§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, the Bill the Second Reading of which I now move is for the purpose of amending and extending the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897. Perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships that that Act made an entirely new departure. It gave to all those employed in dangerous pursuits reasonable compensation, whether the accident was caused by any default or wrong-doing on the part of their employer or not. As was natural, there were a great many novel proposals in that Act, which were to a large extent experiments, and it was therefore not surprising that the Secretary of State, after the Act had been in force for some years, thought it desirable to have an inquiry into its operations to see whether any amendments or extensions were desirable. In November, 1903, Mr. Akers-Douglas appointed a Committee to consider this question. Sir Kenelm Digby, who was Permanent Secretary at the Home Office at the time the Act was passed, was Chairman of the Committee, and there were representatives upon it of both employers and employed. They made a very full and able Report, dealing with a very large number of difficult questions that had arisen in the course of their inquiry, and I think they made no fewer than forty recommendations, many of which are dealt with in the present Bill. I think it is worth while to remark that on that Committee there was a very able and influential representative of the workmen in Mr. Barnes, and that nearly the whole of the proposals which the Committee made, most of which are now incorporated in this Bill, were accepted by him.
I can assure your Lordships that I have no intention of attempting to touch upon the very large number of difficult questions of detail with which this Bill deals. It would obviously be impossible to do so in a Second Reading speech; but I think it will be expected, on such an important Bill as this, that I should attempt to give some account of the result of the Committee's inquiry with regard 264 to the operation of the Act of 1897, referring particularly to the most important points on which they made recommendations and which are dealt with within the four corners of this Bill. Let me take, in the first place, one important matter which formed a considerable part of their inquiry—namely, how far the Act had led to litigation. Undoubtedly, if it had proved a litigious measure, as seems to be the general impression, that would go far to take away the benefits of the Act so far as workmen are concerned, for the object of such an Act as this must be to give a simple and quick remedy, if posible, without much litigation. But in a new measure of this sort, containing novel proposals, it was certain that all doubtful points would at once be taken to be decided in a Court of law. Many of them have been taken for the decision of one of the higher Courts, and it is probable that those decisions will decide what the law on the particular point is to be for the future; and, therefore, when once the law is settled, there will not be nearly as much litigation on these points as at first. In addition to that, it should be remembered that the Act dealt with a number of workmen engaged in the most dangerous trades—workmen numbering seven and a-half millions—and, in the enormous number of cases of compensation that must have arisen with that large number of workmen employed, it is perfectly clear that there might be a good deal of litigation without showing a very appreciable percentage of the number of cases decided.
Let me, on this point, quote the evidence laid before the Committee. There were witnesses who spoke for all sorts of different trades. I find that one witness, speaking on behalf of the Midland Collieries, stated that out of 251 claims only one went to arbitration. Evidence was given on behalf of the Builders Accident Insurance Company to the effect that only 1½ per cent. of cases were taken into Court out of the total number of claims; and another builders' society gave evidence that out of 300 claims only two were taken into Court In the case of the Employers United Indemnity Society of South Wales the proportion was something of the same sort—98 per cent. of the cases were settled without dispute; and, taking two of the most 265 important railway companies which gave evidence, I find that in the case of the Midland Railway Company the evidence was that practically all the disablement cases were settled by agreement without going to law, and that in the case of the North Eastern Railway Company, out of thousands of cases only three had been taken into Court. I think in those circumstances the House will not be surprised that the Committee, having heard a vast amount of evidence with regard to this particular point, came to the deliberate conclusion that on the whole the amount of litigation produced by the Acts of 1897 and 1900 had been very small compared with the great number of cases settled by agreement. At the same time they went on to say—and no one will be surprised at the statement—that they thought the proportion of litigation might and ought to be further reduced. The Committee stated in their Report that the impression left on their minds was that where the organisation of associations both of employers and workmen was most complete there was less amount of litigation.
