HL Deb 14 December 1906 vol 167 cc815-21


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I hope that the arrangement by which your Lordships are willing to take the Second Reading of this Bill this afternoon will end by being convenient to noble Lords opposite. As I understand there is no noble Lord who wishes to oppose the the Second Reading. It is, however, not unlikely that there may be noble Lords opposite who will wish to put down Amendments on various clauses, and the idea therefore is that if we get the Second Reading to-day noble Lords will have longer time in which to consider their Amendments. We will put the Committee stage down for a day convenient to noble Lords opposite, but not before Tuesday or Wednesday next.

Although this is one of the most important Bills which His Majesty's Government have brought before your Lordships this session I do not propose to say very much upon the question this afternoon. It is so very largely a matter of detail that it is more easily considered in Committee. I think, however, it is right that I should call your Lordships' attention to a few points in which the Bill makes a real change in the law. First, with regard to the definition of the word "workmen." The idea of His Majesty's Government is that there should be a very large extension of the principle of compensation to workmen. There were various proposals which might have been adopted. They might have gone on the present system of only including certain specified classes of workmen, but, on the whole, it appeared better to His Majesty's Government to make the Bill apply to all workmen, with certain exceptions which your Lordships will find set out on page 14 of the Bill. There is, for instance, the exclusion of men employed in casual labour, the idea being that a man who is employed just for the moment should not receive compensation. This does not apply to casual labour at the docks; but men engaged, for instance, to sweep snow off a door-step would not receive compensation. The police are specially excluded because they are provided for otherwise. Then there is also the exclusion of out-workers working on premises not under the control and management of the employer. The present Act only deals with certain dangerous industries and with some 7,500,000 workmen. This Bill, taking the last census as a basis, will include 738,000 clerks, 850,000 shop assistants, 2,000,000 domestic servants, 141,000 seamen, and 1,300,000 workshop employees. Your Lordships will therefore see that the Bill Largely extends the application of the principle of compensation. At present the length of time for which compensation is not paid is fourteen days, but it is proposed under this Bill to reduce the period to seven days. If an injury lasts more than fourteen days, however, compensation will be paid from the date of the accident. This is the result of an arrangement arrived it in another place, and I think it meets with general approval. His Majesty's Government have been specially fortunate in being able to have the practical advice of a large number of Members of Parliament who are particularly well acquainted with the circumstances of the workmen who will be included under this Bill. Seamen are not brought in while they are on board ship, but it was felt that there was a moment during which they would not get any compensation. The advantages of the Merchant Shipping Act leave them when they go on shore. From the moment that the Merchant Shipping Act drops them this Bill takes them up. The inclusion of industrial diseases in the Bill is another important matter. Any workman or workwoman who contracts industrial disease as the result of the conditions of his or her employment is just as much deserving of compensation as the man or woman who meets with an accident. Take, for instance, the case of lead poisoning, and so on. It is a novel and very difficult principle which has involved very great discussion amongst those interested in this question, but I am able to state that the provisions in the Bill are generally acceptable to all the parties concerned. The clause which deals with this question is very complicated. It is extremely difficult to apportion exactly the compensation which will be paid by an employer supposing the workman has not been with him very long, but I believe when your Lordships have had time to consider the terms in which that clause is drawn, you will see that it has been designed with fairness and in a way which ought to be generally satisfactory both to employers and employed. The third schedule is somewhat disappointing as there are only six industrial diseases included. The reason is that a Committee has been sitting for some time dealing with certain other diseases, and it was not thought desirable to put any of those in the schedule till the Home Office had had time to go thoroughly into the question. Before July next it is hoped that the Home Office will be able to take advantage of the clause in the Bill by which that office has power to add to the schedule those industrial diseases which it may seem desirable to add. I have now explained the really important points in the Bill, and, while I am quite sure that your Lordships all agree with the principle of the Bill, I venture to hope that when we come to consider it in Committee it will not be found to need any very serious amendment.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, I am not rising to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill nor to prolong the discussion upon it at this stage. The noble Earl said he wished to call our attention to several questions of principle raised in the Bill. He did call our attention to some of them, but omitted to mention a principle certainly more important than any of those he referred to. I allude to the fact that by this Bill for the first time, so far as I know, illegitimacy is recognised. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether there is any precedent in British legislation for recognising illegitimacy. It is now admitted for the first time that illegitimates are to claim compensation on the same footing as legitimates. I need not say that this is a most important change in the law, and one which will have consequences far beyond anything contained in this Bill.


