§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY, Lancashire, Blackpool)
, in asking for "leave to introduce" a Bill to amend the law with respect to compensation to workmen 1422 for accidental injuries suffered in the course of their employment," said: I do not think the House will expect me to attempt to enter into the history of this difficult and intricate question. I think those who remember the discussion that took place in 1893 will recall the fact that my predecessor gave on that occasion a most clear explanation of the state of the law and the attempts which had been made to alter it. Neither shall I endeavour to prove to the House that the Government is justified in dealing with this extremely difficult problem. Looking to the Debates of the last few ears, and to all the controversies which have taken place with respect to labour questions throughout the country, there is, I think, sufficient justification for any Government trying to do their best to solve the problem. ["Hear, hear!"] I shall, therefore, assume, without further argument, that the question of compensation for accidents to workmen in some form or other is one with which Parliament ought to deal, and if I needed further argument I should say that the present advisers of Her Majesty are pledged to deal with it; and, in accordance with the promises made to the country, they believe it to be right and proper that they should introduce this Measure now. In 1893 my predecessor introduced a Bill whose object was, by making employers responsible for accidents which were due to their own negligence, or to the negligence of those employed by them, to give a strong incentive to the taking of proper precautions for securing safety in dangerous industries. I think that is not an unfair definition of the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. The effect of that Bill would. I think, have been to put the workman in the same position as the stranger. It would have restored the workman to the same rights under the common law which a, stranger to the employer possesses, and which he enjoyed previous to the decision of the Law Courts that established the doctrine of common employment; that is to say, it would have given every workman in this country—and the definition of "workman" was wide and all-embracing—the same right of action which every stranger had. That right of action would have been for unlimited compensation. Against those proposals it was 1423 argued that it was unfair to make employers legally responsible when they were not morally responsible, and it was said that they could not be morally responsible for these accidents when they had no power over the persons who had caused the accidents and who were not under their control. It was said, further, that those proposals did not remove the difficulty of proving negligence, and those who are familiar with the character of these accidents will, I think, be prepared to admit that one of the great difficulties which have attended this subject in its practical operation is the difficulty of proving negligence. Therefore it was argued that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, instead of doing anything in the direction of diminishing the chances of litigation, would work in the opposite direction, and that the result of putting such a large and onerous liability upon the employers of this country would be that they would inevitably use every endeavour to litigate themselves out of such liability. Further, there was the difficulty of contributory negligence, and a subject that is more likely to lead to litigation and to excite the activity of lawyers can hardly be imagined. Another argument that was used with great force against the proposals of my right hon. Friend was that they would not extend to the vast majority of the accidents which, unfortunately, occur in this country. ["Hear, hear!"] It was felt that, although the workmen and those who represent them say that they do not so much desire compensation or payment for loss of life or limb as they desire protection, it was reasonable that there should be some attempt on the part of the Legislature of this country to meet these accidents by some compensation. ["Hear, hear!"] I shall not endeavour to fix the number of the accidents which were altogether omitted from the operation of my right hon. Friend's proposals. They have been variously estimated, but never at less than 40 or 50 per cent., and my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, who is responsible for a Bill based on the principle of general compensation, put the number at 80 per cent. But, whatever the number may be, surely the subject ought to be taken into consideration by the House. ["Hear, hear!"] The principle of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman oppo- 1424 site was accepted in this House by both sides, and also by the House of Lords, and if the Measure was ultimately wrecked after laborious progress through the Grand Committee, it was lost because the right hon. Gentleman and his friends refused to agree to the Amendment, which was inserted in another place, and which gave the power of contracting out, or, as I would prefer to put it, gave the power to employers and employed to contract themselves under proper safeguards into a better position. ["Hear, hear!"] When that Bill was before the House a very important Amendment was moved by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, who proposed that it would be advantageous to provide for all accidents by making compensation a trade expense; but, if I remember rightly, that Amendment was not carried to a division. It was argued that the workman should not only be put into the same position as the stranger, but, if anything, into a better position. It was argued that the serious results of accidents could not be held to be adequately met by merely giving the workman a right of action in respect of the negligence of an employer or of any person for whom he was responsible, and it was felt that the workman or his representatives ought to have a right to compensation at the expense, not of the rates or of public charity, but of the industry in which he was engaged. When it was said that by imposing such a burden upon the industries of this country you would render competition with foreign trade still more difficult than it is at the present time, it was shown that such a law of industrial compensation is well-nigh common to the whole of the Continent, and is in force in most of those countries with which we enter into an severe competition. It was pointed out also that such a scheme, providing for general compensation, if it accurately defined the liabilities of one side and the other, and if it provided a simple and inexpensive remedy, would prevent litigation. It would prevent uncertainly, and the parties and their representatives would know what their rights were. Some words used by my right hon. Friend opposite seemed to indicate that he at any rate would be prepared to approve such a solution of this difficulty, but it was said by others, and 1425 the labour representatives principally, that such a law would lead to general insurance, and that insurance, if general, leads to diminished responsibility on the part of the owners, and must do away with those incentives to supplying adequate protection which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had in view when he introduced his Bill in 1893. I am prepared to agree to the fullest extent with those who argue that the Legislature can properly interfere to secure the safety of those engaged in dangerous industries; but, I ask, how far is the argument sound which says that if you have insurance you undermine safety? If you passed an Act of Parliament to-morrow prohibiting persons from insuring against risks, it would be impossible to carry the Measure into practical operation. Under the Bill of my right hon. Friend opposite the liability was unlimited, and the difficulties of insurance would therefore have been much greater and the premiums much higher than they would be under a scheme of limited liability. But the absolute certainty is that under any scheme of compensation there will and must be insurance. What is the effect of insurance. With regard to inevitable accidents it of course can make no difference, but how far does insurance affect preventable accidents. When an employer is his own insurer, surely his own interest demands that he should endeavour to diminish risk and to prevent accidents; and if the result of a scheme of insurance is to throw more business upon insurance societies, they, too, will have great reason to see that proper precautions are taken for safety, and if proper precautions are not taken the premiums will rise. Insurance companies will not deal on the same reasonable terms with employers who do not adopt proper precautions as they will with those who do their best to protect life in the industries in which they are engaged. It is, therefore, hardly conceivable that under a system of universal liability and insurance employers will not take every care to protect I heir workmen. But, after all, the true means of protection against the improper conduct of dangerous trades does not he in civil liability, but in maintaining a proper criminal liability under the 1426 Acts which exist; and if those Acts are not sufficient and adequate for the purpose they should be strengthened. At all events, we have in this country many Acts which are expressly provided for the purpose of securing that, apart from any civil liabilities, the State should see —and it does see—through its inspectors that proper precautions are taken for the protection of life and limb by everybody who employs men in dangerous industries. Now, Sir, one word as to German experience. I dare say it will be said that there has been an increase of accidents under the German system, which is almost universal, and applies to almost all industries now; but I think it requires a somewhat close examination of the official figures to see what the effect really has been. So far as I am able to understand them, if there has been any increase of accidents under the system of general insurance, it appears to have been because there has been a much more accurate notification of accidents and a much closer record of what has happened in the various industries; and, secondly, there has been, in the case of serious accidents, particularly those causing death, instead of an increase, a decided decrease. That was, in short, the state of affairs on the one side and on the other when the Government came to consider this problem. It seemed to us that we had two alternatives before us—one the alternative of adopting something like the provision of my right hon. Friend opposite, adding to it, as we were pledged to do, the power of contracting out. [Cheers.] The other alternative we had was to propose a scheme of general compensation, under proper safeguards and necessary limitations, and apply it to industries to which it would appear, in the first instance, it could properly be applied. It will be gathered from what I have said to the House that in the proposals we are about to submit to Parliament we have chosen the latter course. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill we propose does not explicitly or directly deal at all with the Employers" Liability Act of 1830. It leaves that Act entirely untouched. It proceeds on the principle which I will venture to quote from 1427 the words used by my right hon. Friend in 1893, that—when 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.In our Bill we accept the principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, and we accordingly propose in the first clause that—if in any employment to which this Act applies, personal injury by accident, arising out of and in the course of employment, is caused to a workman, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the first schedule of this Act.The first schedule provides that when death results from the injury, if the workman leaves dependants, the amount of compensation shall be a sum equal to his earnings during the previous three years, or a sum of £150, whichever of those sums is the larger, but not exceeding in any case £300, provided that any weekly payments made under the Act shall be deducted from such, sum. And in case of incapacity for work, a weekly payment during incapacity, after the second week, not exceeding 50 per cent, of his weekly earnings at the time of the accident, such weekly payment not to exceed £1.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
What happens in the case of permanent incapacity?
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
I think the right hon. Baronet had better wait until he sees the Bill. I believe there would be no difference of opinion that, in. adopting this principle, a limit should be adopted with it, and, on the whole, it is likely that the limit we propose is a safe and reasonable one. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill goes on to say that if the injury was caused by the wilful or wrongful act or default of the employer or some other person for whose act or default the employer was responsible, he should be liable to be sued under the old Act, but not liable to pay compensation both independently of and also under this Bill. 1428 Now I come to the question how these circumstances are to be determined. We propose that, if any question arises as to whether the employment is one to which this Act applies, or whether the injury is caused under the circumstances mentioned in the last clause of the Bill which I have rend, or as to the liability for compensation under this Act or the amount or duration of the compensation, the question, if not settled by agreement, shall, subject to the provisions of the first schedule of this Act, be settled by arbitration in accordance with the second schedule. Our hope is, with regard to arbitration, that committees will be established between employers and men to settle the question; but, if there is no committee and the parties do not agree, the matter shall be settled by a suitable arbitrator appointed by the parties, or, in the absence of agreement, by the County Court Judge or by an arbitrator appointed in another way, but in that case we should not throw any of the costs on the parties. It is proposed that the Treasury should make regulations for the payment of the arbitrator. I come now to a clause in the Bill which, of course, I am aware is controversial, even if the others are not. It is no doubt more difficult to deal with the subject of contracting out when you offer to the workmen of this country a much more liberal scheme of compensation than was proposed in the Bill of my right hon. Friend; and it is, of course, more difficult in the circumstances to give that incentive either to employers or employed which, has been the main motive that has originated those mutual societies we desire, so far as we can, to protect. At the same time I may say I have some reason to think that many of the objections entertained conscientiously by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the principle of contracting out will not be so formidable, and that the principle will not seem to them so injurious to the interests of the workmen when we have established the fact that the workman is entitled under the law to the privileges I have shortly indicated, and when we provide that in no circumstances whatever shall he be able to deprive himself of them. ["Hear, hear!"] We believe in the same principles which 1429 we assorted when in Opposition, the same line of argument winch was pursued at the general election, the same pledges given by many Gentlemen on this side of the House with regard In freedom of contract. We believe it is better to provide by mutual agreement than by law. [Cheers.] We think that, if both parties can come to an agreement to settle their own differences or arrange their own wants in their own way, it is a more satisfactory way of doing it than the most liberal legislation Parliament can provide. Of course we cannot but be aware that in the principal enacting clause of this Bill we adopt the general principles of compensation—limited, it is true; but, when we have provided that, there are possibly not the same inducements to provide against accidents that there were under the Bill of my right hon. Friend. The adoption of that principle may involve some reconstruction of the existing societies, but we desire to give them room to provide further advantages of any kind it may be in their power to provide, and we propose a clause to the effect that, if the Registrar of Friendly Societies certifies that any scheme of compensation or insurance for workmen is, on the whole, not less favourable to the workman than the provisions of this Bill, the employer may, until the certificate is revoked, contract with any workman that the provisions of the scheme shall be substituted for the provisions of the Bill, and that the employer shall be liable only under the scheme. That clause is intended to provide a guarantee that, if any schemes of this kind are entered into or continued, they shall offer the same advantages to the workman as are offered by the Bill. Then there are other considerations which will come in to avoid litigation. I ought to have said, in reference to the schedule, that, this Bill does not give any compensation for injuries which do not disable workmen for a period of two weeks. Now I come to the question as to what industries this Bill should apply to. From what I have said the House will realise that in our opinion it is not possible that the Bill can apply to all the industries of the country. We propose that the Bill shall apply to what I may call the more dangerous industries of the country, or, speaking roughly, 1430 to those industries for which Parliament has provided special protection. The words of the Bill are: —This Act shall apply only to employment on, in, or about a railway, factory, mine, quarry, or engineering work.The definition of railway follows the known definition of the Railway Act of 1871, and the definition of factory follows the Factory and Workshops Acts of 1878 to 1891, and it also includes —any dock, wharf, quay, or warehouse to which any provision of the Factory Acts is applied by the Factory and Workshops Act of 1895.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
No, it does not include workshops. Mines, of course, are defined by the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887. Engineering work means—any work of construction on a railroad, harbour, dock, canal, or sewer and includes any building or other work on which machinery driven by steam, water, or other mechanical power is used for the purpose of the construction thereof.