As a contrast to some of the cases I have stated, I think I ought to call attention to one particular provision which was brought prominently before the Committee as having given rise to a serious amount of litigation. The case I refer to is dealt with in the first clause. It is where a workman has the alternative of either proceeding under the Compensation Act of 1897 or trying to recover under the Employers Liability Act. It was stated before the Committee that a serious state of things had arisen from the fact that there were a large number of cases where workmen had got into the hands of somewhat unscrupulous solicitors who, even where there was very small chance of recovering under the Employers Liability Act, had recommended them to take proceedings under that Act, with the result that there had been a very large expenditure on costs, and the percentage of cases in which they had recovered had been very small indeed. It is curious to notice that this particular point has most seriously affected the workmen's interests in Scotland. It appears that in Scotland there are a considerable class of speculative law agent who have advised workmen to go under 266 the Employers Liability Act, and the result there has been much more serious, because under the Scottish law workmen can claim to have the case tried by a jury, with the result that the costs are very much heavier than they would otherwise be.
Let me give one instance only. A witness stated that forty-three cases under the Employers Liability Act went before juries; that eleven of those cases were decided, after hearing, in the workman's favour; that the amount of compensation recovered was £1,735, an average of about £158 in each case; and that the expenses in connection with those eleven cases were not less than £3,050, an average expenditure of about £277. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a scandal which ought to be prevented from continuing if possible. Many witnesses advocated that the option should be taken away from the workman of going under the Employers Liability Act when he had a remedy under the Compensation Act, and the Committee recommended that where the Court decided that the workman had an adequate claim under the Compensation Act he should not be allowed to go for compensation under the Employers Liability Act. But that is not the proposal which is made in this Bill. The proposal in the Bill is, shortly, this: that in a case where the workman has the option of proceeding under the Employers Liability Act or the Compensation Act he shall continue to have that option, but that if he tries to recover under the Employers Liability Act and the employer admits his claim under the Compensation Act, the procedure shall be under the arbitration clauses of the Compensation Act, which will lead to very much less expense; and if the workman is not successful in making good his claim under the Employers Liability Act, the Court is at once to proceed to give compensation under the Compensation Act, but before the compensation is paid to the workman the costs are to be subtracted which are caused by proceedings having originally been brought under the Employers Liability Act instead of under the Compensation Act. It is hoped that this will do much to discourage a practice which has been too prevalent, and it is as much in the interests 267 of the workman himself that he should recover without these large costs as it is in the interests of the employers.
I will refer to one other point in connection with which the Government hope to do away with much litigation—the case where the medical referee is called in. It is found that the power has not been nearly so much made use of as was expected, and it is proposed under the Bill to allow the medical referee to be called in at a much earlier period than has been the practice hitherto. Hitherto he has often been called in only after a large part of the law expenses have been incurred, and it is hoped that if he is called in earlier and his decision as to the physical state of the workman is accepted as conclusive, it will put a stop to a good deal of litigation that has hitherto taken place.
The House will remember that when the Act was in Committee in this House seven years ago there was a good deal of discussion as to the burden that would be placed on the coal trade. There has been a considerable amount of evidence given before the Committee with regard to the actual burden placed on the coal trade, and I think the most convenient way to refer to it would be to take the cost per ton that the Act has involved in compensation for workmen. I will take the evidence given on behalf of three of the largest colliery owners' funds—the Midland Colliery Owners Indemnity Fund, the Northern Employers Insurance Fund, and the West Yorkshire Coalowners Fund. I find that the cost of the Act in the first year was in the first case ¼d. per ton; in the second and third cases it was a little more; and it has been found to be steadily rising during the last five years, till in the last year the figures were:—Midland, ½d. per ton; Northern, nearly ⅔d. and West Yorkshire a similar figure. The strong feature in these figures is that since the year 1899—the year of the first figures—the cost of the Act has been steadily and largely increasing every year. There are two causes for that. The better the Act was known the more readily workmen applied for compensation under it; and in the second, third, and fourth year it was necessary not only to pay the compensation for the year, but the accumu- 268 lated amount of compensation due to pensioners who had been injured in the previous years, and it is very difficult to say when that will cease. It cannot cease increasing until the pensioners die out or are removed from the fund.
One witness gave it as his opinion that it would go on increasing for four years, and that the utmost amount required would be ¾d. per ton; but I should have great hesitation in accepting a figure of that sort, especially in view of the experience of foreign countries. In a great many countries of Europe an Act of this sort has been in force for a much longer period than in this country. In Germany an Act similar to this has been in force, I believe, for twenty years, and figures have been published which show that even after this long period of years the cost of compensation is still steadily increasing. Under these circumstances, my Lords, the Government feel that they should act with very great caution indeed in regard to increasing or altering the financial burdens as established by the Act of 1897, especially as we cannot say whether we are at anything like the end of the present charge, which already falls heavily on many trades, notably on the coal trade. What employers complain of more than the heavy charge is the uncertainty of the Act, and the fact that they do not know when they will be exposed to liability. One of the objects of this Bill is to do away with a great deal of that uncertainty, to try and simplify the Act and get rid of litigation, and to make the operation of the Act more certain.