By the law of Scotland illegitimacy may be removed at any time by the marriage of the parents. Under the law of England I am not aware that any rights of property or restitution of status has been conferred upon illegitimate children; but the question is a very large one to express an opinion upon as it relates to the whole range of English law. May I say, however, that illegitimacy is not the fault of the child, who suffers when need for compensation arises. I think your Lordships would not be anxious to press the difference between legitimacy and illegitimacy in cases of that kind.


My Lords, having had charge of an amending Bill which passed through your Lordships' House two years ago, I should like to say a few words before this Bill is read a second time. It is perfectly clear that this Bill is an enormous extension of the original Workmen's Compensation Act. I do not in the least wish to complain of that, because I think everyone who was connected with the original Act recognised that if you once brought in a Bill for the purpose of giving compensation to workmen in dangerous trades there was no principle which would prevent its being extended to other trades not so dangerous and to the smaller employers. As this Bill has been founded upon the Report of the Committee I must point out that the Bill I introduced adhered more closely to the Committee's recommendations than the present Bill. In many instances the Government have gone beyond and against the Report. In the first place, the Bill extends to seamen, and although no one will grudge seamen having the same opportunities for compensation as other classes of workmen, yet it was strongly felt by the Committee that the case of seamen ought not to be dealt with in the same Bill as compensation for people employed on land. There are other very important extensions. The noble Earl referred to industrial diseases. Compensation for industrial diseases is a new principle altogether. It is not a compensation for accidents, but a compensation for diseases in the course of employment; and I doubt whether the terms of the Bill will safeguard the employer in cases where a workman has disobeyed the regulations for the preservation of health. Apart from that it seems to me very doubtful whether, if a workman suffered from some of the common diseases, not industrial diseases, such as consumption, arising from living in unhealthy rooms, he might not in the future be able to get compensation. There is one other very serious extension in the Bill—the extension to small employers. Although this is a perfectly just corollary of the former Bill, I am afraid, as it is not accompanied by any system of insurance, that it will give rise to great difficulties. The object in a Bill of this sort should be that the workman should be certain to get compensation if he is entitled to it. There will be a very large number of small employers who will not insure, and will be unable to pay compensation for death or total disablement In foreign countries it has been recognised that it is absolutely unfair to give compensation to the workmen of every employer unless some State insurance or some recognised insurance system is adopted. I am afraid that in regard to these cases there is fear that workmen and small employers will suffer. I congratulate the noble Earl on the fact that he has to deal with a Bill which is in a much more reasonable state than the Bill with which I had to deal two years ago. In the first place we have got rid of the undertaker, a name not connected with very pleasant associations at any time. So far as I was concerned I found the greatest difficulty sometimes in making the effect of the Bill clear. A few points of detail in this Bill will require consideration in Committee. I have always been in favour of compensating workmen, and the experience of employers under the last Act proved that it could be done at much less cost than many people imagined. I recognise that with the large representation of labour in the other House it was perfectly natural that the law should be extended to a considerable extent in the way that it has been in the Bill now before your Lordships.


My Lords, if I remember aright the noble Marquess proposed the other evening, and the House accepted, an arrangement by which our proceedings were to terminate at three o'clock this afternoon. That hour is now passed, and it is therefore obvious that we cannot continue a Second Reading debate on this important Bill. The Bill touches a number of points which no doubt can be most conveniently dealt with in Committee. At the same time it does involve some very important questions of principle, and therefore I hope it may be understood that any noble Lords who desire to address your Lordships upon these questions of principle will have full opportunity of doing so on the Motion to go into Committee. I suggest that the Second Reading of the Bill should be agreed to to-day in order to give noble Lords an opportunity of putting their Amendments on the Paper.


That is exactly what I intended. If any noble Lord now abstains from making a Second Reading speech he will have full opportunity of doing so on going into Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to Bill read 2aaccordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.