§ * SIR MATTHEW' WHITE RIDLEY
No, certainly not. We do not propose any scheme of general insurance. ["Hear, hear!"] The House is probably familiar with the state of the law in Germany, Austria, and various other Continental countries; they know that in Germany, at all events, there is an extremely elaborate system, one which is utterly foreign to this country. ["Hear, hear!"] We believe that, as to a large number of the industries of this country, employers are, and will be, their own insurers. We believe that insurance has been a growing custom, and were believe that the obligation which will be thrown upon employers under this Bill will be adequately and 1431 efficiently met by insurance societies. The cost of management in, Germany is one-fifth of the total compensation paid in respect of the total industries of the country, and one-tenth of the total compensation in the case of mines. That is a cost which we in this country could not face with equanimity. ["Hear, hear!"] It is most difficult to compute what will be the cost of insurance or the amount of liability upon the owners, and I shall, no doubt, be told that the burden which will be imposed upon the industries to which the Bill applies will be prohibitive. I do not think so. I think that those countries with which we compete are equally burdened, and, after the closest examination of such data as we have, I am perfectly satisfied that the cost of such insurance would be very much less than we have been led to expect. I have done my best to work, out the figures in regard to mining, and I think that is an industry in respect of which the expenses are likely to be larger than those in respect of any other industry. I have taken the German official figures, and, allowing for all the difference of circumstances and conditions between Germany and this country, I have tried to see what would be the cost as regards compensation in the mining industry if the proposals contained in this Bill had been the law in Germany. I do not say it is anything more than a rough computation, but I have arrived at this result—that the percentage of compensation to wages would be 1 per cent. I have also endeavoured to apply, so far as I can, the proposals of the Bill to the mining industry of Great Britain, and it is rather significant that the figures world out almost absolutely the same—1 per cent, within one or two points of decimal. Those who are familiar with the question will know that the liabilities and risks in factories are about one-quarter of those in mines. I should like to remind the House that, as regards mines, against the 1 percentage of compensation to wages you have to put the value of the present liability under the Act of 1880, and also what I may call the moral claims and demands which are not resisted by large firms of employers who, without any legal compulsion, feel themselves constrained, in the natural course of their business, to expend large sums of money to compensate for accidents. 1432 We have to remember that we are not now considering the proposal whether the law should remain as it is, but that we are considering this alternative as against another one, and the other alternative would be some proposal like that made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—namely, the abolition of common employment. I do not attempt to estimate exactly the amount of that liability; but when you add all those contingencies together which it is fair to take into calculation against the total liability which would be imposed under this Bill, you have got a very large diminution of that 1 per cent.—probably more than one half. I trust and hope that these proposals will do a great deal to diminish litigation. [Cheers.] The uncertain state of the law, with its undefined liabilities, offers great temptations to go to law, and we have felt that that is not beneficial cither to employers or to employed, and that if we could propose a Measure which showed clearly what we thought is a fair liability on the employer it would be likely to cause a great diminution of the expenses hitherto incurred chiefly for the legal profession.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
No, Sir; I have said that the cost is thrown entirely upon the trade. I hope and believe it will be found that the charge will not be a heavy one, or one which can be described as an unreasonable burden upon the industry. Having had the advantage of seeing some figures representing the operations of many of the liberal firms in this country who pay compensation very much upon the scale proposed by this Bill, I may say the cost works out in the most startling way very approximately to the figures I have with regard to mining and manufacturing industries. We admit that the Bill embodies a new principle. It is a new departure, and I can quite imagine that there will be some criticism not only upon the principle, but upon the details. The House has first got to settle the question—Is this principle sound, or is it not? I venture to think, if you look at what is going on elsewhere not less than at the growth of public opinion in this country, and at what has passed in Parliament itself, you will see that there is a growing 1433 feeling that it is proper, in the sense of the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to make trades responsible for the risks which they create. Well, then, in its application fair and reasonable? That is, of course, a matter for argument; I am not urging, and the Government do rot pretend, that the Bill is complete or final. It is a tentative Measure; and a Bill which does require consideration, The Bill fixes the liability at not more than that which is voluntarily incurred by many of the largest and best firms of this country; it is denned and limited so that both parties may know where they stand; it provides an inexpensive method of settling questions that must arise; and if it be true that legislation of this kind ought to aim at being simple, immediate, and effective, this Bill has been conceived with that, object. We desire that it should avoid litigation, and that it should give the workmen of this country the right to compensation for those accidents which unfortunately must occur in the course of their industry, and we believe that we can do so without inflicting an unjust burden on the employers.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
Irrespective of contributory negligence. We altogether leave that out; we do not propose to make contributory negligence a defence as regards compensation. ["Hear, hear!"] I hope I have made the Bill sufficiently clear—at all events, I have endeavoured to do so—and, in the belief that it is an honest attempt to deal with a difficult question, I commend it to the impartial consideration of the House. [Cheers.]
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am sure I am only expressing the general sense of the House when I say that we are greatly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the extremely lucid and comprehensive statement which he has given us, both of the principles upon which the Bill is founded and of the detailed provisions by which it is proposed to give these principles effect. I have no quarrel to make with the historical account which the right hon. Gentleman has given of the state of this question during recent years, and of the stage it had reached when the present Government, accepted office. Nor is he 1434 wrong in saying that, so far as I myself am concerned, and I believe I can speak for a very large number of my hon. Friends who sit around me, we have never expressed, and, indeed, have never entertained, any objection in point of principle to a Measure for what is called universal compensation. On the contrary, I have myself on many occasions said—expressing, I believe, an opinion that is as widely diffused on this side of the House as it is upon the other—that, if it were possible and practicable to do so, there ought to be some provision in the law of this country such as there is in the law of some foreign countries, enabling a workman who is injured through no fault of his own and through no fault of his employer, to receive—I will not say compensation, for compensation in those cases is an inadequate and often an ironical term; but to receive, at any rate, some solatium for the injury he has suffered in carrying on his operations as a soldier in the army of industry. [Cheers.] But what I have always said is that, excellent as that principle is, and important as it is, if we can arrive at a means of doing so, to give it legislative recognition and effect, there are some things which are more important still. First and foremost, there is the prevention, of accidents, rather than compensation. [Cheers.] I have never pretended that the legislation for which the late Government was responsible would have been final, but we urged it upon the country because we believed it would provide not, indeed, an adequate or infallible but a large and additional safeguard to the lives and limbs of persons who were exposed to industrial dangers, and in approaching the consideration of any new scheme for dealing with this question, the first inquiry which ought to be made is—What effect will it have, not in increasing the amount of the fund to be distributed by way of compensation to the workman injured, but in reducing the risks of trade and in diminishing the number of injured workmen who have to claim compensation? [Cheers.] We have always said that the great grievance and the first grievance of the working classes of this country in this respect was to be found in the existence of the doctrine of common employment—a doctrine with which this Bill makes no attempt to deal. The doctrine of common employment 1435 was invented by the Bench, and it established a fictitious—and I venture to say fantastic—distinction between the post of workmen and third persons as regards the liability of employers. If a third person is injured by the act of my servant, he can recover damages from me to the utmost extent of the injury; but if the person who is injured happens also to be in my employment he can recover nothing at all, although it might be supposed that I was under a greater primâ facie obligation to the man in my employment than to a perfect stranger. Such, however, has been the law for nearly 60 years, and it is that condition of the law, not founded upon ancient precedent, never sanctioned by the Legislature, which has been a great and, so we think, a legitimate grievance to the working classes of this country. We proposed to abolish that law, and that in future a workman should be in as favourable a position face to face with his employer if he sustained damage through another person in that employer's service as if he wore a stranger. This Bill does not do that; the law of common employment remains, after this Bill becomes law, in the same position as now. Let me point out that as regards our proposal, be it good or bad, it proposed to deal with all the industries of the country impartially and alike. This Bill, for the first time, so far as I know, in any legislation dealing with the subject —I know the Employers' Liability Act of 1880 was subject to certain exceptions—deals only with selected industries. It introduces a new principle of discrimination—for which I have not board any justification whatsoever—according to which the legal rights of the workman will be determined, not by the circumstances in which he sustains his injury, not upon the extent of the injury which he sustains, but by whether or not he belongs to a particular category of employment. It is all very well to say that these industries which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned are industries in which the average of accidents is highest. What consolation is that to a man who sustains equally grave and serious injury in a trade in which the percentage of accidents is lower? [Cheers.] Let the House remember that among the classes of labourers and artisans who are entirely excluded from the benefits of this 1436 Bill are the whole of our merchant seamen—["hear, hear!"] —all the agricultural labourers, all persons engaged in building operations, unless there happens to be steam power employed, and, lastly, what I regard as the most serious and most illegitimate exception of all, all men, women, and children engaged in our workshops, some of whom, I venture to say, are exposed to dangers quite as real and constant in their character, and even more pernicious in their consequences, than persons engaged in mines and factories. When the House realises that the whole of that large regiment of our industrial army are undoubtedly left out in the cold, I think they will see that the claim put forward by the right hon. Gentleman that this was an extraordinarily generous Measure is one which, at any rate, requires very close examination and scrutiny. My first observation, then, on the Bill is this—it does not do what all legislation of that kind, in our opinion, ought in the first instance to do—it does not abolish the doctrine of common employment, and even in respect of the benefits it does confer it restricts them within a comparatively narrow area of the industrial field. Before I pass from that point to another, I should like to make one observation which perhaps ought to take the form of a question. The right hon. Gentleman told us that it leaves the Employers' Liability Act of 1880 entirely untouched, and when a workman sustains injury from the wilful and wrongful act of the employer, or some person for whom the employer is responsible, he will have his choice of remedies. That is to say, he will either pursue the employer by such remedies as the present state of the law places at his disposal, or he may claim compensation if he belongs to one of the selected industries under the provisions of this Bill. The House will see, therefore, that the alternative which is given to the workman is one which does not place him in any better position than that in which he stands at present. If he chooses, thinking he will get more—and there are a very large number of cases in which he could get a great deal more than is provided under the schedule of compensation in this Bill—if he thinks he will get a larger measure of compensation by pursuing the ordinary legal remedies, then the Bill does 1437 not improve his legal position at all. He is still liable to be met by the doctrine of common employment. He is still liable to be enmeshed and entrapped in that elaborate series of pitfalls which are provided by the Employers' Liability Act of 1880; and the simplification of that Measure, for which all parties in the State have been crying out for a dozen years, which was indeed attempted by the Conservative Government of 1886, and the abolition of many of the technicalities with which it abounds, are abandoned by the author of the present Bill, and the law is left in its present unsatisfactory position. I pass now to another point. I said at the outset that we have always regarded prevention as a far more important object in legislation of this kind than compensation. How are you going to secure prevention? How are you going, under the provisions of this Bill, to add to the safeguards against the occurrence of accidents? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that is to be left to the operation, not of the civil, but of the criminal, law. I assume that the inspectors under the Mines Act, and the Factory and Workshops Act are supposed by the Government to be an efficient and sufficient protection to the working classes of this country against the negligence of their employers. [Cries of "No."] Well, but the Bill gives them no other protection.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
On that point I said that I thought the relegating of the question to insurance did not undermine safety. But the right hon. Gentleman made no more provisions in his Bill than are in this. The employer has got as much liability under this Bill as he had under that of the right hon. Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. ASQUITH
The difference is this—that in our Bill, if you could bring home to the employer that either he or anyone in his employment had been guilty of negligence which caused the accident, there was an unlimited liability on the part of the employer to make good the injury sustained. We said that the existence of such a liability for the first time placed upon the employer by the law would operate as an incentive to his mind to make him take additional precautions, which there is no reason at present he should take. We may have been right or wrong in that, but the right hon. 1438 Gentleman is not entitled to say that our proposal was the same as his. This Bill does not give the employer any additional incentive to take precautions. [An HON. MEMBER: "It increases his liabilities."] It increases his liabilities by making him liable for accidents which no human care or skill could avoid, but as regards accidents due to human negligence it places the employer in exactly the same position of liability as though they were not due to negligence at all. I may be a wry excellent thing—I think it is a very good thing——to give the workman the right to compensation under all circumstances if you can work it out. But how that could be said to increase the incentive to the employer to take precautions I am unable to comprehend. It is quite true that when a man is injured it does not matter to him a bit from the point of view of compensation whether he is injured by the negligence of his employer or by what lawyers call the act of God. The amount of injury which he sustains is exactly the same, and the amount of compensation to be put into his pocket ought to be exactly the same. But when you are looking at it from the point of view of the community and the working classes at large, when you are seeking by your legislation to establish some additional incentive to make employers avoid negligence, it makes all the difference in the world, and I think employers both on the grounds of policy and justice ought to be made to incur as large a measure of liability in the one case as in the other. To leave that measure of liability to be enforced by the criminal law amounts to providing no additional safeguard at all. ["Hear, hear!"] I will not say anything as to details, because it would be better to have the Bill before us when we criticise matters of mere detail. I will not say anything, therefore, by way of minute criticism in regard to the scale of compensation except to say that the maximum compensation for any injury short of death is the weekly payment of £1; and it is quite obvious that compensation recoverable by proceedings under this Bill will and must in a very large number of cases be very considerably less than the compensation which the workman would receive if he enforced the ordinary legal remedies, provided the legal remedies were enlarged in the way 1439 suggested by our Bill. Then, Sir, I come to a point which is one more of principle than of detail—the question of contracting out. The right hon. Gentleman says it is better to provide compensation by mutual agreement than by law—[Ministerial cheers]—for matters of this kind. So it is; I do not think there is any doubt about that anywhere; and in the whole controversy about contracting out, I may remind the House, our position, or my position, at all events, has always been uniformly and consistently this— that the prohibition of contracting out would not have, and ought not to have, any influence whatever on mutual beneficial arrangements between master and men. That is a controversial question— ["hear, hear!"]—which I am prepared to discuss when necessary. I only say that in regard to our position, in order not to let it be supposed that I accept the alternative put forward by the right hon. Gentleman that I am an enemy of mutual agreement. Let me point out that on neither side of the House is there any advocate of free contract in this matter. We are not advocates of free contract, because we think if the law chooses to give certain rights and obligations in the interest of the community it ought not to be in the power of individuals by private arrangement among themselves to lower the standard of protection which the law intends in the interest of all. But neither are the Government opposite, or their followers, disciples of free contract. Would it be possible for me under this Bill to make arrangements with my employés to contract myself out of the scope of the Bill? Not at all. I have got to send the proposed arrangement to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Is that free contract? I do not know why the Registrar of. Friendly Societies has been selected for the performance of this most invidious and difficult duty, or what special qualifications he has for the task. ["Hear, hear!"] But if he, being constituted the authority in the matter, chooses to say, "I do not think your contract is a good one or a reasonable one," I am not able to make any contract at all. That may be a wise or an unwise arrangement. But let us clearly understand at I the outset that is not freedom of contract; and it is because right hon. Gentlemen opposite, now that they have come 1440 to consider the question with the responsibility of office upon them, have seen that it would be impossible to allow freedom of contract without whittling away the law altogether——
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, Birmingham, W.)