Representation was made by some employers to the Committee that the clause which prevents a workman getting compensation in a case where he has contributed to the accident by serious misconduct has been very little operative. It was pointed out that there have been very few cases in which this has been held by the Courts to be a bar to recovering compensation, and the suggestion was made that it might be of more effect if disobedience to certain rules was made the test of losing compensation rather than that it should be left to the Courts to decide what was wilful misconduct. For reasons which were given at the time when the Act was passed, the Government do not think it would be possible 269 to say that all breaches of rules should debar a workman from getting compensation. No doubt, rules like those with regard to lights in a mine are such that a workman ought to be debarred compensation if he deliberately breaks them; but the Committee were of opinion, and the Government have taken the same view, that it is not possible to lay down strict statutory definitions of what should be the rules the breaking of which should prevent a workman getting compensation. They have left it to the discretion of the Court.
With regard to workmen the Act has, on the whole, worked effectively and given them the reasonable compensation which it was intended to give them, but there are certain directions in which the Act has had a very adverse effect on the position of workmen. One is with regard to the employment of old men. It is difficult at all times in certain trades for old men to find employment, but the evidence shows that the difficulty has been largely increased by the operation of the Act. Having to pay considerable compensation, employers are unwilling to employ old men who, in the first instance, would be much more likely to have accidents than younger men, and, in the second place, would be more seriously affected by an accident if it did happen. The same is true with regard to men who are partially disabled. I understand that the insurance companies will not insure them at all, because the results of an accident may be so serious that they may be permanently disabled. The Government think that this point ought to be met, and they propose in the Bill to allow old men, and partially disabled men, to agree with their em-employers as to the maximum to be paid. That maximum may be lower than is provided in the Act, but must not be less than 5s. weekly, or £25 in a lump sum where death results. This will, we hope, enable a large number of old men who have not been hitherto employed to obtain work.
I now come to the deliberate provision in the Act of 1897 which prevented any compensation being given for the first fortnight after the accident. It has been strongly contended on behalf of the workmen that this clause should be al- 270 tered, and that they should be allowed to have compensation for injury during the first fortnight. It has been represented that in some cases the present provision has the effect of encouraging malingering, because if a man is so slightly injured that he need not be kept away from his work very long, he is induced to remain away over the fortnight in order to get compensation. On the other hand, the old arguments which were used at the time the Act was passed are certainly fully in force now—that it was not intended to give full compensation to workmen for the results of accidents, and that during the first fortnight it was much easier for them to make the necessary provision than it would be if they were kept out for a longer period. But evidence of a very remarkable character was placed before the Committee as to what the effect would be supposing you were to allow compensafor the first fortnight in addition to the compensation as at present given. Sir Andrew Noble contrasted the system of compensation which was in force for some years before the Act came into operation with the actual amount of compensation paid under the Act. Under that system compensation was paid for all trivial accidents, and in the five years previous to the Act coming into force the number of accidents amounted in the first year to 10 per cent. of the number of workmen employed, and it went up in the last year to nearly 15 per cent.
What was the result when the Compensation Act was substituted for the scheme that had been in force previously? Why, in the first year the number of cases went down to 3 per cent., and in the four years following that amount had not risen. It is clear from these figures what an enormous number of persons would receive compensation if the first fortnight was added to the compensation given in other ways. In addition, the Committee also received evidence on this matter from the insurance companies. They asked the insurance companies what, in their opinion, would be the additional risk incurred if the first fortnight was added. The General Accident Insurance Company stated that they thought the additional 271 premium required would he 35 per cent.; the Sun Life Company said it would be as much as 50 per cent.; that view was also taken by the General Insurance Company, and the evidence of all the insurance companies was that the additional risk would be something between 35 and 50 per cent. Under those circumstances, and with those figures before them, the Government felt that if they were to comply with the workmen's request in this respect they would be altering the financial policy of the Act of 1897; and, looking to the rapid increase of the claims for compensation, they do not feel that they would be justified in making a change in the law which would put such a very heavy expenditure on the employers.
