpose. I cannot help protesting against the growing tendency there seems to be to discard good English in favour of doubtful French. For instance, there is the hotel with which my noble friend, I think, is connected, which is called not "The Cecil Hotel," but "The Hotel Cecil." Similarly we have "The Hotel Métropole" instead of the "Metropolitan Hotel."The employés of the Barrow Hematite Steel Company have received the following circular:—'From this date forward please note that no men are to be engaged who are known to have any defects, such as the loss of a limb, defective sight or hearing. Further, no men are to be engaged in any department who are older than 50 years of age. Any men already in the employ of the company in excess of this age may be retained, but in case of their leaving they are not to be re-engaged. In the event of anyone being injured and receiving compensation from the company for same he is not to be re-engaged without first having the approval of the general manager.'Every employee of my noble friend had that document sent to him. Your Lordships will notice that "the approval of the general manager" only refers to this latter part. The sentence in which the phrase occurs is—In the event of anyone being injured and receiving compensation from the company for same, he is not to be re-engaged without first having the approval of the general manager."The approval of the general manager" has nothing to do with these men who asked to be employed and were not taken on. That, my Lords, is my justification for the statement which I made to your Lordships on the Second Reading of this Bill. I said:What has been the result of the Workmen's Compensation Bill? Why, at the 1009 Barrow Works—I see the noble Duke present—no man is admitted over fifty years of age.I hope I have shown your Lordships that the statement that I then made was not made without good reason and authority. One word more. It may interest your Lordships to know what has been the fate in another place of this Bill. The Bill which your Lordships in the first instance kicked out without a word being said in favour of it was then carried by a majority of three to one. On both occasions the Prime Minister, with his strong good sense, did what he could to throw out the Bill, and then the Bill went to another place amended. If the Bill had been treated in the ordinary course as other private Members' Bills are, it would have had no chance whatever; it was, I will not say as dead as Julius Cæsar, but it was as dead as any other defunct Bill. But what has happened? I am told that the Government in another place have adopted this Bill as a Government Bill, and therefore any attempt to stop it will be vain. Now the Leader in the other House is the nephew of my noble friend. We have heard of "wicked uncles," but it seems a strange thing that this "wicked nephew" should take this Bill, which is so opposed by his uncle, and make it a Government measure in the House of Commons. I need not further detain your Lordships. I merely got up to say that I did not speak without book when I said that at the works of my noble friend no man was admitted over fifty years of age.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The DUKE of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I have to apologise to my noble friend for the somewhat abrupt interruption which I introduced the other day in the course of his speech upon the Seats for Shop Assistants Bill. My noble friend introduced—as I thought, rather irrelevantly—into his speech on that occasion a reference to the management of the Barrow Iron and Steel Works, and, as I understood, asserted that in consequence of the passing of the Workmen's Compensation Act no man was in future to be employed in those works who was over the age of fifty years.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I was perfectly aware of the circular to which my noble friend has referred, and I thought that I had it more accurately in my recollection than it turns out that I had. When I interrupted my noble friend, I was under the impression that the provision to which he has referred, contained at the end of the circular, that men who had been injured and received compensation from the company should not be re-engaged without first having the approval of the general manager, extended to the whole of the circular. I find, however, that that was an inaccurate impression, and that the directions were positive that men should not be engaged for the first time over the age of fifty years. That, however, did not justify the statement which I understood my noble friend to make, that men were in future not to be employed in those works over the age of fifty.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I should like to say one word as to the origin of this circular. It was issued by the general manager, not, as my noble friend says, to every man in the works, but it was a confidential circular, issued to the foremen in charge of the works, and issued by the general manager on his own responsibility, without the knowledge of the board. When attention was called to it I asked for an explanation of the reason which had induced this circular to be issued, and whether it had any connection with the passing of the Workmen's Compensation Act. This is a portion of the reply which I received from the general manager:As a matter of fact, the circular arose through my having noticed that fresh hands were being engaged in the works who were not at all fit to be inside a steel works at all, and it appeared to me that some distinct regulation on the subject was necessary. We already have in the works a large number of old men, many of whom have no doubt grown old in the service of the company, and who are more or 1011 less incapacitated from employment in such a works as ours. We have also many men at work who have lost a limb, and both classes run a much greater risk of accident than is run by the others. The circular, however, distinctly states that there is no intention that these men should be discharged, neither is it intended that a man should be discharged simply because he may have passed the limit of fifty years while in the service of the company. The circular deals almost entirely with the engagement of fresh hands. Having regard to the nature of the employment, and to the fact that we have already a large number of men who are scarcely fit for work, I certainly think that there is no necessity to start additional men, who either from age or infirmity are incapacitated for the work required of them.My Lords, I acknowledge that if the Board had been consulted before this circular was issued, taking into consideration the representations that had been made on the subject of the Workmen's Compensation Act, I might have thought that the time at all events was inopportune for issuing it. I am unable, however, to say that the manager was not perfectly within his right in issuing such a circular regulating the employment of men in such a way as in his judgment might conduce to the safety of the others employed in work of a critical and difficult character. My noble friend appears to think that the issue of such a circular as this is a condemnation of the policy of the Workmen's Compensation Act. I do not look upon it at all from that point of view. If, as I do not know that it was, the Workmen's Compensation Act was, in the mind of the general manager, the cause of issuing this circular, it might go very far to prove that the Workmen's Compensation Act has had a very excellent effect. There can be no doubt that the presence of men in a work of this sort incapacitated either by age or any infirmity is a source of danger not only to themselves but to others, and if the additional liability which has been cast on the company by the Workmen's Compensation Act has induced them to look more closely than they had previously thought necessary into the best means of preventing accidents I cannot see that any injurious effect can be attributed to the operation of that Act. That is the origin of this circular, which was issued some months ago. I may add that I have heard only to-day from the manager that no men have been discharged from the works on account of age, and that the 1012 relations with the workmen are of the most friendly and cordial character.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I have only to say as regards the question whether this Act be or be not beneficial to the workmen, that I will leave it to the workmen, who have not left my noble friend's works at the age of fifty, to settle the question between themselves, and the manager, and my noble friend.