We never proposed it in Opposition. [Cheers.]
§ MR. ASQUITH
I suppose the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Dudley Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, the history of that Amendment, which began very nearly at the point of free contract, was a history of the gradual whittling away of the principle of free contract. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Yes, step by step; and that Amendment underwent as many transformations as almost any legislative proposal made in this House. I agree that this is quite in the spirit of the Dudley Amendment in its last form, but I must say that it provides a less effective means for the determination of the question. In my judgment no Government Department is really adequately equipped for the performance of this most difficult task of determining whether a contract between A and his workmen does or does not give to those workmen the same measure of benefit as the general law. I say it is far better to leave these matters in the hands of the Legislature itself. You may be perfect certain that in 999 cases out of 1,000, if the workman has an arrangement with his employer which secures to him rights and obligations quite as beneficial to him as those which the law gives him, he would not be such a fool as to incur the expense and hazard of litigation by invoking the tribunals of the country. As to the provision of the Bill that these matters should be referred to arbitration, I am in entire sympathy with it. I think it is one of the great scandals of our law that the costs of proceedings in proportion to the results obtained should be so high. The costs and the delay, be it observed, are due to the unnecessary complexity and technicalities of the law itself. So far as it goes I am entirely in favour of the principle of referring these matters to arbitration, nor have I any objection whatever to the somewhat novel proposal, with which I am in complete sympathy, that the necessary cost of tribunals of this kind should be defrayed, not by the parties, but by the State. I will not now 1441 consider the question that was entered upon by the right hon. Gentleman as to what will be the extent of the pecuniary burden which a proposal of this kind will cast on the industries of the country. All estimates, as I am sure all will agree, must at the present stage be premature, and to a large extent conjectural. I do not suppose—I never have supposed—that a system of universal compensation would impose a crushing burden upon our industries. I do think, however, that it is a complete mistake to suppose that a burden such as this will be borne entirely by the employer, and I suppose most economists would agree in that view. The right hon. Gentleman himself spoke of the burden that is to be cast upon and sustained by the trade, and the word trade of course means not merely the employer, but all the various interests which are concerned in the trade. Whether in the ultimate allocation of that burden the larger share will fall upon profits or upon wages, or whether it will be possible to transfer under existing economic conditions any appreciable portion of that burden upon the consumer in the shape of an added price of goods, are questions upon which opinions may very well differ. For my own part I have always thought, and if it becomes necessary to do so I am quite prepared for it, that a larger share of the burden under existing economic conditions will fall upon wages, and that neither in the shape of an added price to be taken from the consumer, nor a diminished profit from the employer, will workmen obtain the benefit resulting from schemes of this kind. I do not say that that is in the least degree an objection; on the contrary, if the workmen of the country with their eyes open are prepared to tax themselves for the purpose of obtaining better compensation fur industrial accidents, I think they will be taking a very prudent and far-sighted course. It must not be supposed, however, that the necessary result and consequence of legislation of this kind will be that the whole burden will fall on the employer, and that the workmen will not have to pay anything. I have made simply those observations which occur to me at the moment on the Measure as it has been expounded to us by the right hon. Gentleman. It appears to me, I must say, upon the first hearing, to be deficient in some of the most important characteristics 1442 which any measure dealing with this question or series of questions ought to contain, but I need not say that we shall give it when it is printed, and in our hands a most extended, and, I hope, thoroughly impartial examination. I think there will be a desire in all parts and from both sides of the House to do anything that appears to be reasonably practicable to improve the condition and prospects of men who are unavoidably injured in the course of industrial employment. [Cheers.]
§ SIR ARTHUR FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
said he was sure the Bill would be received on that side of the House with approval and satisfaction. It proceeded very largely on the lines of a Measure which it was his privilege to introduce into the House three years ago, when he had the support of his right hon. Friend the present Secretary for the Colonies. The point in the Bill to which he attached great importance was the proposal for compensation to workmen in cases of accident however they had been caused. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken would have brought no compensation in 75 cases out of 100, because before any compensation could be obtained by a workman he would have that to prove either that the accident arose from the neglect of his employer or of a fellow-workman. Anything that would obviate the enormous expense involved in appeals to litigation in connection with accidents was much to be commended. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had told them that this Bill did not abolish the doctrine of common employment, and was not, in this judgment, a sufficient incentive to the employer to take reasonable menus for the protection of those in his employ. He demurred distinctly to those two propositions. As he understood the explanation of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, he left the responsibility of the employer, in cases of his neglect or the neglect of those whom he placed in authority, in precisely the same position as it was in to-day, and he left to the workman the right to proceed against the employer in cases where he had been negligent. What, he asked, could be a stronger incentive to the employer to do his part in protecting the lives and limbs of his workmen than that he should 1443 be made liable to an unlimited extent in cases where he was at fault? But when they came to the question of common employment and accidents arising from the negligence of fellow-workmen, he would ask, was it possible for an employer to protect his workmen from the carelessness of their fellow-workmen? The employer was no more liable for the carelessness of workmen in his employ causing accidents to their fellow-workmen than, was anyone outside the works. This Bill gave to the employer the strongest, inducement which was necessary to protect the lives and limbs of his workpeople. As he understood the present proposal, any workman who had met with an accident could obtain a substantial sum in compensation without litigation, and therefore he thought this Bill was far in advance of the proposal of the right hon. Member for East Fife. Undoubtedly the fault of the Bill was the limitation of trade. He was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that this was a tentative Measure, for he could not but think that as time went on other trades must be brought within its purview. Other more or less dangerous employments were undertaken by men in the house building and shipbuilding trades, by men employed on railway works, such as excavators, by stevedores, and by certain tramway employés. He had no doubt that before it left the House the scope of the Bill would be much widened so as to include many other trades not less dangerous in their character than those enumerated in the Bill. It might perhaps be wise to proceed gradually and steadily, and rather limit the number of trades to be brought within the scope of the Bill until the country is fully alive to the liability which employers will be placed under. He wished to ask his right hon. Friend whether it was contemplated that in contracting out employer and employed were both to contribute to the fund, and, if so, whether the Registrar of Friendly Societies in coming to a decision would have to take into consideration, in regard to the value of the proposal made to a workman, how much it was to cost the workman, and how much better it would be than that offered in the Bill? He did not see how the Registrar was to measure the benefits that a workman would obtain under this scheme. 1444 The compensation provided for by the Bill would not be an onerous charge on the industries, of the country. There were few trades in which 1 per cent, on the annual amount of wages would not cover all cases of injury and compensationtion for accidents. One remarkable instance had come to his knowledge. In an industry employing 15,000 men and paying £1,200,000 in wages the compensation payable was not far off that offered under the Bill; yet from the accounts of the concern, which he had an opportunity of examining, the cost of compensation for accidents on the wages did not amount to more than 6s. 8d. per cent. The average accidents were no less than 12 per cent, on the number of men employed, and they varied from 1 per cent, in one industry to no less than 20 per cent, in another carried on by the same firm. Yet the cost of compensation did not average more than 6s. 8d. on the wages paid. But above and beyond compensation was the security such a Bill as this would afford to the workman and his family when the former was suffering from an accident and unable to follow his employment. The thousands of cases of distress arising from accidents to workmen through no fault of their own in which Poor Law relief had to be given would be met by the provisions of this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)
said the House was under an obligation to the Home Secretary for the clearness and fulness with which he had placed the provisions of the Bill before them. They understood sufficient of the Bill to enable them to form some kind of judgment upon its scope and what it would effect. While it was seldom possible to come to a definite and final conclusion on a Bill upon its introduction he had listened attentively to the Home Secretary, and he felt not only considerable disappointment, but repugnance to the scheme of this Bill. On this question there were only two ways of proceeding, either on the footing of prevention or compensation. In the Debate of the Bill of 1893, the Secretary for the Colonies declared that what the workmen wanted was not compensation in the limited class of accidents at which the Bill struck, but compensation for all accidents. It was pointed out in the Debate that no pecuniary compensation that could be given 1445 would really compensate a mini who had lost a limb, or a family who had lost by death their breadwinner, for that loss. He thought the House was agreed on the principle of compensation for all accidents. Yet here was a Bill which did less than, nothing to prevent accidents and did what was inadequate towards cure. The object of the Bill of 1895 was the prevention of accidents and prevention only. It sought to give compensation in certain cases in which compensation was not given. But it was not professed that compensation could be adequate, complete, or could be made thoroughgoing; and the main object of the Bill was to make it unlikely that accidents should occur in places where they were likely to occur if exceptional care was not taken. The Bill of 1893 swept away the doctrine of common employment and sought to restore the workman to the position, which judge-made law had taken from him, of being as well off as a stranger before the common law. It sought to prevent the employer from contracting out of his obligation to his workmen any move than he was able to do so with regard to strangers. The provision against contracting out was not something in the interest of individual workmen or individual groups of workmen. It was pointed out on the Liberal side of the House that the provision against contracting out was essential, because the obligation to be careful was an obligation imposed not in the interests of individual workmen, but of the public generally and the community at large, and to which no exception could be made. Did Parliament provide for an employer to contract out of his criminal liability under the Factory Acts, or make any exception to the rules which our industrial legislation was making more prevalent. He admitted that the Bill of 1893 was not a complete and satisfactory remedy for the existing state of things. Personally, he was not only not opposed to compensation, but was strongly in favour of compensation under conditions. He believed that we should never get a satisfactory system of legislation for the protection of workmen until we had not only prevention, but a complete system of compensation such as obtained in Continental countries, and which it was within the competence of this Parliament to endeavour to give. But while he was 1446 strongly in favour of compensation, compensation was one thing and this Bill was another. He agreed that there were two great advantages in the Bill now before the House. One was that it applied to more accidents than the present law applied to, and the other was that it diminished litigation. A man ought to be able to get compensation for personal injuries through accidents as easily as he could obtain compensation if insured against tire. His claim ought to be paid without dispute on proof that damage had been done. But the compensation given under the Bill applied only to a certain class of workmen and a certain class of employers, and was limited in amount. The Bill would not, tend to the prevention of accidents. If compensation were to be given in the form provided by the Bill there was one thing to guard against. If an employer were liable for all accidents and insured against them, provided the insurance company bore the brunt of the accidents, what would it matter to him whether there were many accidents or few? The Bill look away from him the motive to be careful, the motive which existed under the present law, under which an accident arising from negligence brought liability upon him.
§ * MR. HALDANE
Yes, but in many cases he did not insure, whereas now he would insure constantly. The Bill applied to a larger number of accidents, and the motive to insure would be greater, and the Bill did not distinguish between accidents in which he had been negligent and those in which he had not been. That had been recognised on the Continent and elsewhere, and it had been seen that there were only two ways in which, having got a scheme of compensation, they could make it a sound one—on the basis of bringing in prevention as well as cure. A scheme of compensation, ought to do two things. It ought to provide some method for securing publicity whenever an accident took place. They had that method in the case of death, but in the Bill the Government had no scheme for bringing the matter to the public notice when an accident resulted in something short of death, and showing who had or had not been negligent. He thought the scheme of the Bill was deficient in so far 1447 as it made to provision for anything of that sort, and it was deficient for something else. If they were going to have a scheme of compensation and wanted to keep up the motive to be careful, they ought to have some sort of remedy over. In Germany they had the trade brought in. They had an association of employers, and every workman injured was entitled to call for compensation from that association, and he got it at once, whether he bad been negligent or not. The association had a remedy over against the employer who had been negligent; but there was no remedy over in this Bill. There was the option of bringing an action under the existing Employers' Liability Act, but that was an Act which limited the amount of compensation which could be recovered. The right hon. Gentleman's scale was more liberal. What would be the motive of the workman to resort to that? He would be hummed and worried whilst he might not recover so much, and he could see very little motive to assert this Common Law right. He said that the Government were doing nothing by introducing this scheme to impress upon the mind of the employer the necessity and duty of being careful, and the obligation to prevent rather than to cure. It did nothing to carry out what the Secretary for the Colonies expressed as his view of what ought to be done, and what as an inseparable condition ought to accompany a scheme of compensation.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
No, no. The hon. and learned Gentleman misrepresented me before on this matter. I will explain what I did nay. I said you were making a mistake if you thought that by the infliction of pecuniary fines you would secure any prevention; that the prevention must be dealt with in another way— namely, by effective criminal measures taken against the employer, or by such measures of protection as are given by the Factories and Mines Regulation Acts, and that if that law was now declared to be found to be beneficial I should be perfectly prepared to extend its provisions. I am in exactly the same position now. I did not make it dependent upon or connected with a totally different question, which is the question of some solatium or pecuniary consideration to people injured by unavoidable accidents.
§ * MR. HALDANE
said that was the very point he had been making. The right 1448 hon. Gentleman by his Amendment had proposed compensation for all accidents. They pointed out to him that in that case it would impose the sanction, of employers' liability, as it was at present, that compensation was given where an employer had been negligent, and not where he had not been negligent. The right hon. Gentleman then admitted that it would be necessary to add something to the Amendment in order to apply that sanction. He quite agreed that it was in the form of effective measures, and that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal was that there should be something analogous to the sanction which existed under the factory legislation at the present time, but the point was that this compensation alone, without sanction of that kind, was insufficient for the protection of the workman. That was what was wholly absent under the Bill they were at present discussing. If this had been a Bill for giving compensation, upon the footing of prevention brought in with it for carrying out the principle in some shape or form of the German system, under which the insurers paid, and there was then the same liability over on the part of the negligent employers as there was at the present time, he should have found himself in a very different attitude towards it. But that was not the scheme, and it seemed to him that the Bill was objectionable from many points of view. It was objectionable from the point of view of the public, because it diminished the stigma which there was upon the negligent employer at the present time. He was now liable for all accidents, instead of being liable only for these. It was objectionable from the point of view of the workman, because it did not give him what it professed—namely, a complete system of compensation, and did not aim at his interests as fully as those interests ought to be protected; and it was objectionable in the third place from the point of view of the employer, because it was a tax upon industry, and he thought it would in the result be found to be a tax upon wages. It was a Bill for imposing liability on the individual employer, and the small employer who was cast in £300 damages might have a heavy liability imposed upon him in proportion to his capital.
§ * MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
observed that there could be no earthly doubt that the Bill did not make 1449 the practice of insurance more probable than did the opposing scheme of 1893. There could be equally no doubt the expense of that insurance under the Bill would not full upon wages, if it fell upon wages at all, to one whit greater an extent than the scheme of 1893. He was glad to have it admitted that the Bill did considerably and substantially extend the principle of compensation to workmen for injuries received, and he should be interested to notice whether, when they came to the critical stages of the Measure, there would be found any hon. Member who would be prepared to say that because along with compensation they were not going to give the workman prevention as well (which he did not admit could be said with truth), therefore the workman should not have compensation. He confessed he found it very hard to believe that any Gentleman would be discovered so rash, and forming no incorrect an opinion of the real wishes of the working classes of this country, as would be involved in such a very mischievous contention. There was another contention he wished to combat, and that, was that the scheme of 1893 was in fact a scheme oil prevention. It was nothing of the kind. ["Hear, hear!"] Had it made the employer's legal liability stop at the point where his moral liability might be said to stop it would have been such a scheme, but it did not do so. It was interesting to notice that both this Bill and the Bill of 1893 left exactly where it always stood and where it ought to stand the legal as well as the moral liability of the negligent employer himself and agent. ["Hear, hear!"] What was the other reason why the scheme of 1893 was not a scheme of prevention? Not only had the employer no interest under that scheme in distinguishing between the cases in which he might be held liable for negligence, and those in which he might not, but that scheme also left him free, and probably left him under greater motives than did the present Bill to have recourse to the practice of insurance. The result was that had the scheme of 1893 been carried into law it would have given the workman compensation in the smallest number of cases with the greatest amount of friction, and in circumstances under which it was quite reasonable to say that he would 1450 always have been fighting not really against his employer, but against a fleshless, bloodless, soulless, and pitiless corporation called an insurance company, which made its gains by receiving the greatest amount of premiums, and paying the smallest amount of claims. In substitution for that they had the present scheme, and he congratulated the Government on taking a step forward, and a logical step as compared with the timid, halting, and illogical proposals of 1893. ["Hear, hear!"] If they were going to extend employers' liability beyond the cases occasioned by the employer's negligence they had better extend it to the whole area of probable risks and losses likely to be incurred. But no scheme of compensation had yet been produced which could be shown to have been also a scheme of prevention. Such was certainly not the scheme of 1893, and he ventured in, the Debates of that year to point out that; prevention really should be left to. Measures actually preventive in their professed object, such as the preventive provisions of those statutes relating to what, were called the regulated industries. He thought the Government had probably taken a prudent course in giving, in the first instance, a restricted scope to the Bill as regarded, in the first place, the industries to which the Bill applied, and in the second place, as regarded the pecuniary value of the compensation to be accorded to the injured man. Possibly it might be found in the succeeding Debates that the Government might be led, to lake a bolder course even than they had, and to give further extension to the number of the industries to which the Bill was to be paid. There were, no doubt, some trades describable as dangerous, to which the present Bill would not apply. Those, however, were few, and the greater number of the industries to which the Bill did not. apply were not so describable. But if justification was to be sought—and the late Home Secretary argued as if no justification were to be found—for making; this selected list of industries, he believed it was to be found in the French law introduced in the French Chamber in 1888, and which, he believed, became the form adopted by the Legislature—that of the simple principle of making the employer liable only in the case of dangerous industries, leaving him free to insure 1451 against his liability. The amount of compensation was matter for compromise and for reasonable consideration. He congratulated the Government on having the courage to very largely increase the liabilities of employers; to have done that in the most simple and effective way in which a statute could do; to have practically, subject only to the pecuniary limit, abolished the doctrine of common employment; and to have made the employer liable for injuries to his workmen, even though those injuries might have been inflicted try the negligence of a fellow-workman. The merit of this Bill was that it even went further, and laid even heavier liabilities on the employers, and he thought that when they took into consideration the close resemblance this Bill had to the scheme which was brought under the searching gaze of the working classes in and previous to the year 1895, and which, in some typical constituencies of working men, especially of railway working men, was one of the foremost subjects of consideration in the election of 1895—and when they bore in mind that in all those constituencies the supporters of what might be called the Dudley scheme, as distinguished from the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill of 1893, were returned to that House— the Government had not only wisely considered the principles of logic and equity, but had also paid practical consideration to the ascertained wishes of the working classes. [Cheers.]
* SIR CHARLES DILLKE
said the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had distinguished very sharply—and he agreed with him—between preventive legislation and compensative legislation, whether by means of general insurance or otherwise. Speaking as one by no means likely to oppose the present Bill, he regretted that the Government had not proposed to legislate by two Measures virtually at the same time, or at all events in the same Session, with regard to those two heads of the subject. He believed they would have avoided the very widespread opposition, perhaps the mistaken opposition, which this particular Measure would meet with if they at the same time proposed a Measure for increasing the responsibility upon the other side of the question to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded. His 1452 own belief was that this Bill would meet with very violent opposition, in which he was not likely to take part, but so widespread as that it was unlikely to puss in the course of the present Session. If he was right in that belief, he hoped that whenever they came to consider it again the Government would attempt to accompany this Measure by a Measure increasing the responsibility for safety, and dealing with the other side of the question. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that there would be a better state of things as regarded insurance under this Bill than would have existed under the Bill of the late Home Secretary. It seemed to him that the state of things would be the same. At this moment there was almost universal insurance in the cotton trade of Lancashire. Therefore it would not be fair for them to deal with this Bill as if it were likely to increase insurance, inasmuch as in some of the leading trades insurance was general at the present time. The main objection to be taken to this Bill in principle, when they compared it with the German law, to which the Home Secretary made several friendly allusions, was one which struck at the whole root of the Bill, and which would lead to this Bill being attacked in Germany by those who were advocates of the German system. Those who attached most importance to the success of the German system, those who were most proud of it in Germany, had always said that the very root of that system was trade responsibility as contrasted with individual responsibility. ["Hear, hear!"] There was no trade responsibility in this Bill. The responsibility was entirely individual. What was to be the practical bearing of this individual risk? The insurance company would still conduct the litigation. The employer would still get all the ill feeling that might be aroused from the litigation, but it was the insurance company which would really conduct it. That was not so under the German system. Then, again, under the German system, the trade association had the power of inspection, of levying increased contributions and of fining. They appointed their own inspectors in addition to the factory inspectors of the Govern- 1453 ment, and undoubtedly, therefore, under the German system of trade responsibility, as against individual responsibility, they had a security for safety that they would not and within the four corners of this Bill. Then, again, in the case of bankruptcy, under this Bill, is he understood it, the workman would still suffer and would still fail to get the compensation which he ought to be awarded. That was another defect which arose out of not following the German system more completely. They could not expect, perhaps, to give on that occasion a final opinion as to their views, but he was bound to say that with regard to the contracting-out, as it had been called, if they were to have an outside authority who was to pronounce upon the sufficiency of such schemes, he did not share the views of the late Home Secretary as to the character of the particular authority proposed. If they were to have such an authority at all it did seem to him that the very best authority that could be selected was the Registrar of Friendly Societies. He was the person who at the present moment was concerned with the rules of these new societies, to see whether they were thoroughly advantageous to the men; and the reports he made to that House on all private Bills that affected the wages of the men and on funds which were formed for their benefit, showed that he was thoroughly cognisant with the working of those societies, and that he thoroughly understood what was the true advantage of the worker. The matter had been brought before him in such a manner that he was more competent than any other authority who could be named in this country. The only other point he should like to mention concerned the exclusions in the Bill. He quite admitted that there was something to be said for making the Bill only partial when the Government were making so large a new departure. At the same time some of the particular exclusions were, he thought, to be regretted. The distinction set up between the class of buildings where steam cranes were used and the class of buildings where they were not used seemed to be entirely indefensible. The building trade was one of the most dangerous in the country, and the dangers arose not so much from steam 1454 cranes as from ordinary scaffolding accidents. Of course, the use of steam cranes was extending in building operations in large towns, and more buildings would come under the Bill from year to year; but still he thought it was impossible to defend the distinction. Another exclusion which he deeply regretted was that of the merchant shipping trade, which was one of the most dangerous occupations. But, generally, he was disposed to think that, there was ground for the Government attempting only to deal with the main trades first, and undoubtedly they would be dealing with the vast majority of accidents in dealing with those trades. [Ministerial cheers.] In Germany there were 18 millions of people who were insured, but practically out of that number only those who were employed in coal mines, factories, railways, and buildings had any accidents. About 13 millions out of those 18 millions had practically very few accidents indeed. Agriculture and forestry, employing millions of people in Germany, had almost disappeared from the lists so far as accidents were concerned. If this new departure were taken they would soon have to level up the trades excluded and make the system general.
§ * MR. GEOFFREY DRAGE (Derby)
said, that they had been working for many years to obtain reforms, but in this Measure they had obtained, not so much a reform as a partial revolution. He suggested that concurrently with the proposals now laid before the House a Bill should be introduced embodying some reforms which many of those interested in labour questions thought were urgently, needed. For example, there should be a Bill embodying the abolition of the doctrine of common employment, strengthening the penalties with regard to liability, to increase the amount of compensation, the simplification of procedure, and, if necessary, the use of a State prosecutor to enforce the law, further limitations with regard to un healthy trades, and further regulations as to dangerous trades. Those seemed to be provisions which were urgently required as to all forms of trades, and not only to those dealt with in the proposals; of the Government. The proposals of the Government, he said, involved a partial revolution: it was a revolution in 1455 the direction of a system which had been introduced and enforced for several years in Germany. Some disadvantages had attended the working of that system. In the first place, there had been a remarkable increase in the number of industrial accidents in Germany. The Home Secretary said that that increase had not been a serious one. It was recognised, however, by all who had studied the literature of the subject, and it was admitted at the Milan Congress by the representatives of the German insurance offices that the increase, if not in fatal, at any rate, in the lighter forms of accident had been something enormous. It was admitted at that Congress that the working men showed increased carelessness, and, what was far more serious, an amount of negligence and malingering hitherto absent in Germany. The workman in Germany had shown no scruples in preying on the funds. Another important element to consider was the supervision by the man's comrades in the case of malingering. Under these proposals it would be nobody's business to see that a man resumed work as soon as possible. Above all, a new feature had appeared in Germany in connection with the scheme—namely, the extreme resentment manifested by the working classes at any delay or refusal in the payment of the funds to meet accidents; and this feeling of resentment would have to be guarded against in the proposals of the Government. It was generally believed that under the system prevailing in Germany the workman obtained his compensation the moment the accident took place; but, as a matter of fact, hon. Members would find that appeals were made on a gigantic scale. The appeals last year from the associations of employers to the Committees of Arbitration suggested by the Home Secretary amounted to 38,000. It was supposed that under this system, when introduced in Germany, the central office in Berlin would never require to act; but last year there were 12,000 appeals to Berlin from, the local arbitration societies, 2,000 of which had been left over from the previous year. Under the German system, at any rate, there was, and probably under the present scheme there would be, all the delay and vexation which it was thought to be so desirable 1456 to avoid. As to the economic tests and the effect on wages of any scheme of this kind, he said that the greatest authorities in Germany believed that wages were reduced by such schemes. [Cries of "No!"] At any rate, in the long run the expense would be borne by the working classes, either as wage-earners, or as consumers, or as taxpayers. Again, it was found that employers would not subscribe to charitable purposes so liberally as before, while the large diminution of Poor Law expenses which it was expected would result had not so far taken place. A scheme of insurance of this kind would press heavily on the small employer, who was gradually being crushed out of existence. So far as Germany and Austria were concerned, no measure of social peace had been brought about. The bad feeling between employers and workmen was increasing, and it was largely due to the insurance schemes of those countries. Another objection to the scheme was that under it they were labelling men according to some special category, and it would thereafter be difficult for a workman to pass from one branch of industry to another. At later stages attempts would be made to extend the revolutionary scheme proposed in the Bill to other industries, and in view of the opposition which would certainly be aroused by the Bill when its provisions came to be understood, he again expressed the hope that the Government would introduce, concurrently, a Measure to abolish the doctrine of common employment, and effect the other much needed reform he had indicated.
§ MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
demurred to the suggestion that insurance would necessarily tend to the reduction of wages. The question of insurance need not affect workmen's wages at all. In a scheme of insurance carried out by an employer his premiums were a charge for which he made provision when he made his contracts and fixed his prices. Speaking generally, there were two points in the Bill which deserved serious consideration, and it these were attended to the Government would deserve the gratitude of every workman in the country. In the first place the Government would be well advised to make the scheme applicable to all workers. It would be a great blunder 1457 to have only a select body of workmen deriving benefits from this insurance, and difficulties would arise in differentiating between excluded and included workmen. The classes of workmen whom the right hon. Member made provision for were workmen on railways, in mines, in factories, and in engineering works. Why was the operation of the Bill limited to them? It would not apply to men in shipbuilding yards, in forges, or in printing foundries, or to men who attended merry-go-rounds and other machines of that kind, yet accidents occasionally occurred in all these employments. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to extend the application of the Bill. The Bill was also open to criticism, because it, would permit men to contract out of their claim to compensation. This Measure was practically a scheme of general compensation for four special branches of industry in this country. Why, then, put in "contracting out"? Did they intend a man to contract out of his claim to compensation? That would be absurd. Let them consider the case of a fitter or turner who was out of work, and who wanted food for his wife and children. He went to a factory and asked for employment. "Yes," the foreman said, "I will give you a job, but sign that. "When the man signed he was not really a free agent; there was no mutuality of agreement, and he was signing away his wife and children's right to compensation.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That could not be done under the Bill. Contracting out is only allowed under certain well-defined conditions.