I will leave the Amendments which are included in the Bill, and pass to the proposed extensions of the original Act. They are extensions which may be said to come almost within the scope of the Act itself. I will instance some of them. In the Act as originally passed persons employed in building operations only got compensation if some part of the building on which they were working was more than thirty feet high, and where machinery on scaffolding was used. It is needless to say that the drawing of that line has given rise to an immense amount of litigation, and to all sorts of cases of difficulty in the Courts. The Government feel that this is a matter which ought immediately to be altered, and for the future persons employed on all buildings, irrespective of those conditions, will receive compensation for accidents. The same sort of difficulty has arisen with regard to persons employed in quarries. They could not get compensation under the original Act if they were employed in a quarry which was less than twenty feet deep. Many of the accidents which happen in quarries from different causes are equally prevalent in quarries which are not twenty feet deep, and under this Bill the provision as to depth will be done away with, and all employed in quarries will get compensation. There has also been some difficulty in the case of railways owing to the way in which the Act was worded. It is proposed by this Bill that compensation for accidents on railways shall now be extended to persons 272 employed on tramways, and private railways and sidings.
Further, it is proposed to extend the Act to carriers—not to foot carriers—but to carriers using horses. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware how dangerous the calling of a carrier is. I have had it brought to my notice in connection with the railway company of which I am a director. We have a report made every fortnight with regard to the number of accidents to men in the service of the company, and your Lordships would be surprised to hear what a very large proportion of them are accidents to men carrying goods to and from railway stations, and who are quite away from any danger from the railway itself. At present a carrier in the employment of a railway company would get compensation if he were on the premises of the railway company at the time of the accident, but he would get no compensation if the accident happened in the street. It is also proposed to extend the Act to persons employed in the care and management of horses and locomotives, which would include drivers of motor-cars, and also to laundries where steam power is used. It appears that there is very little danger in the case of laundries where steam power is not used. The Bill, therefore, will not apply to those laundries. It is also proposed to extend the Act to workshops where more than live people are employed, and also to warehouses. Those, I think, are the principal trades to which it is proposed to extend the Act, and they are very similar in character to those already included. At all events, they are all of them dangerous trades, and it has been thought desirable to give them the benefit of the Act. Two classes of people are not included in the Act—seamen and fishermen; and I ought, I think, to explain the reasons why they are not included. The machinery of the Act is not at all suitable for dealing with the case of seamen, who are employed in all parts of the world, and it might conflict with some of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts; therefore it has been thought better that the case of seamen should be dealt with separately by provisions which would be more suitable for 273 giving them compensation. With regard to fishermen, the Committee suggest that au inquiry should be instituted to see whether the provisions of the Act would be suitable, but at present, at all events, the Government are not prepared to recommend that the Act should be extended to that class, although both seamen and fishermen are employed in dangerous callings.
I have endeavoured to point out the main features of the Bill, and I am aware that there are a very large number of important and difficult points which I have not ventured to touch upon at all at this stage. With regard to the extensions, let me say that they have been carried out in conformity with the promises which were made in the other House by the Secretary of State, who undertook to see to what extent he could extend the provisions of the Act, which, on the whole, has worked well and satisfactorily. If I have not made allusion to a large number of other cases, I hope I have said enough to show that this Bill is not framed in the interests of any special class. It is not brought forward in favour of either employers or employed specially. Its object is to make the operation of the Act more simple and more certain, to do away with litigation as far as possible, and to secure, at the least cost, fair compensation to those employed in dangerous trades; and to do this without putting any unnecessary and undue burden on the great industries of this country whose success and development are of so much importance. I move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2."—(Lord Belper.)
§ LORD DAVEY
My Lords, I congatulate my noble friend who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill in so interesting a speech on having brought in a measure for amending the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897. I can assure him, from judicial experience of the difficulties of that Act, that certain Amendments were much needed, and I think that all the Judges who have had the very tiresome task of endeavouring to make sense of the provisions of the 274 Act of 1897 will cordially welcome a Bill for removing some of those difficulties. But, my Lords, this Bill is a very difficult one to understand. I do not know whether your Lordships have endeavoured to master the working of its details. I have myself tried to do so, but I have not, I confess, succeeded in thoroughly grasping what the provisions of this Bill are; and for this reason, that you have to compare it with the old Act step by step to see how the new clauses will dovetail into, not only the language and the sections which are amended, but into the general scheme of the old Act, and you have also to see how far the provisions of this Bill will meet the difficulties which have been pointed out over and over again—and they are very numerous—by the learned Judges who have had to construe the Act.