§ MR. ALLAN
said that anyhow, that was a good example of what contracting out meant at present. With regard to the insurance that was contemplated, he proposed to give a litle of his own experience. In the factory with which he was connected there was a Mutual Accident Fund, which was managed by the men themselves. From this they received 10s. a week when they met with any accidents, and in addition to this Accident Fund they might belong to any Friendly or Trade Union Society. He insured the men himself against death or accident, the premium he paid being 1s. 3d. per £100 of wages, and if a man 1458 met with a fatal accident his family received three years' wages. A great many Members seemed to think that as a result, of insurance workmen would be saddled with litigation by the insurance companies. He did not share that opinion. The eases of litigation of that kind in the North of England had been very few indeed, and as a rule the insurance companies settled the matter quietly. For example, some four months ago workmen were mending the propellor of a large steamer; to the propellors two chains were attached, and one of these gave way, and striking a workman in the back killed him. The facts were reported to the insurance society and the man's wife received £200 at once, although the man had not been in his then employment for more than six months. Insurance associations did not like litigation; they were afraid that those who paid the premiums would go against them as witnesses. He believed that every employer in this country could insure his workmen for a very moderate premium. The companies knew that Government inspectors examined machinery, and that gave them security. They also ascertained for themselves that machines were well guarded, and they took care to insert in their policies a provision that all reasonable care must be taken to prevent accidents. He observed that the proposal of the Home Secretary was that a workman who was incapacitated should receive £1 a week. He wanted to know how long that payment was to continue.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
The payment will go on for the time of his natural existence, if the man is permanently incapacitated.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
congratulated the Government and the Home Secretary upon the introduction of the Bill. Under the Employers' Liability Act of 1880 it was one thing to claim for injuries and a very different 1459 thing to obtain the compensation. The fact that in future contracting out would only be permitted where it improved the position of a workman as compared with that given by the Bill, disposed once for all of any quarrel in the House over that question. He still believed that there existed among the working classes a real and not a simulated desire to retain the power they possessed of contracting out. When they remembered that almost all the provisions in the proposed Bill existed with their European and American competitors, it would be a sorry matter if they, who took a pride in being the workshop of the world and the hub of the universe, lagged behind in this great matter. The Bill would give compensation for all injuries, subject to the provision that there was what he might call a close time for employers of two weeks after an injury had been inflicted. That seemed to him a rather restricted period. It seemed to him that it would be an improvement, not only for the employer but for the workman, if the period was extended to one month, The late Home Secretary had endeavoured to belittle the Bill by a comparison with his own abortive Measure, but he was sure that the workman would prefer a Bill which gave him compensation in all cases on the basis proposed by the present Measure to the chance of compensation given by the Bill of 1893. ["Hear, hear!"] He regarded as the blot on the Bill the limitation of its advantages to certain trades. ["Hear, hear!"] If the Government would extend it to all, it would be a very material advantage to all concerned. He had gone into the question of insurance very carefully, and he thought the Home Secretary had much exaggerated the cost. He had the tariffs of about 20 insurance companies, and he did not think the present rates would be more than trebled at the outside. At the present time in the cotton and textile trades the rate was 9d. per £100 of wages, and he believed a premium of about 2s. 6d. per cent, of wages would be sufficient to cover the cost under the Bill. With regard to the manner in which employers and workpeople ought to arrive at a settlement of their differences, he thought the very best method of procedure would be by the county courts, and the expense of such litigation might reasonably be 1460 made a charge either upon the locality or upon the national exchequer. He could not see how increased danger and reduced protection and safeguards would result from a scheme of general compensation. The Home Office now had plenary powers, and in addition to the Government inspectors—who were sometimes fussy to a ridiculous extent—there was no doubt that insurance companies, for their own protection, would insist upon protective measures, and would have differential rates in order to guard themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] Generally speaking, he thought they could congratulate the House upon the Bill. It reached the bed-rock on this matter, and settled once for all a very thorny point, for it would safeguard the workman in his employment, and give him full compensation for any injury which he might unfortunately sustain. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * SIR JOSEPH PEASE
thought the Bill was essentially one the House ought to see in print before they came to a judgment upon it, and he had no doubt that his right hon. Friend, before he asked for a Second Reading, would give hon. Members ample opportunity to send the Bill to their constituents, and ascertain their views upon it. Whilst he observed with great satisfaction that it was proposed to place a new safeguard on, contracting out, that question was still left perfectly open so long as the scheme on which a man contracted out was equally as good for him as the provisions of the Bill. Among his constituents there was a strong feeling against contracting out. They alleged that the question for them was under what conditions would their lives and limbs be best preserved. The workmen said—and he had had many discussions with them on the subject—that there was nothing safeguarded them so much as the fact that if injury resulted to them by the carelessness of those who employed them, or those who were the representatives of the employer, they were able to bring them before the courts of justice. In his own experience of 14 or 15 years since the present Employers' Liability Act was passed, he was able to say that, although employing 5,000 or 6,000 men, they had never had but two actions threatened, and they were compromised for £7. It was the small and the poor and bad employer 1461 who required contracting out, and not the large employer. In the great coal districts of Northumberland and Durham, there was no contracting out, and vet the benevolent societies were thoroughly well maintained, and the periodical audits by experts showed that they were in good and thorough working order. As to the question on whom increased charges upon industries ultimately fell, it was difficult to lay down any strict or special line, but where an employer had been working, as many hundreds and thousands had been during the last few years, without any margin of profit at all, the charge naturally fell in the wages themselves. He did not say he considered that altogether a thing to be deprecated, but this was a question to be considered seriously before the Bill passed. For his own part he believed the working-class constituencies of this country would prefer the Bill of the late Home Secretary to that now presented to the House.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps a few words of explanation may have the effect of shortening the Debate, because some of the arguments and statements to which the House has listened apply to an incorrect appreciation of the real purpose and provisions of the Bill. On the whole, I think the Government have every reason to be satisfied with the Debate so far as it has gone. I hope that when the Bill is in, the hands of hon. Members it will be found even better than may appear at first sight, and that the oppositon with which it is threatened will be modified, if it does not greatly disappear. Of one thing I am perfectly certain, and that is that the great mass of the working classes of the country, when they understand what an enormous boon it is proposed to confer upon them, whatever additions they may wish to the Bill, will not desire that it should be defeated. ["Hear, hear!"] Before I go to one or two points of detail, let me say a word on one point of principle. My right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary raised n point as though it were a question between prevention and compensation. That is not the case. I venture to say that this Bill will do something for prevention, but, putting that aside for the moment, I believe the Bill may stand very well on its merits as being a Bill for compensation alone. If you consider that, 1462 under the existing state of the law, something like 12 per cent, only of accidents are in any way dealt with in the shape of compensation, the House can understand that a Bill which is going to bring in for the first, time 88 per cent, more is a Measure of such importance that it may very well stand on its own bottom. [Cheers.] I entirely agree with what fell from my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Haldane), that, if it can be proved that the existing preventive arrangements are insufficient, that is a reason for additional preventive arrangements: but why I interrupted him was because, at all events, I myself have never vet been convinced that such additional precautions were urgently required. In regard to the question of prevention, we have a whole series of enactments which have been elaborated during a long course of years, and which have taken shape in the Factory Acts, the Workshops Act, the Mines Regulation Act, and in other Acts affecting the health and safety of persons engaged in industrial employments. I do not, of course, maintain that those Acts are perfect, but it is evidently more urgent in the circumstances to endeavour to pass legislation which would bring compensation for every accident whatever— those which are inevitable as well as those which are preventable—than it is to make further Amendments in an Act which has already been amended on successive occasions during the last 10 or 20 years. While agreeing that prevention is of the greatest importance, I differ entirely with my right hon. Friend opposite and others in their view that the Bill of my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Asquith) would have been any more in the interests of prevention than our Bill. That, at all events, I absolutely deny. If you want to have greater preventive regulations you must seek for them in Amendments of the Acts now regulating these industries, and in alterations of the criminal law as applicable to the negligence of employers. I am not saying now whether that is desirable or not, but it is in that direction, and that direction alone, that you can secure any strengthening of the preventive system at present in force. [Cheers.] And I think it has been a fatal mistake which has been made by my right hon. Friend opposite, and which is still made — generally, however, I believe, by Gentlemen who have not been themselves 1463 connected with any industrial employment whatsoever—the mistake that you can, by punishing the employers, prevent the majority of those accidents, and that you can do so by Living on the employer a pecuniary liability. The first answer, of course, to that is that every pecuniary liability—and the greater the pecuniary liability the more this will be time—can be covered by insurance, and although, as has been pointed out, insurance companies may exercise some control, and will do so in the shape of alterations of rates in accordance with the scale of risk, yet undoubtedly the moment you have insurance you get rid of that personal feeling of liability which it has been the object of my right hon. Friend to secure. It has been said that this Bill provides for a greater number of accidents, and that therefore it is more certain insurance will be resorted to. The case is exactly the reverse, because, except in certain cases where accidents occur of a wholesale character, such as mines, I believe that with regard to all other employments it will be in the interests of the employer not to insure under our Bill, because the liability is fixed and definite, and because it will be cheaper for them to provide the insurance themselves rather than to swell the profits of an insurance company. In the case of the Bill of my right hon. Friend opposite the liability was indefinite, and the risks were so great that a wise man would not attempt to take them. But in our case, with a definite liability which in most cases will be extremely small, I do not believe there will be such general insurance as most speakers have imagined. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke of liability in the case of very dangerous industries. I believe that coal mining is the most dangerous industry, and even in that case the maximum cost of the liability is not likely to exceed 1 per cent, on the wages. But when you come to the ordinary industrial manufactures and engineering employment, such as the textile manufactures of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the cost is very much less than that, and I believe it will be measured by 1s. or 2s. per cent, on the wages, and I say that not without some inquiry into the subject, because I have been favoured by large manufacturers with the whole Returns for years past of the accidents which have taken place in 1464 their works, and I have made calculations in regard to the different forms of industry, and I believe it will be found that in a well-regulated factory the cost will really be very much less than anything hitherto supposed. Now, Sir, I say that our Bill, even if it does nothing for the prevention of accidents, does as much as the Bill of my right hon. Friend opposite. He proposed to bring in as compensation an additional tenth; we propose to bring in an additional one-seventh. Whatever precaution there may be taken by the employer in bringing in one-tenth additional liability there must be in bringing in one-seventh much more effect in our Bill than in that of the right hon. Gentleman. I have never contended that a Bill of this kind would greatly affect precautions to be taken, and I believe that every good employer already voluntarily takes all the precautions that he can be called upon to take, but, when in addition you have the elaborate system of inspection which is now organised for dangerous trades, I very much doubt whether legislation can go much further. Of one thing I am certain—whereas I am disposed to be as severe as it is possible to be upon any person who can be proved to have deliberately omitted precautions which might save life or limb, I think there is great danger in making your criminal law too stringent, because then you have to deal with juries, and juries will not convict if they think the punishment is more than the offence should bear. I am bound, therefore, to warn those with whose object I entirely agree, but who think greater results can be obtained by strengthening the criminal law, not to make the law too stringent for public opinion, lest they should fail to obtain a conviction. For the prevention of criminal negligence we must look to the criminal law. On the other hand, there remains the necessity I have urged of providing some form of compensation for those who are injured really by no fault of their own. We in this Bill have dealt with that in a most liberal spirit. We have provided for those who are injured by no fault of their own, but we have gone beyond that because we have provided for those who have in the technical terms of the law-contributed to the accidents from which they suffer. At first sight we may appear to have gone too far, but it must be borne in mind that, under the definition of the 1465 law, the offence of contributory negligence has been made an excuse for avoiding till liability whatever. What is contributory negligence? A workman at the end of a long day's work may handle his tools carelessly. That is contributory negligence, and yet it is practically an accident in the nature of what is called an act of God. Another reason for doing away with all this law of exception—of contributory and other negligence—is that we have held it to be a first principle, as well as one of our first objects, to avoid litigation. [Cheers.] My experience is that good employers do not grudge compensation to workmen injured in their service, but they do grudge compensation which goes into the pockets of! the lawyers. ["Hear, hear!"] One hon. Friend in giving me his experience has told me that in two cases which he was absolutely bound to fight, and in both of which he won, the costs amounted to more than any compensation ever given under the Employers' Liability Act. That is one of the grounds on which we took such strong exception to the Bill of my right hon. Friend opposite, which was described to me as not being an Employers' Liability Bill so much as a Lawyers' Employment Bill. [Laughter and cheers.] We are satisfied to have our Bill judged as a compensation Bill. If it should be said, "You have done nothing towards prevention," we say that at present it has not been conclusively proved that any large measure of legislation is required in that direction, but if it should be so proved it should be the subject of a separate Bill. I now wish to deal with one or two objections taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He said that the Bill does not deal with common employment; that it does not abolish the doctrine of common employment; and he complains that we have discriminated between particular trades. Although it is always difficult to defend an arbitrary line with regard to the application of any principle, we have a good deal to say in defence of our proposal. I do not wish the House to consider that at this stage we make an absolutely hard-and-fast proposal. ["Hear, hear!"] It may be that a particular employment may be pointed out to us in the course of discussion in Committee which undoubtedly ought 1466 clearly to come under the application of this Bill. If such a case there be, the Government would be prepared to consider its admission. The hon. Member for Gateshead spoke of the Bill being so drawn as to exclude shipbuilding, the forge, the steam hammer, the printing-house, the foundry, and the roundabout at fairs. So far as I know, the Bill does not exclude the roundabout at fairs— [laugher]—but otherwise every one of these is included in it. Discrimination has been exercised in order to exclude two or three large industries. The shipping trade is one—not shipbuilding, but the shipping trade. That we have done deliberately, and we have done it because we believe that if the shipping trade is to be dealt with at all it must be dealt with in a separate Bill. Then another case is that of the agricultural labourers. On the part of such men there has been no demand for such legislation. There is another reason why I think the agricultural labourers may be fairly excluded from the Bill, and that applies also to the very small employers who are carrying out work, in workshops, and that is the reason that we are dealing not with accidents caused by negligence, but with inevitable accident or misfortune, and we are endeavouring to meet this misfortune, and we treat the employer as the most convenient channel from which compensation can come; but when you are dealing with an employer who is practically in no better position than his workpeople, who has as little capital as his workpeople, there is no reason why the incidence of this misfortune should fall upon him. In the case of the small farmer or the holder of the small workshop, it is a fact that their pecuniary position is very little removed from that of the labourers whom they employ, and under these circumstances we have not thought it right to impose upon them this new liability. We have had regard to the experience of Germany. Let me say in passing as to what fell from the hon. Member for Derby, that if the German scheme were really as unsatisfactory as he had been led to believe it to be from some public documents which he had investigated, there would not have been this continual pressure to extend its operation. I must say my own opinion is altogether different from his; because, so far as I have been informed in the matter, and from the 1467 articles and speeches—the most recent ones—which I have read on the subject, they speak strongly in favour of it both on behalf of the employers and the workmen. I do not say that the system is not open to very serious criticism—that, I think, will probably be true of any scheme that may be proposed—but, on the whole, it has given satisfaction; and I believe it justifies us in carrying out a somewhat similar experiment. But it is not possible for us to adopt one part of the German scheme of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean spoke with great approval. It is quite true, as he says, that there the insurance is paid not by the individual employers, but by an association of employers formed for the purpose. The association can exercise a certain control over its individual members, and in that way it does something for prevention. But I do not imagine that even my right hon. Friend would suggest that in this country it would be possible, or, if possible, that it would be desirable, to force everybody in a particular trade into an association of this kind. The elaboration of the system, its bureaucratic tendency, and the arbitrary interference of officials are all matters which are so objectionable to English people, and especially to those who have been enabled to carry on their undertaking without any interference of the kind, that I believe it is absolutely impossible and absolutely impracticable to attempt any system of operations of that kind—["hear, hear!"]—and we have to fall back on the fact, so far as the pecuniary liability is concerned, either that the employer should take the liability upon himself—as I believe will happen in the vast number of cases—or, if he has taken an insurance, the insurance company will exercise something of that supervision which is now exercised by the associations in Germany. The right hon. Gentleman referred in terms of contempt to the provisions of the Bill providing that, where the employer has been aridity of gross and wilful default or negligence, the injured workman shall have the alternative of proceeding under the common, civil, or criminal law. The right hon. Gentleman said we had given the workman no more than he has at present. But we do not take anything any. ["Hear, hear!"] One of the objections taken to proposals of this kind has been 1468 that by introducing a universal system of compensation you made no distinction, between a good employer or a bad employer, and you left the employer who might be guilty of this culpable negligence absolutely free, by a small pecuniary payment, of the civil or the criminal law. What we want to make clear is that we do not do anything of the kind. Where the particular form of liability is incurred, it amounts, in my opinion—as I think it does in the opinion of every honourable man—to a crime, because deliberate negligence which causes the loss of life is neither more nor less than manslaughter; and where that is the case all the remedies either in the civil or the criminal law remain in operation: and that includes the possibility to begin with of unlimited compensation, and removes altogether the limit which has been fixed in the Bill. Some reference has been made to the scale of compensation. I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to think that it was an illiberal scale. I do not think that will be the opinion of the House or the country. ["Hear, hear!"] I believe that we have gone to the verge of excess in the liberal in the Bill. Some reference has been pointed out that in the case of permanent incapacity it may involve a pension for life of the person injured. I think that is perfectly justifiable compensation, but at the same time it must be evident that where that is included the most liberal scale is intended. On the other hand, in order that employers and others may not be alarmed at this liability, I should like to say that the evidence which I have obtained from some of the great railway companies, where employment is extremely dangerous, goes to show that in what is called permanent incapacity the average permanent incapacity is not more than two or three years. The average of partial incapacity is, of course, very much shorter indeed. In some very interesting articles which appeared in The Daily Chronicle on this subject a return was given which showed that since the passing of the Employers' Liability Act there had been, I think, 2,590 cases tried, and that the average compensation received in these cases, which went into Court, and which, therefore, may be assumed to have been serious cases, was only £42. Our maximum limit is £.300 in the case 1469 of death, and it may be a larger sum in the case of permanent incapacity. We, therefore, are not open to the criticism that we have dealt illiberally with the question of compensation. As to the cost, there is good evidence to show that it will not be a heavy burden upon British trade and industry. My right hon. Friend went on to say that in his opinion the burden would be thrown upon wages. I think that is an entire mistake. In foreign countries this risk of compensation for all accidents is described as a risk professionnaire—that is to say, a risk which is one of the charges upon the trade in which, it is incurred; and it is supposed to be as much a part of the cost of producing the article as, for instance, insurance against fire, or even the cost of materials. See where the argument of my right hon. Friend leads him. If this charge is a charge which must of necessity come out of wages, every other charge must also come out of wages, and we get to this—that suppose I here is an increased charge for compensation amounting to £100 a year, and at the same time a decreased charge for raw material amounting to £100, then it does not come out of wages. If, on the other hand, there should be an increased cost of raw materials of £100 a year, £200 a year would have to come out of wages. So that every addition to the cost of manufacture must come out of wages, which I think will reduce the argument to an absurdity. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not think workmen need fear this, because they are represented by those powerful organisations the trade unions, whose sole raison d'être is that they raise or maintain the rate of wages. If according to the right hon. Gentleman it be true that whenever a new charge is laid upon a business it must by some rule of political economy with which he is acquainted come out of wages, all I can say is that in that case he has struck the ground altogether from under the feet of the trade unions, for they have in these circumstances absolutely no reason to exist at all, and they have deceived those who have been content to support them. I may add that I do not believe that up to the present time that has been the experience of German manufacturers. I think the Return shows that the rate of wages in Germany has been advancing as in other countries; 1470 and it can be proved that the considerable liability which has been thrown upon the manufacturers by this compensation for accidents has had no effect whatever in reducing the rate of wages. I have pointed out that one object of the first importance of our Bill is to get rid of litigation. We have attempted to do that in several ways by the simplicity and definiteness of our proposals. If a man is injured in the course of his employment he is no longer asked any question how the injury was obtained. He is in every case a subject for compensation. He is not asked what the amount of compensation is to be, or, at all events, he is only asked very limited questions in regard to it, because a maximum payment equivalent to half his wages is the sum which is fixed under the Bill as being maximum payment that he can receive. If the employer offers him half his wages there can be by no possibility any litigation, for the workman will then have got everything he can get under this Bill. If, however, the employer considers the case is one in which justice will be done by payment of a quarter of the wages, or some other sum, there is a provision made for the workman and the employer to come to an agreement. If they fail to come to an agreement, the matter goes at once to the County Court Judge, and the County Court Judge decides without appeal. I quite agree that an appeal may occasionally be desirable; but where the subject-matter is not large the system of appeals only leads to expense, to annoyance, and to irritation; and in this case, where we desire to avoid expense and irritation, we have decided that the decision in every case shall be made by the County Court Judge, or by an arbitrator appointed by him, without appeal at all. It has been suggested that there may be malingering. I think it will be difficult for malingering to take place. In such a case the arbitrator—that is to say, the County Court Judge—would be entitled to call in a medical man, and on the evidence of the medical man decide how long the compensation should be paid; and at short periods, either at the option of the employer or the workman, a further application might be made to the medical man to see whether the workman was still in a condition which required compensation. I do not think that is a case which 1471 will often, happen. In the associations very little difficulty has been found under that head, and I think that under our Bill very little difficulty will be found either. I think the only other point to which reference has been made is the contracting-out clause. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead did not entirely understand the clause as it is proposed. It is a clause which allows contracting out only in cases in which the terms of the agreement under which the workman desires to contract out are better than the terms under the Bill. The reason for that is that we do not want to prevent a workman from, doing better for himself by the consent and with the good will of his employer than legislation could do for him—[cheers]—because legislation after all will never represent the maximum of the generosity of the employer. I have known, many cases in which employers have done much more for injured workmen than anything done under this Bill, and, if employers choose to make otters of that kind, there can be no reason for preventing a workman from agreeing with his employer to contract out.
§ MR. W. ALLAN
Supposing a workman signs a paper on entering employment asking for no more than £100, will he still be at liberty to fall back on the Bill and demand £300?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Certainly. The contract he signs in those circumstances would be mere waste paper. It would have no validity unless there was a certificate from the Registrar of Friendly Societies that the terms the workman agreed to accept were better than those of the Bill. He is protected by the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and the reason for putting him in the Bill is his great acquaintance with actuarial calculations connected, with benefit societies of all kinds. I think I have gone through all the points raised hitherto in this discussion. I think I am entitled to hope, after what we have heard from both sides of the House, that this Bill will be received in a friendly spirit, and, in that case, the Government will be prepared to meet in a friendly spirit all efforts made in any quarter of the House to amend it. We are perfectly well aware that this is an extremely complicated and intricate subject—complicated because of the extraordinary differences in the conditions of different trades and of the same trades at 1472 different times; and unless we had prepared a Bill as big as the German legislation—which we could never have hoped to carry through the House—we could not have dealt with every conceivable case that would arise. In the discussion, whether in the grand Committee, or in the whole House, as may be hereafter decided, we may rind defects which may be supplied. Meanwhile I say it is an honest attempt to deal with a great evil —with what I have ventured to call a great scandal—namely, that industrious, honourable workmen who come to trouble through no fault of their own in the course of their employment, and as the inevitable and consequential risk of that employment, should be turned into the street, and thrown upon the rates without anything in the nature of legal compensation. [Cheers.] That has always seemed to me to be neither more nor less than a scandal. I believe we shall achieve a great object if we relieve this class of the community, than whom I am convinced no class is more deserving; and, I believe, none are more ready to recognise this duty than the good employer. There may be bad employers, but I am certain these are an infinitesimal minority, and good employers are not at all unwilling, so far as my experience goes, to put their hands in their pockets and go a little further than hitherto, provided they could secure this object, and provided they know that all they contribute will go directly to the relief of what I may call undeserved distress. The difficulty has been hitherto that there was no certainty that the legislation which we were passing would benefit the workman for whose advantage it was really intended. I am very doubtful indeed whether the effect of the Employers' Liability Act has been on the whole to place the workman in a better position, than he was in before. I believe in some cases it has substituted legal liability for the voluntary liability which was more generous and liberal in its terms, and certainly it has induced a great deal of litigation and a great deal of ill-feeling. I think this Bill is based upon a different principle to either the old Employers' Liability Act or the Bill of the late Government. It is based upon the principle of relieving the workman and not of punishing the employer. I have said we are dealing with the whole of the accidents which occur in the course of employment, 1473 and nobody has ever pretended that the accidents for which the employer is morally liable have ever amounted to more than a mere fraction of the whole. Under these circumstances, if we could get rid of the confusion of ideas which seems to hold the employer liable for all accidents, and consider only that we are now doing for all workmen engaged in these trades what good and generous employers have been doing for those over whom they have had control, then I think we may receive the general good will of the employers of labour, and I am certain the Bill will be recognised as a great boon by the employés themselves.
§ MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
, said that, considering the Bill would introduce an entirely novel principle, the Government might well be satisfied with the reception it had met with on both sides of the House. As one who had advocated this principle for many years, at a time when it had very few advocates in the House or out of it, and as having in 1893 seconded the Amendment in which the present Secretary for the Colonies brought it before the House, he desired to cypress his satisfaction, that the principle had now been adopted, and was likely to be carried into law. He hoped that the assistance of the workmen themselves might in some way be brought in in order to preserve some kind of economy in the administration of the Fund. As the Bill stood, no precaution was taken against malingering or the wasteful use of the money. It had been suggested that the County Court judge or some other single arbitrator should be appointed to settle any dispute that might arise as to the amount of compensation to be given. He would suggest that they should follow the plan adopted in Germany, and have a Board composed equally of representatives of employers and workmen, with an independent person appointed by the Home Office as Chairman. With regard to the case of personal negligence, he expressed the hope that where there was personal negligence on the part of the employer, the remedy should be cumulative: that the remedy under the Employers' Liability Act should be in addition to that under the Bill. This was a very obvious way of strengthening the Bill on a point where it had been most attacked from the other side. This was a Bill for 1474 compensation, but at the same time, if they could do anything in the way of prevention it was well to do it thoroughly and systematically. The Bill professed to do that up to a certain point, because it said that where there was wilful default the workman should have recourse to the Employers' Liability Act for his remedy. No reasonable employer could object to penalise the personal negligence of an employer to a much greater extent than it was done at the present time. From another point of view employers would not object to his suggestion. There would be a, considerable system of insurance under the Bill, and he took it an employer could insure against personal negligence as well as against anything else. He took it that it would be contrary to public policy for an employer to insure against his own personal negligence, and the best way to prevent it would be to say that, in addition to the ordinary compensation which would come, from the Insurance Company, the workman, in a case of personal negligence, should have a personal remedy under the Employers' Liability Act against his employer, who would have to pay any sum awarded out of his own pocket. As to contracting out, it was obvious that, although the phrase was applicable to the Bill, the thing in substance was not in the Bill at all. ["Hear, hear!"] It was distinctly declared that a workman should in it barter away his rights unless he got something better in exchange for them. He hoped it would be possible to extend the scope of the Bill at a later stage. It would be much better to proceed by way of exclusion—providing that the Bill should not apply to this class or the other —than to attempt to define the particular classes to which the Bill did apply. These definitions would be a fruitful source of litigation, as so many cases would be found on the borderland. In connection with the Bill of 1893 he moved an Amendment, which was supported by the Labour Members, and ultimately forced on the Government, providing that persons whose health was injured in the "deadly trades" should have the same rights to compensation as those who suffered in life or limb by accident. He hoped that such a provision would be included in the present 1475 Measure, and that there would be alterations in regard to several small points, which would simplify the practice and procedure under the old Employers' Liability Act.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. ALEXANDER URE (Linlithgow)
said this Bill went a step in the right direction, and his only regret was that that step was not a longer one, for he frankly admitted that for many years he had sat at the feet of the Secretary for the Colonies on this question. In November, 1892, the right hon. Gentleman contributed an article to the Nineteenth Century, in which he sketched out a scheme which was simple, bold, and comprehensive, by which all the workmen in this country would be entitled in case of accident to have compensation, with one exception only—where the accident was due to their own fault and negligence— and he expressed the view, in which he himself concurred, that the consequence of this enlargement of employers' liability would be, not to impose an additional I burden on the employer, not to diminish the wages fund, but to increase the price of the article to the consumer and to lay the burden on the consumer in a different form from that in which it formerly lay, because, as he forcibly pointed out, the consumer had to pay, in one way or another, for the mishaps that befell the soldiers of industry, either by way of charitable contributions or Poor Law relief. It was because he adhered to the views of the Colonial Secretary that he expressed his regret that this Bill was not a far larger and more comprehensive Measure. There were three objects which an Employers' Liability Bill must be designed to subserve if they were to predicate of it, "This is a good Bill." In the first place, it should tend to minimise the risks of accident to workmen; then to minimise the hardship of accidents to workmen—in other words, to enlarge the number of people who would be compensated and the amount of compensation; and next it should tend to diminish friction between labour and capital—in other words, to eliminate the risks and uncertainties attendant on litigation. Because this Bill, as far as 1476 it went, subserved these three objects he should give it his hearty support. If it gave the compensation which the Colonial Secretary thought in 1892 should be given for all accidents and to all categories of workmen, it would be an ideal Bill. Obviously the Bill would limit the cases of hardship, inasmuch as it included a far larger number of accidents than any previous Bill, and it would tend to diminish litigation because it would remove the defences which had hitherto been open to employers; and every Bill which tended to remove the defences which at present existed, tended to diminish litigation. In that respect he joined issue with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he reminded the House that the Bill of the late Government had been wittily described as not an Employers' Liability, but a Lawyers' Employment Bill. That might have been witty, but it was certainly untrue, because the Bill was designed to remove the defence of common employment, and every defence they removed lessened to that extent the chances of litigation. It was because he differed from the right hon. Member for East Fife and the hon. and learned Member for Haddington upon the question of the prevention of accidents that he ventured to give the House his own experience, which had been somewhat extended in connection with employers' liability cases. In the first place he thought there had been a tendency to exaggerate the number of cases of accidents to workmen, due to the fault or negligence of the employer. The Secretary of State thought this Bill would include 70 per cent, of accidents to workmen. For his part he thought that was an under-estimate. It would include far more than 70 per cent., because the number of accidents at the present time, which could be said to be due to the fault of the negligence of the employer, was an extremely limited number, and far fewer than might be supposed. Further, it appeared to him the Bill would tend to prevention because it increased the number of cases in which the employer was to be made liable, and in proportion as they increased the number of cases they increased the incentives to care on the part of the employer in carrying on his business. Dealing with the argument that 1477 the Bill would lead to insurance by employers, and therefore to an increase of negligence, he remarked that in Scotland employers did insure against claims by workmen, but no one bad suggested that there had been an increase of negligence or carelessness on the part of employers of labour in Scotland, or that wages had gone down during the 15 years in which that system of insurance had been in operation. As a matter of fact, wages had increased during that period. To his mind this conclusively proved that the wages fund would not be diminished by increasing the compensation. No one could dispute that the Employers' Liability Act very greatly enlarged the responsibility of employers to their workmen, and it had no doubt entailed a vast amount of expense upon employers. They had habitually insured against it, and workmen's wages had increased. He viewed without fear the prospect of a still further increase of liability tending' in any way to diminish the wages of the workmen. He said, further, that insurance tended to produce carefulness. Insurance companies were not likely to insure employers of labour if they found their businesses were conducted in a negligent fashion. On the contrary, the insurance offices would increase their premiums as they found any particular employers carrying on business without care for the safety of life and limb of the workmen and without employing the best plant and machinery and maintaining the best possible order. If the employer insured, so much the better for the workmen, for if insurance were prohibited they would have men of conscience and capital retiring from business altogether, and the work left in the hands of men without either conscience or capital, or else the workmen would find they would fail absolutely to recover the compensation due to them in the event of any accident befalling them. They were now insured of compensation, and they were insured of men of capital and conscience carrying on the business so long as the system of insurance was allowed. He quite saw that if they were enlarging the scope of the employer's liability for the category of accidents for which he was liable it might be necessary to limit the amount of compensation. He rejoiced to think in the Bill the Government had presented to the House 1478 that, although they had fixed the scale of compensation they had done so upon generous terms, which no workmen would be disposed to disagree with. He entertained a strong objection to contracting out, but so far as he understood the explanation given by the Home Secretary, contracting out had ceased to be an event of any importance, because, although the Bill allowed contracting out, it only did so where the workman would be absolutely certain to got as much as the Bill would give him in the event of a mishap befalling him. He hoped the anticipations of the unfavourable reception the Bill would have from the House would turn out to be absolutely untrue, and that tiny should, in the course of the Session, place upon the Statute Book the present Bill somewhat enlarged in its scope, so as to make it a true charter of liberties to the working people.
§ * COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)
, speaking from his experience as a colliery proprietor, regretted that the Home Secretary had adopted this new method of attempting to alter the present Act. He believed that a very little alteration of the Act would make it a good one, and he thought in going into that great question they had embarked in a very difficult matter. In his opinion, what was wanted for the Employers' Liability Act was the abolition of the doctrine of common employment. Everybody agreed to that. The next thing was 'hat contracting out should only be allowed in dangerous industries, which were working under a safety Act, and the next was that it should not be a condition of employment, but that it should be voluntary. A colliery belonging to him had been working since the Act was passed with all those advantages which the late Home Secretary desired they should have, they had been able to contract out or not as they liked, most of them had not contracted out, and there had been, he believed, but one case—a mere bagatelle— from that time to this. His impression was that there would be a great deal of he litigation upon this Bill. Of all the Bills he had ever heard of, he believed this would be the fullest of litigation. One thing common to both the late Home Secretary's Bill and this Bill was that they both destroyed the permanent relief societies, which were the only societies 1479 which really met the cases of such accidents without law. Under their auspices and the public opinion of the workmen that was brought to bear, they brought the man who was slightly injured back to work in proper time. If a man with a slight injury showed a natural tendency to idleness when he was receiving 50 per cent, of large earnings for doing nothing, how soon would he come back to his work? Although he was anxious to give just attention to this Measure, he respectfully urged that the proper course would be to amend the Act, and only to bring in such a Measure as this if relief societies were not formed.
§ MR. GEORGE HARWOOD (Bolton)
said he thought the Home Secretary would have to reconsider the answer he gave as to the compensation to a man permanently injured. He might have misunderstood him as to it being for life, but the result of that might be that it would be much better to kill a man than to permanently injure him. The Colonial Secretary had said that the agricultural labourers had made no demand for inclusion in the Bill, but he thought they in that House had to consider the claims of those who did not make demands as well as of those who did. The suggestion he had to offer was that this was a Bill in favour of the strong and neglecting the weak. It was a Bill drawn up for the benefit of those who were largely capable of looking after themselves, and it excluded those who could not look after themselves—who could not put electoral pressure upon them, and were therefore very liable to be neglected. From his experience, and from what he knew, he should be inclined to say that there were a larger percentage of accidents in the trades which were excluded from the Bill than in those which were included. The excluded trades, the smaller trades, were not so well looked after by the owners, and were not so well watched by the men. In the trades included in the Bill they had trades unions, who looked after the interests of the men, not merely in regard to wages, but also in regard to saftey and the conditions of work. It was in the smaller trades where they had not this care that they wanted this protection. He put this forward, not on the ground of compensation so much as on the ground of prevention. Practically 1480 all accidents might be prevented. It was a matter of care, of foresight, of watching, of providing good material and good men. He believed that accidents had been reduced to the small point they had been because of the liability of the employer to pay for the consequences. They must extend that liability to the other trades, and the result would be that they would have a great number of accidents prevented which now occurred. They must bring the lever of this responsibility to bear, and they would lift up the whole level of security in those trades. He put this consideration before the Home Secretary in a spirit of the greatest friendliness to the Bill. Another point was as to the exclusion of women and children. He knew this would complicate the question, but it was a serious matter which the House ought carefully to consider. In his own neighbourhood there were thousands of households which depended on the labour of women, and largely also on the labour of children, and these households were of the character necessarily which would most require compensation in case the wage-earner was taken away.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
said that, as an employer of about one-thirtieth part of the whole mining population of Scotland, he rose to express general and hearty approval of this attempt of the Government to place the subject of employers' liability on a satisfactory footing, though there were two or three points in which he thought amendment would be necessary. Certainly it was a most generous Measure, and he recognised the necessity for such a generous Measure. He had expressed to his constituents his hearty approval of any attempt to give compensation for all accidents, and he was therefore a little disappointed to find from the Home Secretary's statement, as he understood it, that certain trades only were to be included in the Bill. He thought that all accidents should be included, but still he was not going to condemn the Measure because it did not go so far. If the Government, however, recognised the necessity of putting all industries 1481 on the same footing, they would have his hearty approval. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife that if he went to his constituency and condemned this Bill he would not meet with a very hearty reception. He ventured to say that no man, at all events in Scotland, would go down to the mining districts and condemn this Bill. He hoped to take part in the Committee of this Bill, and attempt to make it a good Bill, which it was not altogether at present. He did not altogether approve of the proposal to give weekly wages to a man who had been injured. Supposing a man who had been injured was an employé of a limited liability company, and the company failed, what redress would he have? ["Hear, hear!"] He thought it would be much better that a total sum should be assessed by the arbiter. In the case of a fatal accident he thought it would be well that the sum to be paid in compensation should be invested on behalf of the workman's legal representative, so as to prevent the money being squandered. There was one point to which he wished to call attention. Contracting out was not legal in Scotland. The association to which he belonged took the opinion of the late Lord Advocate when the Act of 1880 was brought in. As an association, they endeavoured to make arrangements with their workmen, but they found that they could not do so according to the law of Scotland. They could make arrangements for non-fatal accidents, but not for fatal accidents. The Government should therefore take this matter into consideration. On the whole, however, he gave his hearty support to the principle of the Bill as it stood. He looked upon it as one of the greatest achievements in social legislation which any Government had undertaken, and of far greater value than any Education Bill. The Government would earn the lasting gratitude of many constituencies throughout the country, and if they would extend the Bill to all industries he was sure that the Government would become more popular still.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said he could not indorse the principle of the Bill, because the men he represented were excluded from the benefits of it. He could not understand why seamen should have been denied the 1482 privilege of the Measure. In 1880 seamen were denied the protection of the Act of that year; in 1887 it was proposed to extend the operation of the Bill to seamen; in 1893 the seamen were excluded; and in 1897 the seamen had been left out of the Bill. There were, however, more men killed and drowned at sea every year than were killed in all the shore industries put together. On the ground of being connected with a dangerous trade, seamen had a right to ask why they were excluded. One of the arguments put forward was that seamen had exceptional protection which workmen had not. The Merchant Shipping Act had only one clause which gave the seamen any protection so far as life and limb were concerned. It was the 458th Section which made a shipowner responsible that he should send his ship to sea in a seaworthy condition. But many accidents occurred after the ship had left port, probably through the neglect of the captain, and every effort should be made by means of legislation to reduce the loss of life. He hoped the Government would be prepared to accept an Amendment giving the seamen the protection of the Employers' Liability Act.