In my opinion it would have been much better to have repealed the old Act and enacted a new measure embodying as much of the old Act as it was thought advisable to retain and incorporating the Amendments proposed by the noble Lord. We should then have had an intelligible Bill before us which those who read could understand, instead of a Bill which I venture to say, without any disrespect to the intelligence of noble Lords, your Lordships will have some difficulty in understanding. I regret extremely that that course was not taken. I can assure the noble Lord who has brought in the Bill that if it had been taken it would have done a great deal not only in assisting your Lordships and the other House in understanding the Bill, but also in enabling the Judges to construe it. I cannot describe the tiresome and difficult task which a Judge has to undertake when he is called upon to construe an Act which purports to be only a partial Act, and which can only be understood by comparing it with other Acts and trying to piece them together so as to make out what the actual enactment is.
Another reason why I regret that the course I suggest was not taken is this, that the old Act was not worth retaining. The scheme of the Act was faulty and the details crude and not thought out. In many respects it was obscure, and in some respects the sections contradicted 275 each other, and the definitions which were given in the definition clause for the purpose of explaining the meaning of the words frequently overlapped each other and as frequently left a gap which was not filled up. I do not wonder that the Act of 1897 has had the unenviable distinction of being called the worst-drawn Act on the Statute-book, and that it has led to a greater amount of litigation of a serious character than any other Act in the short space of seven years has done. I do not doubt what the noble Lord said, that the actual number of cases litigated, that is to say, which were brought into Court for the purpose of disputing compensation, is not large compared to the number of cases in which compensation has been paid; but the peculiarity of this Act is the character of the litigation it has occasioned, and the fact that the litigation has been caused almost exclusively by the obscurity of its provisions and the contradictory character of its directions.
Let me take only one instance which was referred to by the noble Lord—the provision dealing with the height of a building. For some reason—to save the draftsman trouble, I suppose, for I can assign no other reason—the Act defined a building within the Act as one of a certain height and in which scaffolding was used. As one of the learned Judges—I think it was the Master of the Rolls—pointed out in the Court of Appeal, the accidents which were to be compensated for had nothing whatever to do with the use of scaffolding. If it had been said that the use of a scaffold led to a greater number of accidents, or that it was only intended to compensate for those accidents which were in some way connected with scaffolding, I could have understood it, but the accidents which were to be compensated for had nothing whatever to do with the use of scaffolding or the height of the building. For instance, if a plasterer was at work in one of the lower rooms of a building, or, it may be, in the basement, and sustained an accident, he got compensation if the building was thirty feet high; but if the building was only twenty-five feet high, although the risk was exactly the same, and although he was employed at precisely the same work, he did not 276 get compensation. That provision, I need scarcely tell your Lordships, led to a vast amount of litigation, which ended only in your Lordships' House; and those who take part in the judicial business of your Lordships' House will, I am sure, confirm me in saying that we have had considerable difficulty in deciding cases which have been brought before us under the Act, and that there has been a great amount of difference of judicial opinion.
I have not been able to study this Bill sufficiently or to compare it with the cases, of which the books are full, which have been decided on the old Act, to know whether it will remove most of the serious blots which have been detected in the course of that litigation; but I am not satisfied that it will. There was the case, which gave rise to an appeal to this House and on which there was great difference of judicial opinion, as to the relation between an "undertaker" and a sub-contractor. I find in the Bill that an "undertaker" in the case of a building is the person who undertakes to do the work, which one would suppose, but your Lordships know that a great amount of building is done by sub-contractors. One contractor undertakes to erect a building, but he lets out the glass work, the slating, and other departments to sub-contractors. Are those sub-contractors "undertakers" towards the workmen whom they employ? That is a question on which there was a difference of judicial opinion in this House, and I cannot find that it has been solved in this Bill.
§ LORD DAVEY
I accept my noble and learned friend's statement, and am glad to hear it. But there is also the question, what is the relation of an "undertaker" and an employer to each other? Has that been up cleared in this Bill? These are all questions which will have to be carefully considered. I need scarcely say that I do not intend to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill, but I hope my noble friend will give us ample time before taking the Committee stage to consider the measure, 277 which I am sure he will admit requires to be examined very carefully in order that we may assist the House, so far as we can, in putting it into a useful shape and making it a complete Bill.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, like my noble and learned friend who has just sat down, I do not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill. On the contrary, I think that in many respects it will make considerable and important improvements in the present law. But the subject is one of great difficulty, as I am sure has been shown by the noble and learned Lord, from whose speech I confess I derive some comfort, because, being myself only a layman in these matters, I am not so much ashamed as I was before of not being able to understand this Bill. If my noble and learned friend cannot understand it, how can I? I do not propose to touch upon any of the legal questions which have been alluded to by my noble and learned friend, except so far as this. The noble Lord who brought in the Bill touched upon the question of litigation under it, and spoke as if he thought the complaints which had been made against its working on the ground of its character and of the litigation which had arisen under it had been to a large extent unfounded. After the description which has been given to us by my noble and learned friend behind me of the character of the Act and the great difficulty of understanding it, the noble Lord can hardly be surprised if the litigation to which it has led has been a matter of criticism.
§ LORD BELPER
Perhaps I may be allowed to state that I quoted the opinion of the Committee who had inquired exhaustively into the subject. I quoted their view that the litigation had not been very great in proportion to the large number of cases settled.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I have the highest respect for the Committee and the able Report they made, but it does not do away with the opinion of a learned Judge like my noble and learned friend behind me who has just addressed us. If there has been any unreasonable criticism of the Act in respect of the litigation 278 to which it has led, my noble friend opposite has only to thank the author of the Act for the manner in which he boasted that it was one of the most perfect measures that had ever been devised, and upon which it was quite impossible that important litigation could arise. That, my Lords, is probably the reason why the Act has in that respect been so much criticised. This Bill does a great deal that is good. It greatly extends the sphere of the operations of the Act of 1897. It was felt at the time by those, at all events, who were in opposition to be a great flaw in the Act that the operation of it was so narrow, and its extension now is to be very much commended. It is certainly a great improvement to get rid of such a peculiar, and, if I may say so in connection with an Act of Parliament, ridiculous provision as that of the famous thirty feet building regulation.
But I cannot help turning my attention to those who are still left outside by this Bill. Their position is a very difficult, and, I think, hard one. The more widely you extend the Bill the greater, as it seems to me, is the hardship upon those who are not brought within its operation. I know that the members of the Committee in their Report have given strong reasons for not extending the Bill, at present, at all events, further than it goes; but at the same time I cannot help thinking that the sounder principle would have been to make the Bill generally applicable and then to have made any special exceptions that you might have thought necessary. There may be cases in which exceptions would have been necessary, but if you had made the Bill generally applicable you would have laid it down that as a general principle persons engaged in labour are entitled to compensation of this kind. They have a further claim on this ground that those trades which are not brought within the purview of this Bill remain subject to the pressure of the doctrine of common employment. Long ago those with whom I am accustomed to act desired to get rid of that doctrine altogether, and we brought in a Bill for the purpose, which ultimately failed. I think it is very hard indeed that those to whom you refuse—it may be for good reasons, I do not wish now to express any 279 opinion on that point—the benefits of this Bill should still be specifically left under the operation of the doctrine of common employment. I think it would have been very desirable if the Government could have seen their way to lay aside the prejudice created by former discussions and boldly face the abolition of that doctrine. I do not suppose this will be the final Bill on the subject; but, as I have said, it effects improvements, and if it can only be brought into a shape legally workable it will certainly have great advantages over the Act as it at present stands.
The last paragraph in the Report of the Departmental Committee touches on the question of compulsory insurance, and seems to me to indicate a desire on the part of the Committee that that matter should be carefully gone into and considered. I am not about to discuss that question now. It lies altogether outside the purview of this Bill, but I think the whole character of the Report points distinctly to this, that the great question of national insurance for accidents is one which ought to be further considered by the Government, with a view, if possible, to adopting some system such as that which exists in Germany and, I believe, in other countries.
That, my Lords, is all I have to say on the Bill as a whole, but I should like to make just one or two observations in respect to some of its details, in order that these matters may be brought to the notice of the noble Lord previous to our going into Committee. The noble Lord in his speech alluded to a question upon which working men feel very strongly—the provision that no compensation should be given for the first fortnight. Their feeling upon the subject is not unnatural. I have looked at the Report, and have read the views expressed by the witnesses who were unfavourable to any alteration of that enactment. I am not quite sure that the insurance witnesses are to be taken as the most competent on the subject. At all events, their views are more or less theoretical. But there is an important piece of evidence in this Report to which I would for a moment refer your Lordships. It is not in the evidence given before the Committee, but in the Memorandum of Mr. Barnes. Upon that 280 subject, as the noble Lord is well aware, Mr. Barnes differed from his fellow-members on the Committee. He wrote—I think that the provisions for the Act should begin to apply at the end of a certain number of days, say, four or six, as provided by trade unions and friendly societies. These bodies have found the shorter time quite sufficient to exclude cases of minor injury, and with the suggested improvements with regard to medical examinations I think the same would apply to the Compensation Act if a shorter period of exemption were adopted.That which seems to me to be important in that statement is the reference to experience of trades unions and friendly societies. Their interests in this matter are just the same as the interests of the employers. They do not wish to pay out of their funds anything which is not due, or to encourage malingering, and their experience is practical experience. I do nut know how far that part of the matter was considered by the Committee, but I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should—not in connection with this Bill perhaps, but at some future time—make himself acquainted with what has been the practice of those great bodies engaged in payments in cases of accident, and see whether they have found any difficulty in working the shorter period.
The other point is this. Under the third clause of this Bill, the time for giving notice of an accident is more limited than in the principal Act. It is to be limited now to six days. I am quite aware that power is given to the County Court Judge to extend that period, if necessary, or at all events to overlook the neglect if the notice is not given within that time; but I am bound to say that in my opinion six days is a very short time in many cases, especially in cases of serious accidents. A family is so disturbed and disorganised by a serious accident to the breadwinner, and, it may be, by his death, that I would ask the noble Lord to consider whether it is really necessary to make this alteration. The principal Act, as the noble Lord knows, practically left the consideration of the time to the Judge. It was to be a reasonable time, but he was to decide whether it fulfilled the requirements of the Act or not. It strikes me that that was a 281 better arrangement than the one now proposed, because then the Judge would have felt himself free to deal with the particular circumstances of the case, whereas if you lay down a period of six days he will feel himself bound to as much as possible limit the time in that way. Those are the only two points which strike me at the moment. I hope that the noble Lord when we get into Committee will give his reasons for this last change, to which he did not allude in his speech. With these few observations, and rejoicing that at last the authors of the Act of 1897 have found out some, at all events, of the defects of that measure, I welcome this Bill, and support its Second Reading.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any objection to the Second Rending of this Bill; but I would like to ask whether any one of your Lordships has ever seen a Bill which was so unintelligible. I was very much consoled by hearing that the noble and learned Lord who spoke last but one could not understand it. If Lord Davey and noble Lords who are learned in the law cannot understand it, what chance have we poor unfortunate laymen? If we had been dependent solely upon the Bill for arriving at the meaning of its provisions, we should have been in a state of absolute perplexity and bewilderment; but, fortunately, the noble Lord when he printed the Bill also printed a White Paper, and it is that Paper which your Lordships must read if you wish to understand the provisions of the Bill. When the noble and learned Lord said it would have been very much better if the Act had been repealed and the operations which it was proposed to re-enact had been reprinted together with the Amendments, I could not help feeling that that was a proceeding which your Lordships would have welcomed with the greatest delight. But that is a form of proceeding, unfortunately, which there is no chance of having adopted. That is the misfortune of our position. Bills are prepared to pass, and in order that a Bill may pass it is desirable, from the draftsman's point of view, that there should be as little as possible in it, as printed, which is capable of attack; and therefore I think that in this Bill the 282 draftsman may be said to have surpassed himself. The Amendments which it is proposed to make are simply unintelligible when taken in the Bill as printed, and I greatly fear that if the present practice of drafting is continued we shall understand less and less the Bills laid before us.
This Bill is essentially one for consideration in Committee and therefore I do not propose to detain your Lordships at any length at this stage; but I wish to call the noble Lord's attention to one point. The noble Lord in his speech did not explain to us why in Clause 7 the interpretation of the word "dependants" is enlarged. The enlargement of the definition of that word, of course, greatly increases the extent of the Bill. If your Lordships will look at the White Paper you will see that in the Act as it stands only direct ascendants and descendants and the widow are included, but under this Bill "dependants" will mean such of the members of the workman's family as were wholly or in part dependent upon the earnings of the workman at the time of his death, and as are residing in the British Islands; that is to say, wife or husband, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, step-father, step-mother, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, step-son, step-daughter, brother, sister, halt-brother, half-sister. Those are all new words, and the result is to bring in persons who are not in the direct line of ascent or descent, and thereby largely to extend the Bill. That is a matter which I have no doubt the noble Lord will explain when we go into Committee, but it is one of such importance that I thought it worth while to mention it at this stage.
*THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, I should like, on behalf of the great body of Christian workers who visit these men after their accidents, to add a few words in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. It so happens that in 1897, when the previous Act was passed, I was in daily contact with working men, both in health and in sickness, and whatever hard words may be used in connection with the Act of 1897 I can certainly say that it did remove a burning sense of injustice from 283 the working classes. Therefore, because this Bill enforces the principle in the Act of 1897, I should support it if it did nothing else; but it gees further and greatly extends the provisions of that Act. The fact that this Bill embraces a large number of those who were under a sense of injustice owing to their being excluded gives a second reason why we should support it. I am keenly conscious of the difficulty with regard to old men. Only those who really see day by day what is the fate and destiny of individual men know what a terrible injury it is to a working man at this moment to be old at all—to be over forty. Therefore, if the working of the Compensation Act, which has done so much good, can in any way be modified on behalf of old men, who certainly have suffered as a result of its provisions, it is a matter for gratification. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, if I could look at this question from a theoretical point of view I should heartily agree with my noble and learned friend opposite that it would have been much better if a new Bill had been introduced repealing the Act of 1897; but the difficulty in the way of that is that it would add very much to the Parliamentary labours of carrying the Bill through both Houses. While we in this House might thus have framed a much more perfect measure than can be produced by taking this supplementary Bill, there would be considerable difficulty in carrying it through the other House. I would ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House if the Government will assist us by giving us every opportunity of dealing with this Bill carefully in Committee. I hope the Committee stage will not be taken before Easter. This is not a question to be dealt with in Standing Committee; the responsibility of framing the measure must be borne by the Committee of the Whole House. Everybody is agreed with my noble and learned friend Lord Davey as to the difficulty of construing the present Act. That difficulty will be much greater when we have this supplementary Act to read in with it, and I am appalled at the difficulty which Courts 284 of Justice will experience in understanding it. The Government apparently have been fully aware of that and have endeavoured to meet it, but I am afraid they have endeavoured to do so in a way which must be carefully considered before being sanctioned by your Lordships' House. In Clause 22 of the Bill it is provided that when this Bill becomes an Act, and in order, I presume, to facilitate the rending of it with the original Act, the King's printer is empowered to print the principal Act "with the additions, omissions, and substitutions required by this Act." It is, then, not for us to read the two Acts together; the King's printer is to be the responsible individual to tell us how this Act is to be read. We shall have no record of that in the Journals of the House; there will be no record of such alterations; and yet that Act, so printed, will be binding and will be produced for all purposes as having the authority of an Act of Parliament. It may be that my noble friend Lord Belper has a precedent for this, but I have it on the highest authority that this provision was put in a Bill some years ago and withdrawn on the ground that it was unconstitutional. I would ask the noble Lord whether it is advisable for us to delegate the power of Parliament to the King's printer. Apart from this criticism, I shall be glad to give every assistance in carrying the Bill, as it contains many Amendments beneficial to workmen.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, with regard to the last point raised I cannot help thinking that my noble and learned friend rather exaggerates the importance of it. There are many precedents for this sub-section as to printing. It was in the Friendly Societies Act, 1887, the Designs and Trade Marks Act, 1888, the Pensioners Computation Act, the Army Annual Act, and other measures. If any question should arise as to a difference between the Act as passed and the Act as printed, that only would avail which had been passed by Parliament and received the Royal Assent. I do not think it likely that any difficulty will arise, the King's printers never having been found to be in default in this respect. If, however, any serious objection is taken to the sub-section in Committee, my noble friend 285 who introduced the Bill will probably not insist upon it.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should like to thank the Lord Chancellor for what he has said. I hope our legal friends will allow us to have amended Acts printed in this manner. It would be impossible to understand them if they were not so printed.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
I only rise for the purpose of saying, in answer to the appeal of Lord James of Hereford, that it is not proposed to take the Committee stage of the Bill till after Easter, so as to give ample time for its consideration.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on the second sitting day after the recess at Easter.