§ * MR. WARR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)
admitted that there was much force in Mr. Havelock Wilson's observations upon the important question of whether or not seamen should be included in any Measure dealing with employers' liability, but it was not a question that could be discussed at this stage. Anyone who had given attention to this matter, and, still more, anyone who had seen anything of the practical operation of the present law, must admit that the question was on every side beset with the greatest difficulties. He had supposed that it was almost universally admitted that the doctrine of common employment was not founded upon any true view of justice, and was consequently doomed to disappearance in any Measure which might be introduced dealing with the liability of employers. If bus doctrine was done away with and nothing more was done, the matter would rest, upon a sure foundation, and, strictly logically, their position would be unassailable. The workmen would then be able to make the employer responsible for damages for injury sustained by the 1483 negligence of the employer or of their fellow workman. In every case the burden of proof of such negligence would rest upon the workman. The burden could not be shifted upon the employer, according to sound reasoning, to prove that there was no negligence on his part; but if the law was placed upon this basis it was clear that there must be litigation in every case. Litigation between employer and employed was unfair. It was unfair towards the workman, for he did not get what was awarded to him. It had often been said that it was unfair because the workman could not fight with his employer, because one was poor and the other rich. His impression was that a jury did not allow a poor man to suffer from the fact that the employer's case was presented to them from the front row, and supported by an army of expert witnesses. But the result of litigation was thoroughly unfortunate. Relations between employer and employed were strained, and the man's position for the future, if he recovered from the accident, was injured. He was marked as a man who brought an action. From the point of view of the employer, litigation was equally unsatisfactory. He must lose all his expenses, whether he was successful or not in the action. He had to calculate whether he would fight and make a certain loss to avoid payment of a claim for which he thought he was not responsible, fir to make a payment to get rid of this expense—a payment which he regarded as extortion. For both sides the worst remedy was litigation. But if litigation was to be avoided, some system analogous to insurance must be introduced, and he was glad to see that it was this principle which had commended itself to the Government. As he understood the Bill, it would give to the workmen in the particular trades to which it applied indemnity, reasonably and necessarily limited in extent, against all accidents, even though there was contributory negligence on the part of the workmen, and even though the accident was the result of negligence of a fellow-workman, and it would leave the employer with unlimited liability if the accident was through his wilful act or default, or the wilful act or default of anyone for whom he was, as the law now 1484 stood, responsible, and it would provide for the settlement of disputes by arbitration. Now, that was an immense gain to the workman, and in exchange for that gain he might well give up the right to the abolition of the doctrine of common employment. The contracting out clause would safeguard workmen, so that those who contracted out would not be in a worse position than they would be in if no special contract had been made. The Bill, in fact, embodied a kind of standard contract. That, so far, was perfectly fair. He recognised that the intention of the framers of the Bill was to do full justice between employers and employed. He was of opinion, however, that the Measure ought to apply to many other trades besides those to which its operation was at present limited, and that the doctrine of common employment as affecting trades to which the Bill did not extend ought to be abolished.
§ * MR. THOMAS BUCKNILL (Surrey, Epsom)
believed that the Bill would be accepted by those whom it concerned as an excellent Measure, but feared that a great deal of dissatisfaction would be felt by those who were excluded from its benefits. Supposing a shoemaker in his constituency were to say to him, "I am one of 200 or 300 employés. We make boots by machinery, but our establishment is not a factory. There are, however, accidents, and I want to know why we are excluded from the operation of the Bill?" What answer could he make? He could not say that the Government could not afford to pay, because this was not a question of national payment; nor could he say that shoemakers were not as much entitled to consideration as other workmen. Why was there no provision in the Bill with regard to employments injurious to health? In 1893 those who sat on his side of the House gave great support to the proposal that where there was a trade injurious to health, the employer should be liable unless he could prove that reasonable precautions had been taken by him to prevent harmful results. Another matter which was not dealt with was the question of sub-contracting. In 1893 that was discussed on an Amendment providing that if a contractor transferred part of his work to a man who turned out to be a man of straw, a workman who was injured while employed by the 1485 latter could recover from the original contractor. The Secretary for the Colonies had said nothing that evening about persons who were engaged in domestic service—a subject to which he referred in 1893. Whilst he was not sure that it would be right to include every class of servants engaged in manual labour, he had no doubt, that great complaints would be heard when the labouring classes realised that only a few trades had been included in the purview of the Bill. Why, he wished to know, was the honest sailor left out in the cold? ["Hear, hear!"] Another question that would be asked was why the Government did not propose to abolish in all cases the doctrine of common employment, which was condemned on both sides of the House in 1893? He trusted that the Measure would be amended in this respect. He understood that it was intended by the arbitration clause to confine the proceedings to those before the County Court Judge or the arbitrator, but he was afraid that that provision would not prevent litigation. The House of Commons might try to prevent, litigation, but its efforts to that purpose, however great, would fail. One passage in the speech of the late Home Secretary had rather astonished him. When the present Colonial Secretary moved his famous Amendment to the Bill of 1893 to the effect that no alteration of the law would be satisfactory or final unless all employed persons were entitled to recover compensation for injuries received except when caused by their own negligence, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said it was an academic opinion which nobody was prepared to put down on paper, and which could not come into operation for years to come. The right hon. Gentleman's speech that evening was not consistent with that opinion. He had realised that evening how interesting it was to contrast the boldness with their timidity when they found themselves in power. It was well enough when in Opposition to say "give everybody compensation all round," but when a responsible Government, to say "the case is altered." He would like to see all workmen placed on the same platform if possible. ["Hear, 1486 hear!"] The principle of common employment was a technical, unfair, and improper defence, and he would be glad to see it done away with. At the same time he thought the House ought to play fair with all industries. He sincerely hoped that the Government might see their way, if not in this Bill, in some other, to put all workmen on a par, instead of creating the inequalities which seemed to be created by this Act. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, E.)
said that representing an industrial constituency where most of the men worked underground—the most dangerous employment to be found in this country—he entirely approved of the Bill, and he would have no fear at all in recommending it to his constituents, so far as it went. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped, however, that the Government, having noted the desire even on their own side of the House, that the Bill should be extended, would take every opportunity of amplifying and extending it.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said that as a large employer of labour he naturally took a great interest in the Bill. The large amount of compensation that would have to be paid would have, in the first place, to come out of the pockets of the employers, they being, as the Colonial Secretary had said, the most convenient source. The compensation could not come out, of wages, and though ultimately it might turn out that the article the manufacturer put on the market might rise in price, and that the consumer might have to pay, the employers would have to pay at first. In those circumstances he could hardly be expected to welcome the Bill with enthusiasm. Still, it was a Bill for which he was thoroughly prepared, and one which would do an immense amount of good to the working classes. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife had complained that, though this was a Bill to compensate workpeople for injuries received, it was not a Bill to prevent accidents. At the present time no accident could take place in any factory without being immediately reported on by the factory inspector, and if that was not sufficient, the Government should give the inspectors greater power. The great advantage of this Bill was that it ought to do 1487 away with any kind of litigation. Every accident was provided for at once. He would be glad if some method could be devised by which the compensation to widows and orphans could be given in weekly payments instead of a lump sum. ["Hear, hear!"] In Germany an annuity of so much a week was paid through the Post Office. He also thought that something should be done by way of inspection of cases in which compensation was claimed. Friendly societies always had their own doctor, and the members looked into cases as well, so that a man must be realty ill to get his payments. He thought a doctor, independent both of the employer and the workman, ought to be employed by the Government to look into cases in which compensation was claimed. If he understood the Bill rightly, everything by way of compensation was fixed, either for temporary injury, permanent injury, or death; but if a workman thought he could get more under the old Act he might sue under it. He did not think a workman was likely to go from one Act to another; but a great many other actions were brought, not by workpeople, but by speculative attorneys, and he would like to close the door to any such, actions. The chief object of the Bill was to do away with all actions of employed against employer, and what was wanted was a simple Measure under which the workman could at once get his compensation, he hoped that the Home Secretary would give the matter his attention. ["Hear, hear!"] On the whole he; thought the Bill was a great advance on any other brought before the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. J. G. BUTCHER (York)
thought the Home Secretary might be well satisfied with the favourable criticisms the Bill had received at the hands of the House. It had been admitted on both f sides that the Bill if passed into law would be a great and material Amendment of the law in favour of the workmen of this country. The Bill was not based upon any narrow or technical or legal considerations, but upon matters of broad general policy. It recognised the fact that compensation with workmen must be treated as part of the cost of production, and that as to some trades, the cost ought partly to be thrown on the employers in the first instance at 1488 any rate. The figures stated by the Colonial Secretary as to the percentage of cases that were wholly uncompensated under the present law were startling, and formed matter for serious consideration. Therefore, he accepted with gratitude this Bill, which gave compensation to workmen in a number of cases from which they were now excluded. There was a subsidiary benefit. It was clear that workmen would receive their compensation at a largely decreased cost of litigation. Few proposals were received with more favour than those to reduce the cost of litigation. It was bad enough to lose a law suit, but it was more disagreeable to pay the lawyer's bill. He did not think, however, the lawyers need be afraid that the fruits of their toil would be entirely destroyed; and in any case, when the costs of litigation were to come out of labour, these costs should be reduced to the smallest minimum possible. No doubt there were certain omissions; but if a case was shown in Committee for including any trades which at present were excluded, the Government would, he trusted, give reasonable consideration to such case, and would add trades which were at present excluded. As regarded the excluded trades, which would be dealt with by the existing law, was there any reason why Amendments should not be introduced for the purpose of abolishing those technical difficulties which had been engrafted by judge-made law on the common law, and hampered the workman in obtaining reasonable compensation? He hoped the Government would accept Amendments which would have the effect of abolishing the doctrine of common employment, and modifying the law with regard to contributory negligence, and perhaps some other particulars. He suggested, further, that the machinery of the Judicial Trustee Act might be utilised in order that the sum awarded for compensation in case of death might be so invested as to insure that the money should be spent in the most advantageous way for the benefit of the wife and children. He was not competent to express an opinion as to the cost to the employers, but when they found Members of the House, themselves large employers of labour, accepting the Bill as a fair and reasonable one, they might safety say 1489 that injustice was not going to be done to the employers of the country. He thanked the Government for introducing the Bill, which he believed would be welcomed both by employers and employed.
§ MR. HUDSON KEARLEY (Devonport)
asked whether it was intended to give the advantages of the Bill to Government employés?
§ MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)
rose to support the Bill. He believed that he had had as much experience as any Member of the House, except perhaps an hon. and learned Friend opposite, of the operation of the present Act, and although he did not agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had said with, regard to lawyers, he was prepared to accept the statement that the Measure which was carried in 1880 and the Measure of 1895 were Measures which provided far more for expensive litigation than for real relief of the sufferings of those who had met with accidents. He had had his attention called to cases of grave injustice, in which men who had unquestionably suffered through the fault of others had been deprived of compensation. It seemed to him that in dealing with hazardous trades the Home Secretary had taken a right and proper stand, for it was in such trades that the gravest injustice had been done working men. If there was one question more than another in which the working classes did take a deep and practical interest it was this question of employers' liability, and he believed that it could be solved in a spirit of fairness and moderation if hon. Members would approach it, he would not say from the workmen's point of view, but from the point of view of justice, and from the point of view in which the Home Secretary had put it before the House, that of dealing with hazardous trades. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but he was convinced that, apart from those employers who were most anxious to give to their workmen more compensation than the law would provide, there were a large number of men who could only be brought to see their duty by legislation, which would 1490 not only provide for material compensation, but also punish those employers who exposed their employésto reckless and unfair risks. He realised that the Home Secretary had taken a very wise course in submitting the question of the amount of compensation to the county court judge, but he did not agree that that should be absolutely without appeal. One did not like to mention names, but he could honestly say there were one or two county court judges who showed bias, he would not say on which side, and therefore, unless their decisions could be reviewed, it would be absolutely impossible for one side of the litigants to appear before them. With the reservation as to appeal, he could heartily support every proposal the Home Secretary had laid before the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM WILLS (Bristol, E.)
said he wished the Home Secretary had seen his way to exclude the doctrine of common employment. He felt that the Bill might have been a great deal better if it had not simply selected certain trades for the benefit of its operation, but had been made generally applicable to all businesses. He believed there were few trades in which greater risk to life was incurred than in the building trades, and he could not understand why they should be exempted, or why workshops should be exempted. He could not see why contracting out should be allowed at all, especially in the case of men in the employment of great public companies. A most important point in a, Bill of this kind should be to make employers take more precautions in fencing their machinery so as to protect their workpeople. He was quite sure that the risks run by agricultural labourers in connection with reaping and threshing machines were as great as those incurred by employéson railways or in engine works, and he trusted, from the sympathetic tone of the Home Secretary, that he would be willing to accept Amendments in Committee which would materially improve the Bill.
§ MR MARK OLDROYD (Dewsbury)
said he should be glad to know whether, in the case of accidents occurring when there had been a breach of a rule, notice of which was published in a factory, the right of claim for compensation would exist. This was a very serious matter, and if claims were barred on account of 1491 the violation of the rules of an establishment, the benefits of the Bill would be in a great measure counteracted.
§ MR. W. S. ROBSON (South Shields)
asked what the intentions of the Government were with regard to seamen. They understood from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham that a second Measure was contemplated dealing with that class of men, but he did not understand from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that this second Measure was promised.
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
I hope the House will be now disposed to allow the Debate to be concluded. [Cheers.] I hope I shall also be excused from going in any detail into some of the points raised. I have only, I am sure, to express on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government our appreciation of the impartial, and I may say friendly spirit, in which our proposals, startling and novel as they are, have been received. With reference to the question last addressed to me, I did not understand my right hon. Friend to make any promise with reference to legislation in regard to seamen. As I have said, they are not included in the Bill. What I understood my right hon. Friend to say was that it was the opinion of the Government that if they had to deal with seamen they must do so in a separate Bill; but to say that we have undertaken to introduce such a Bill, either this Session or in any subsequent Session, would be saying too much. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Dewsbury, he imagined that the breach by a workman of the rules under the Factory Acts would not bar his claim to compensation. One of the main objects of the Bill was to avoid raising the question of contributory negligence and to deal simply with the plain question of compensation for accidents. As he had said, this was a tentative Measure; he knew it contained anomalies, and the Government were only too thankful that there was a general sentiment that the boon which, it extended to some of the industries of the country was such a real one that others ought to be admitted to it. He was not able to make any promise with reference to any action which the Government might take with respect to Amendments in Committee. All he could say was that, making a new departure in 1492 a Bill of considerable difficulty and complexity, they would endeavour to meet in the same impartial spirit with which the Bill had been treated, any Amendments proposed from any quarter, their only desire being to make it a useful Bill and conduct it through the House without any Party feeling. [Cheers.]
Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Matthew White Ridley, Mr. Chamberlain and the Attorney General; presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Monday next, and to be printed.—[Bill 213.]
§ In answer to Mr. CHARLES FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck),