I beg to move,
That, in view of the unsatisfactory state of the law relating to Workmen's Compensation, and of the fact that the War Addition Acts expire at the end of this year, this House is of opinion that a Government Bill to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, should be introduced and passed during the course of this Session.
I hope that if, in moving this Resolution, I curtail my observations, it will not be taken as an indication that we do not attach the greatest importance to this subject. Rather do we desire that the fullest opportunity should be given to discuss the question, and for that reason I shall be as brief as possible in introducing it. I can only hope that the reply of the Minister will be of a satisfactory nature, because there is no doubt in our minds that the matter is one of the greatest importance, and one upon which
legislation is long overdue. This question is most urgent, and for more than one reason. During the period of the War, a special provision was made in regard to this matter, to meet what was known and understood to be a war-time condition; and I think it will be recognised and admitted that that war-time condition, so far as regards prices and cost of living and the difficulties of life generally, has not passed away, nor will it pass away in any permanent degree, so far as one can judge. The legislation that was passed to meet the difficulty does automatically lapse at the end of this year, and that makes it imperative that something should be done in order that the unfortunate people who suffer from these accidents shall not be driven back to the pre-War position. I can scarcely imagine, in the case of the industrial worker who is unfortunate enough to have met with an accident, whether it be fatal or otherwise, that any Member of this House would desire either to see that worker's dependants left exactly in the same position as in pre-War times or, if the accident be not fatal, to see the worker himself left exactly as he was before the war-time legislation was introduced. I cannot conceive that any Member of this House would suggest for a moment that a maximum amount of £300 as compensation for the loss of a husband is adequate. It fails entirely to meet the needs of the case, and it is quite evident, in times of industrial disaster, that there is generally expressed in the minds and the actions of the people great sympathy with those who are its victims; and yet we have to realise that, unless something is done in the way of legislation, all that a widow will have to look forward to, as compensation for the loss of her husband, is a maximum amount of £300. I think it will be admitted that the claim we are making for some legislation is absolutely justified from that point of view.
There is another reason why we have a right to urge upon the Government the necessity of introducing legislation upon this question. It is that the Government itself has recognised the need for such legislation. Some time ago the Government set up a Departmental Committee to investigate and inquire into this matter, and that Committee conducted a very extensive investigation. They examined the question in all its aspects, and it is now some time since they submitted their Report. It is true that that Report was not a unanimous Report, for there was a dissentient minority who were in favour of more extensive recommendations; but, as regards the main body of the Report, it was unanimous as representing something to which all the Committee would subscribe. The minority merely dissented because they wished for something more. In the Majority Report there was a recommendation in favour of many extensions being made in the benefits and advantages accruing to those who, unfortunately, were injured in industry, or to those who might be left because their bread-winner had been taken from them. Therefore, on a question of this description, first bearing in mind the fact that the war-time legislation will lapse automatically at the end of this year, and, secondly, having regard to the fact that the Departmental Committee, after considering the question fully, recommended extensions of the amount that can be claimed and paid to persons who are injured, we claim that we are justified in coming to the House with this Resolution and in asking for support for it. I sincerely hope that that support will be accorded to us, and also that the reply of the Minister will be satisfactory.
I should like to say that we would wish that there were less need for our making this claim. We wish it were possible to say that the number of accidents occurring was diminishing, and that the need for putting forward claims on behalf of workpeople and their dependants was becoming less and less. Unfortunately, however, the opposite is the case. The tendency is for accidents to increase rather than decrease, although one would have to admit that last year the figures were in the opposite direction. I believe, however, that the last returns available are explained by the fact that such large numbers were unemployed, and that the reduced figures were not due to a smaller proportion of accidents on the average of persons engaged in industry. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the far-reaching character of this question, when viewed from the standpoint of the number of people affected by it. Every year 500,000 accidents occur. That is an enormous figure. Half a million people are either killed or injured in this country every year, and it is quite obvious that, where the accidents are fatal, the dependants must be left in a very precarious position in our present circumstances, and having regard to the fact that it is something for which the individual cannot be held responsible, I do hope that the seriousness of the situation will have full weight with the Government. Of the number I have mentioned, 430,000 are compensated, and sometimes, when industrial questions are under consideration, we are told how much the country suffers, and how great is the loss to industry because of the loss of working days and the reduced productivity of the country on account of the absence of men from their work. And yet my calculations lead me to this point, that the time lost through men being injured represents no less a figure than 14,000,000 days each year. That is an enormous figure, and while it may be argued that if the law is amended in order to give greater compensation it cannot affect that figure, at least some of us have reason to believe that if the liability is greater upon industry there may be a greater tendency to introduce safeguards whereby the accidents may be reduced to a minimum, and we emphasise that point because we feel that it has an important bearing on the question.
It is difficult to introduce questions affecting the working classes in this House without meeting with some objection. We are always being told that we are seeking to place greater and greater burdens upon industry. The last speaker who was addressing the House on another subject referred to us on the Labour Benches as always putting forward suggestions and ideas which would increase the burdens on industry rather than lighten them, and it may be that even upon this side we shall be told that if that which we are seeking is conceded it will result in a greater burden being placed upon industry. But I should like to ask in anticipation of that form of criticism, upon whose shoulders should this burden rest? Someone has to bear it. It is not a thing which can be avoided. It is a burden which someone has to carry and either it has to be the industry with which the injured person is associated or it has to be the injured person himself. On the other hand there is another source from which it can be met in the event of a person becoming destitute, and that is that the board of guardians may have to come to a decision. If there are only three sources from which the money can be found, either the industry, the individual himself, or a public authority, I ask, which in the name of justice and common sense is it right that we should put the burden upon unless it is the industry itself? We had a case recently which illustrates vividly the dangers to which working people are exposed, namely, the explosion in Staffordshire where little girls were engaged in emptying cartridges. That may be an extreme case, but it illustrates the form of danger to which workpeople are subjected. It may be that in some instances, through the power of their trade unions, they are able to compel a recognition of the right form of safeguards which ought to be provided, but in many instances, through the lack of organisation, through the lack of a power which they would be only too anxious to use if they possessed it, they are left open to the dangers which produce most unfortunate results from that point of view.
Therefore, having regard to these facts, we feel that we are bringing forward a matter which is urgent in the extreme, which is of the gravest importance and upon which we hope the Government is going to meet us in a very material fashion. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to tell us that it may be possible to carry these improvements in the law even to those who are already drawing compensation for accidents which have occurred in the past. The difficulties that beset the workman's life under circumstances like these are very great and having regard to the fact that he is carrying out what is after all a public service in working in the various industries which lead to the production of wealth, if disaster overtakes him he will have a perfect right to be protected to the fullest possible extent. I should like to ask whether it is not possible in dealing with this matter for the Government to consider whether or not it is possible to take over the whole question of insurance. This is not a new idea. It has been done in the Colonies. I believe the Government of Queensland have taken this step and by the economies effected, and by merely using the money for the purpose of paying the benefit which the law provides for and reducing the working ex- penses which are attached to the ordinary insurance methods, to say nothing of the huge profits which are made out of this form of business, they have been able to develop a system which has been helpful not only to the people concerned but to the public and they have been able to use funds which have been left over for other purposes. This is a question which we should like to see discussed as fully possible from all sides. We believe it is a matter upon which a great deal of support is forthcoming for the idea that we are putting forward and in order that it may be given the fullest amount of expression, without further comment I beg to move:
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think I need attempt to deal with the reports that have been mentioned. Both the majority and the minority reports recommended some increase in the amount of compensation, both weekly and in fatal accidents, which are at present being paid. The weekly payments went up from £1 to 35s., an increase of 75 per cent., but I hold that that was altogether inadequate. I remember a year or two ago making inquiries at the board of guardians in the area in which I live and I found that in poor relief alone that board of guardians was granting between £1,000 and £2,000 per year to people who were receiving insufficient weekly payments in the shape of compensation. I hardly think any hon. Member will think it right that Poor Law authorities should be called upon to supplement what in my opinion it is the duty of the industries to bear. In one of our most dangerous trades, coalmining, with approximately 1,200 fatal accidents: per year, and with thousands of miners who come on to weekly compensation for injury, the payments for compensation are-the equivalent of 2.44d. per ton. I hold that it is the bounden duty of that industry at least to see that when injury comes the men are adequately remunerated. I am hoping to hear a statement from the Home Secretary that at last something will be done to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. It is a long time since the Committee gave its report, and there have been scores of questions from these Benches asking for legislation on the subject. I hope the Home Secretary will give us some assurance to-night that the Government intend to deal with this matter as speedily as possible. In regard to the question of compensation, the position of the widows and children of those who have been fatally injured is probably the worst case of all. The present minimum is £150, and it goes up to a maximum of £300 payable to a widow, but there are cases where the man has had a lingering period before he dies, and when his death takes place there is very little for the widow. When the man dies, the amount that has been paid to him is deducted from, the amount payable to the widow. I dealt with these cases at the colliery where I was employed, from the inception of the Act until the time I was elected to this House, and I remember one case particularly where on the, death of the man the widow had only £10 or £12 to draw in compensation.
The Report of the Committee made provision for the continuance of compensation to the children up to a certain age, and I hope that if the Home Secretary intends to legislate upon this matter, that is one of the recommendations which he will not overlook. Legislation is urgently necessary. Whatever increases may be made in the weekly payment, I hope that those who are in receipt of weekly payments when the period of increased payments start will automatically receive the increase. I do not call that retrospective legislation. The main point that ought to be considered and watched is the position of the widow and children of those who are fatally injured. There has been no increase in the amount, and I have pointed out how inadequately and hardly the widows and children are dealt with. The Act expires this year, and it is necessary that something should be done without delay. Let us look at this matter not from a political point of view, but from the human point of view. This is not a political question but a human question, and we ought to look at it in a broad and sympathetic manner.
I want to support the proposal in order that there may be no suggestion that those who are not directly concerned with manual labour, but who have had experience of it, are not in full sympathy with the recommendations of the Committee. I want to join in the appeal to the Home Secretary that he should treat this, not as a sectional application from one part of the House, but as a humanitarian application to which all sides of the House would wish him to pay attention. The time has long since passed when the employment of a man in any industry can be looked upon as the employment of a piece of the plant. The human element is recognised to-day more than ever. Industry is now required to make provision for the difficulty that arises when a man is not sufficiently employed, and it is far more important that the industry should also have to carry the risk concerned with the employment of those who make the profits in the industry.
I am speaking from some experience, for I was ten years in engineering workshops, and I know something about starting at six o'clock in the morning and working until six o'clock at night. I have seen men who had served many years of apprenticeship in order that they might give their skill to the industry, broken down by accident. An accident happens and a small sum is paid to the man, but nothing like the sum that has been lost by the years of apprenticeship which the man went through in order to give his skill to the industry. The industry should carry the risk to the men engaged in it. Exactly as a man owning property thinks it is essential to protect his property against the risk of fire and damage, a man employing a workman in connection with an industry in which he expects to make a profit should carry the risk of injury that may arise to that workman, in order that when trouble arises it will not be a case of simply displacing one man and then engaging another to take his place, but that there should be some continuing benefit to those who have suffered and to those who have been bereft of the one, perhaps, who was the mainstay of the home by the wages that he earned, and which had ceased. I suggest to the Home Secretary that this should be viewed as something that is essential in modern industry.
We cannot allow those connected with the manual side of industry any longer to feel that they are of a class apart from those who are employing them. We want, if we can, to have a spirit which will produce comradeship in industry, if we are to get the best out of those who are working and out of the industry itself. We can only do that by letting those who are giving their skill feel that they are not considered as so many hands that are employed. The day, surely, has gone when any employer can consider that he has so many hands in his place, rather than so many human beings to be responsible for. If that day has gone, the human element must be taken into account rather than the mechanical side to which the man may be considered as contributing. There are some industries in which the men form an essential part of what may be considered the mechanical portion. If the man is removed, or the human part is removed, another man or another human part can usually be found to take his place. If a human is thus removed, he should not be considered as being just a part of a plant that has got to be renewed. If he is displaced by someone else, he is to be looked upon as a risk with which the industry is to be saddled, and you cannot proceed to work at that industry without carrying at all times the possibility of risk and danger to those associated with it.
In connection with the insurance the hon. Member for Bother Valley (Mr. Grundy) suggested that the State should take over the whole of the insurance and be responsible for it. My experience in connection with insurances that has been proposed goes to show that competition with insurance companies, with schemes provided by different minds for the purpose of dealing with insurances, produce a far better result in connection with the benefits that are to accrue to those who are insured than would be likely to come from any Government Department. Government Departments become stereotyped. There is no suggestion for betterment, no suggestion for alteration, no need to vary, once a new set of rules and forms has been established. Different insurance companies in order to obtain business must vary their proposals. Therefore I believe that if only the Government would consider that it is essential to impose upon the industries the making of further and better provision for all those engaged in the industry, the insurance companies in this country are able and fit to accommodate their rates and proposals to meet new conditions that would be put down, without any further Government Department being called upon to do as an experiment the work which is now being done by the insurance companies who have experience in connection with the risks.
We do not want to multiply Government Departments, or to have a new body of officials to do the work that is already done by a body of men of experience. The less we have to do with Government officials associated with the control of industry the better for the industry itself. The industry can best be looked after by those who are associated with it having an opportunity of gathering from one mind or another mind the opportunity for betterment such as it could not get from any one Government Department. There are many Government Departments to-day that are instances of failure that has resulted to that which they have done, where previously private ownership contributed to the service which has been taken over by a Government Department, and I am persuaded that if insurance were to be taken over by a Government Department we should be saddled with many more expenses. We should have another huge army of officials and more inspectors in connection with the industry, and the whole business would be laden with those charges and overburdened altogether out of proportion to the benefits that could accrue. Therefore, if the Home Secretary is contemplating making proposals, which I hope he may see his way to make, not as a demand coming from one section, but as a demand recognised by all who know anything about Industry, I hope that he will not think it necessary also to say that the Government itself must assume a responsibility and must take over the insurance and must be the administrators of the fund to which the industry must pay.
If you impose conditions, there are societies in existence, strong and experienced, who can easily do that which, may be imposed upon them, but if a Government Department takes over these things we shall have an end of betterment. We shall have no competition which may produce improvements in results, we shall have stereotyped forms which cannot be varied, and we shall have less confidence among the workers when they know that this is the beginning of the end of that which they are to receive through a Government Department, who cannot vary unless a new Act of Parliament gives them authority so to do. The various companies now are continually proposing schemes to meet the different conditions of insurance. If these, companies are given an opportunity they can, and in my opinion will, do much better work than any new Government Department can possibly undertake, and the industries themselves will benefit by having a lesser charge thrown upon them than would be the case if a Government Department were responsible. I want, with all the emphasis I can, to ask the Home Secretary not to imagine that the claim or the appeal comes from that side of the House, but that it comes from all who know anything about industry, and that we make the appeal not because we fear anything, not because we want anything, but because it is right when we are dealing with an industry that that industry should carry the risk which the person himself is utterly unable to bear.
I feel that my first word must be to congratulate the Member for the North-east Division of Cornwall (Sir Croydon Marks) on the very eloquent and very humane thoughts and sentiments which he has expressed with regard to the Resolution that has been put so ably and so fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. Smith). For 16 years, until the outbreak of War, from the passing of the Act of Parliament that first recognised the right of the workers and their dependants to compensation for injuries, I was in charge of a mining district in which there were close upon 40,000 men employed in the coal industry alone, and the part of the work which gave us very great difficulty was the very meagre provision already pointed out by my hon. Friend especially with regard to the injury. Whatever the wages earned the maximum was fixed at 20s. a week and the minimum might be almost down to 5s. or 6s. a week. I do not profess to know exactly what did take place when the 75 per cent, benefits were added, because, as everybody knows, I was engaged elsewhere from the year 1914, but I do want to refer to my experience of 16 years, when I exclusively dealt with this work, both in regard to the inadequate provision made for long standing cases of injury and especially with regard to the fatal accident cases in addition to the cases enumerated by my hon. Friend behind me. We have had some cases from the Rhondda Valley in which the husband was injured and lay on a bed of sickness or disability, and during four or five years he was unable to come out from the house, and in several cases all we had to take from the colliery company or the insurance company was the funeral expenses due for the burial of the man.
We have had scores of cases where widows have been left with a long string of children. Take the case of a widow left with from four to five or six children. In some cases perhaps the eldest boy might be a girl or might be a boy. [Laughter.] Let me put it in my own way again. What I mean is that the eldest child might not be a breadwinner, even if it were a boy of 12 years of age, for there would be some years more for its maintenance before it could get any employment to bring wages into the family exchequer. We have had innumerable cases where there wore four, five and six children left with a widowed mother, and for years we had a county court judge who would never give us any more in these cases than 12s. a week. The amount might range from 10s. to 11s. or 12s. a week. Scores of times have we appealed to the county court judge, in cases of sickness or want of clothing or want of boots, on behalf of the little children. We could get nothing different because he always made the reply that he must have regard to the provision of the Act that the money must last until the youngest child became 13 or 14 years of age, and he measured the amount of maintenance to the widow on those lines. This is a great hardship, and I hope that when the Home Secretary replies he will deal with that phase of the question. It is in respect of the widow and the children that the amount of £300, or any other amount that can be fixed, is totally inadequate.
We have also men living to-day who have met with an accident 10, 12. or 13 years ago. Some of them have lost completely the use of their limbs. Some have had both their legs off. Some have maimed bodies, and are now being wheeled about in bath chairs, if friends are able to assist them in getting about, and others are obliged to remain at home. We have eases of that kind to-day in the Rhondda Valley, where the men are getting only from 10s. to 12s. and 15s. a week. In no case where they have been totally disabled for life have they received the maximum of £l a week. Such men, when they meet us from day to day or from week to week, say: "When are you going to do something to assist us and to put our cases upon a just level, and to give us the rights that we ought to receive?" For the last five or six months the workers, especially over the South Wales coalfields, have had their minds agitated very much with regard to the situation. They are agitated because they see that nothing has been done and that no promises are made of anything to be done. They see that the increased provisions which were added to the Act of 1899 and its further amendments, are likely to terminate at the end of this year. I would like to reinforce the appeal already made that at least on humane grounds they shall get the minimum of the Amendments proposed by the Departmental Committee set up by the Home Secretary and presided over by the distinguished and learned Member for the Southern Division of Derbyshire (Mr. H. Gregory). I hope that no opportunity will be lost, and that in these cases, as a matter of right and justice to the workman, we shall have an improved Compensation Act, clearing away some of the present disabilities, and as far as the widows and children are concerned, giving them protection. The Holman Gregory Report, as it is called, defines very clearly the right of the widow and children, separate and apart. That is the minimum that we ought to receive, and a new Act ought to be brought into force as early as possible.
I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my sincere sympathy with and my support of my hon. Friends on the opposite side of the House in the Motion they have brought forward. I am one of those who believe that a good atmosphere can be preserved in industry if the right means are taken to create that atmosphere and to maintain it. I believe that the position of the working man, in his state of uncertainty regarding the future and regarding those whom he may leave behind if he be fatally injured, is one of the clouds which prevent a proper understanding between capital and labour and prevent a thoroughly efficient working of industries in a great many respects. I am fortunate enough to take a part in an industry which is remarkably free from either fatal or lesser accidents. I have found from experience that we are able to provide privately, through the companies which lay themselves out for this work, adequate protection against these risks. I cannot believe that any industry is not prepared to cover itself adequately against any reasonable risk which it might incur in this respect. I believe that some of the burdens from which industry is suffering can be lightened by the taking of such steps as we are discussing. I hope that the Home Secretary will see his way to indicate some measure of relief. We do not want the imposition of more burdens than it is reasonable for us to bear, but having regard to the present economic position of those who can only rely next year upon a pre-War rate of compensation, some addition ought to be made to it, at any rate for a time, in order to relieve the workers according to the necessities of the moment. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to tell the House of his intentions in this matter and that those intentions will be satisfactory to the Mover of the Resolution.
I join with the hon. Members who have urged the Government to deal with workmen's compensation and bring it up to date. I do not believe there is a single Member of the House against recognising the principle that an industry should pay compensation for the accidents incurred in it. The only question that remains is as to how we are to arrive at a fair system of compensating sufferers for the injuries which they have sustained. A very curious position arose during the War. Manufacturers and other employers were paying, perhaps, £2 per cent, for workmen's compensation insurance before the War, and they were paying that upon wages. When the War came along and wages advanced to about three times the former amount, they were still paying £2 per cent., and the result was that they were paying three times the total amount of premiums for workmen's compensation that they were paying before the War, and for a great deal of that time the insurance companies were paying the workpeople no increase in the compensation to which they were entitled. Therefore the industries were bearing three times their former burdens, and the workpeople were getting no increase. I rather sympathise with the hon. Member who has asked the Government to take over the insurance, and to eliminate the private company. If they did so, the Government would be able to devise a scheme which would make the burden on the industry as light as possible and give to the insured persons the fullest advantage that could possibly be given for the premiums paid.
I would ask the Government, if they are thinking of bringing in a new scheme, to eliminate all bargaining with the insured person and to allow a man to know what he is entitled to in case of injury, and also to clear up the difference between a fatal injury and a permanent disablement. There is a very serious discrepancy between the amounts paid in these two classes of cases. It is very often said, and sometimes brutally said, that it is much cheaper to kill a man than injure him permanently, but that is absolutely true under our present system, because whereas a widow and children are left unprovided for, very often and to a very large extent, in cases of fatal accidents, yet in cases of permanent disablement the wife and children are fairly well provided for. I think a Government insurance scheme would insure a rectification of benefit, if I may put it that way. It is very difficult now in cases of accidents which have occurred months or years ago to increase the benefit, because perhaps the employer who is liable in the first instance, has disappeared or the insurance company has disappeared, but if it were a Government scheme, then the Government could fix their premiums on the whole industry 60 as to cover the whole risk incurred for the workpeople, and give the workpeople the fullest benefit possible. It would also help if the Government took over the scheme to ensure that only such sums were drawn from the industry as were justifiable claims for accidents incurred in that industry. Such claims are justifiably a charge on any industry, but any money that is drawn irregularly is a tax on the industry. It would be a benefit both to the workpeople, to the employer, to the industry and to the community generally, to see that only such sums should be paid out of an insurance fund as could be justifiably attributed to the industry concerned. Finally, I ask the Government, when they are bringing in this scheme, to make it as liberal as possible to the workpeople. It is a very serious matter for a workman to go through life dreading the day on which he may be laid off or disabled by accident. One case was brought to my notice the other day in which a young man of 24 or 25 years of age was disabled. He has a wife and child and he has received compensation at the rate of 12s. 6d. per week, but that sum is less than the unemployment dole to which he would be entitled were he sound and unable to find employment. That is a position which should not be allowed to continue, and I hope the Government will be able to make the payments to the insured people as liberal as possible.
Everyone must have the most profound sympathy with this Motion, and we can all, without exception, give the Government every encouragement that they will get the necessary amending Measure, if it is full and ample enough, put through with the minimum consumption of the time of the House. A great deal of unwise legislation has been passed within comparatively recent years, but the Workmen's Compensation Act was one of the most brilliant conceptions that ever came from the mind of that great statesman the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. Its wisdom always struck me as a member of the legal profession in this, that it very largely eliminated litigation and put an end to incurring costs. Previously, we had the Employers' Liability Act, which led to an immense amount of perfectly futile litigation. No doubt these were profitable to the profession to which I belong, but no man in that profession worthy of his salt ever wishes to see litigation go on that could be avoided. I say that not ironically, but with perfect sincerity. The beauty of this Act was that it placed the burden on the industry. That is where I join issue with the hon. Member who last addressed the House, and who wishes to see the Government putting its clumsy and bureaucratic hand into this matter. When it made the employer liable for sums which were small and tentative to begin with, but which extended during the War—and I think the figures given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) show they are capable of very considerable amplification—the admirable point about that was this, that not only did it provide guarantees for compensation where accidents occurred, but it was a prevention of the occurring of accidents. The reason is perfectly simple. I had professional experience of it myself in connection with the placing of the insurance of very large works on one occasion. By being able to show that great and extraordinary precautions were taken by the management of that particular works whereby there had been an almost entire immunity from accidents over a very long period of time, I was able to make representations to the tariff office—because all the best of the insurance offices are joined together in this—and on my representations in this particular case, they reduced the rates very substantially because of the freedom from accidents. When you impose this liability upon a particular employer you join his duty with his interests. The first thing that enters his head then, if it has not done so before, is to secure to the absolute maximum the greatest possible immunity from accident for all his workpeople.
Nobody wants compensation for accidents; what they want is to secure that there shall be no accidents. That is what we should all aim at. No money can compensate for the loss of even a finger. We do not want to see any workman mutilated in any shape or form, and there should be every possible step taken to avoid injury of any description. The result of the operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act was that even the most selfish employers—and there are some, I admit—got busy to see that there was as complete immunity as could possibly be secured against accidents to their workpeople, and if you increase the rate of compensation you secure that immunity further and further. I believe it is possible in almost all industries, except mining and those affected by the works of nature, to obtain almost complete immunity, but you have got to get the British working man to take a great deal more care of himself than he does. He is a very courageous individual, and he takes risks that he ought not to take, and many people have wondered at seeing the casual way in which he takes very great risks. I believe that if you once let a body of bureaucratic Government officials shove their clumsy fingers into this admirable scheme, in which the interests of the security of the working man and compensation if he is injured are so indissolubly welded together, you will divorce the one from the other, and you will have the thing relegated to the mere sphere of compensation, because, mark you, if you insure industry as a whole, you will not have the individual incentive on the employer which you have at present, and if you once let the Government get its hand in, instead of having the impulsion on each employer to do his best for his own workmen, it will be a case of each letting the other fellow look after the matter. That is why I would urge that in the interests of the security of the workers we should keep the Government out of it.
There is one other point to which I would refer. I wish there were more provision made in these Acts for the administration of the funds which are recoverable. Workmen are sometimes persuaded, through zeal and the belief that they can engage in some commercial undertaking in which their previous training has not given them the necessary experience, to settle a claim for a lump sum, and in a few months sometimes the whole sum is lost.
The bargain is unfair in many cases, and I think there should be more protection given to a man who is not experienced in negotiations and also not experienced in handling comparatively large sums of money. If a man has all his life been mainly engaged in administering a wage coming in week by week, and not in the habit of handling sums of several hundred pounds at a time, I question, with all respect for the liberty of the subject and the right of a man to do what he likes with his own, if it is a kindness to give him full control over a very large sum of money relative to the wages he has been in the habit of drawing, leaving him very often to be the victim of some person more experienced than himself in dealing with financial matters. I think all these bargains that are made for lump sums should be subject to more scrutiny than is the case under the present Act. In fact, I am doubtful whether the Act would not be more wisely administered by considering these payments as being in the nature of alimentary payments and not compounding them for a lump sum at all, but payable week by week and not arrestable for debt or otherwise, but treated purely as aliment of the worker.
In regard to the administration of payments in the case of children, we have seen from recent disclosures that the Public Trustee Office has now become an expensive means of administration. I am not familiar with the exact form of administration of workmen's compensation funds in England, but we have quite an elaborate system in Scotland, but economical, as most Scotch procedure is, we being brought up to regard waste in any shape or form as a very serious offence against morality. I therefore hope the question of the administration of these funds will also be looked into. Generous provision for accidents should be made, and the liability should be placed, as it is at the present time, on the employer for the particular business that he has. It does not do to say you are putting too heavy a burden on industry. You can be pretty generous, because no workman will seek an accident; he would rather be without it. You can be pretty generous, and if the sum is high, then all the greater care will be taken, and the ultimate burden on the industry will be all the less. I trust therefore the Government will take the practically united opinion of the whole House, and I believe I carry the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) with me when I say that, because I know that there is no more humane man in the whole of this House than the right hon. Baronet. I hope the Government will take the united opinion of the whole House in its desire to see that those who happen, in the struggle for life, to suffer accident are property provided for. If they will do this, I feel sure that a Bill of this kind could be passed into law in the briefest possible time, with the universal approval of both employers and employed in this country.
The Resolution speaks of the unsatisfactory state of the law and calls attention to the fact that the War Addition Acts expire at the end of the year. I am going to try to show some reasons why we say that the present state of the law is unsatisfactory. The law gives to a workman or workwoman who is injured £l a week as a maximum— I am not dealing with the War Addition Acts, because they expire at the end of the year, we are discussing the permanent law or the law as it stands at present. It gives as a maximum in case of fatal accidents the sum of £300. These compensations are supposed to be based on a theory which allots half of the loss to the employer and the other half to the workman or workwoman. Surely that is one of the greatest fallacies ever uttered. When a workman is injured, he bears all the physical suffering and he is invariably called upon to spend part of his compensation in extra bandages or medicine, while his compensation is bound down to £1 a week. To say that he is bearing half of the loss and the employer the other half is to speak of a theory which is absolutely wrong and has no foundation in fact. I should like to refer, in passing, to one or two of the gentle criticisms of the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten), whose speech we on this side have heard with the greatest possible pleasure, as we have heard all the speeches delivered up to the present by hon. Members. So far as hon. Members in this House at the moment are concerned, evidently workmen's compensation is worthy of consideration. But there is a vast class of hon. Members outside the Chamber, and of employers also outside the Chamber, and perhaps we had better get the details in order that the law may be known, because the hon. Members now in the House will not decide the issue.
I look upon workmen's compensation as it ought to be in quite a different light from that in which it has been regarded up to the present. A man who is definitely injured in the course of his employment ought to be like the soldier; he should be got better as quickly as possible; he should be got back to his work as quickly as possible, and he should certainly suffer no loss financially on the top of the pain he has to endure. For that reason, I believe that the real compensation to the workman who is injured ought to be full wages and the necessary medical and surgical appliances required. Then the workman would boar the pain as his share. I know the argument that has been and will be used against that theory. I heard it used in a Committee of which I had the honour of being a member. It was said that there would be malingering—I beg pardon, that was too strong a word; it should be replaced by the word "inertia," which means exactly the same thing, and which was a polite way of gilding the insult and sugaring the pill. It would be folly on the part of the employers of this country if, on this subject, they did not take a generous view. The hon. Member who first addressed the House upon this question from the opposite benches called attention to a fact that is too seldom recognised in industrial life, namely, that workers are not mere hands, but sentient beings with brains and feelings. Treat them as men and women, let them feel that they are actual living realities and are looked upon as such; do not try and screw every possible farthing you can out of the compensation. The employers of the country will do more good by adopting a generous attitude than by a hundred attempts to screw down the compensation as low as possible. Generosity will pay both the employer and the employed, and I appeal to the Home Secretary to bear this in mind.
With regard to the maximum in case of death, surely it is the most cynical thing in the world to appraise the life of a workman or workwoman at a £300 maximum. If ever there were a cynical assumption in this world it is that a workman or workwoman cannot be worth more than £300. Assume, for instance, that the recommendations of the Holman Gregory Report were accepted, what would they really mean as a burden on industry? I am not accepting the theory that this is a burden on the employer; it is a burden on the industry in which the workman pays his part, as well as the employer. It is a fairly safe assumption to make that the whole of the compensation required in perhaps the most dangerous industry in the country, that of coal mining, to pay full wages and to pay the full Holman Gregory scale—I am sure I shall be pardoned by the hon. and learned Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Holman Gregory) if I speak of that scale in that way. The words are used in the circle in which I move with the greatest respect—if we accept that it is extremely questionable whether the whole of the costs included would mean one-halfpenny on I cwt. of coal. I think that is the fact of the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Nothing like it!"] I am stating my figure, that it would not cost one-halfpenny on 1 cwt. of coal. That makes the attempt to refuse an absurd attempt from the point of view of the coalowners as well as the State. The present law is faulty because of the method of calculation of the damages. Take the great Lancashire cotton industry, which has been depressed for well over 12 months. If a workman in that industry met with an accident to-morrow the probability is, if he were permanently injured, that his compensation would be not more than 10s. per week. If we had a year of good trade, another workman injured a year hence might, if the law were amended, get 35s., £2 or £2 10s. per week for exactly the same injury, incurred in exactly the same way. The law, when amended, should contain a definite minimum, and the method of calculation should be based on the average weekly earnings for a full week's work, in order that a workman or workwoman should not go through his or her life permanently injured and be paid a miserably insufficient sum because, on the top of the injury, he or she had the misfortune to be compulsorily idle during a large part of the 12 months previous to the accident occurring.
May I turn now to the question of the system of insurance? I do not share the fears of some hon. Gentlemen opposite that State Insurance would lead to bureaucracy, incompetency, and heavy cost. Let us see what the position was before the sitting of the Departmental Committee. There were a number of insurance offices which combined to arrange a certain tariff of charges, so far as they were concerned, a monopoly in effect, and a very small proportion indeed of the premiums paid to those companies got into the hands of the injured workmen. I believe that a State system of insurance could be worked cheaply, could be worked effectively, and would be the best possible means of putting a finger on the pulse of the accident system, with a view to obtaining the object of the hon. Member opposite, who spoke of the prevention of accidents rather than the paying for them after they have occurred. I think we ought to have, but I have no hope at all that in this House we shall get, a State system, but, failing that State system, surely there is one protection which the worker ought to have. He ought to have an absolute certainty that if an accident happens his compensation will be safe. That guarantee he has not got now. There ought to be a system of compulsory insurance. There can be no statistics laid down on this point. Every man who has worked in a trade union knows what takes place when, what we know as a small employer—a man employing three, four, five or a dozen men—has a serious accident on his premises. This man very often is not able to pay the compensation to which the workman is fairly entitled. Nobody knows what takes place. The workman receives something, nobody knows what, and the thing is settled.
That can be surmounted by a system of compulsory insurance, but I suggest you cannot make an employer insure, or it would not be right to make him insure, unless you give him a guarantee that the very compulsion you are exercising will not be used to his detriment by the insurance company with which he must insure, and I suggest to the Home Secretary that if he cannot give us State insurance, at any rate he will give us compulsory insurance, and, at the same time, give the employer who must insure the certainty that his premiums shall bear some resemblance to the amount of benefit that is paid to the workers out of those premiums. Then I suggest that an alteration is necessary in the law with regard to that peculiar combination of words, "arising out of or in the course of his employment," and I want to suggest that definitely simple words should be used saying that if a workman be injured at his work, compensation should be paid. It is perfectly true that workmen are sometimes too bold and break regulations. I think that miners have been known, in their eagerness to work and to increase production, to break regulations. I notice that the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) applauded the sentiment that workmen were too bold and broke regulations.
I have not the slightest desire in the world to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but may I most respectfully suggest that if the railway- men of this country carefully carried out the regulations of the railway companies, immediately they would stop the whole of the British railway service?
I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to believe anything that is unpleasant. I merely stated a thing that is accepted as a fact by many men who ought to know. I want to suggest, in conclusion, that it is no use thinking that the present situation with regard to workmen's compensation can last for many years longer. The whole thing is unsound. If the theory were correct that the man and the employer share the burden, the principle would be wrong. The industry ought to carry the burden-Put all the safeguards you like against what is known as malingering. Do whatever you like to prevent malingering, but I suggest from my own experience that the danger has always been in case of accident, not that the worker' has remained at home too long, but that he has resumed work too soon. You can do better by generosity than by cheeseparing. I am appealing to the House and to employers outside that it is time to look upon this matter with an open mind and a generous heart, believing from the bottom of my heart that if they take the humane view, if they will face the matter from the point of view of flesh and blood, if they will try their best to let their action be as generous as possible, they will be rewarded a thousandfold by the feeling on the part of men and women that their employers are more than mere paymasters, and industry will benefit tremendously by the better feeling that will exist if the workmen and workwomen feel that their employers are meeting them in a generous, open-hearted way.
As the Member of this House who presided over the Committee which considered the subject under discussion a year or two ago, it is fitting that I should take a small part in this Debate. My sympathies are entirely with the Motion. There is no question that it is time that the law relating to workmen's compensation should be reviewed. It is an interesting fact that when the subject was first introduced into this House in 1897, it was entirely novel. To-day, workmen's com- ponsation is part of the statute law of every civilised State. An advanced system of workmen's compensation was established in Russia in 1913. To-day the law relating to compensation is more in favour of the workman in nearly every other country than it is in England. Why is it that as the law has been accepted in other countries provision has been made for the greater advantage of the workman? It is because it has been recognised that it is not only due to the workman that ho should be generously treated in the event of injury and that his family should be generously treated in event of his death by accident, but that it is of advantage to the State that this generosity should take place. The workman, in common with every one of us, is practically useless to the State or to industry if he is not producing. If he is injured so that he cannot produce it is to his advantage, to the advantage of his employers, to the advantage of industry and to the advantage of the State that he should be cured as quickly and effectively as possible. All that is reasonable that shall bring that about is one of the most important things upon which a State can enter.
It has been suggested by several hon. Members who have addressed the House that the benefits should be more generous than they are at the present moment. That subject was considered very carefully by the Committee over which I had the honour to preside. We did suggest additional benefits to the injured workman. I hope that all employers will carefully read the Report of my Committee. I am convinced that if they do they will come to the conclusion that the majority of the Committee were right when they suggested the additional payments. The Committee also had before them the position of the total dependants in the case where the workman is unhappily killed. They found many anomalies. One fact stood out above all others. In cases where the workman is killed the widow suffers severely, but the prospects of the children are often hampered and crippled, and in many cases altogether ruined. In these circumstances the Committee endeavoured to work out a scheme which would provide compensation for the widow and, as we thought, would provide effective allowances for the children. It was not an expensive scheme. It was one which certainly ought to be con- sidered, and passed, I think, without any difficulty.
From information conveyed to me I know that many employers think that the provisions suggested in the Report will prove too expensive to industry. There must, however, be some misapprehension in the minds of the employers. It is admitted that the employers themselves will not pay. The provision for assurance against workmen's compensation is part of their establishment charges. It adds to the cost of production. The person who eventually pays is the consumer. The costs of the Amendments proposed in the Report will not add to any material extent to the cost of production of any particular article. Arrangements were made at the time the Report was pie-pared with the insurance companies by which they were ready to reduce their working expenses, and the benefits that they reaped from the premiums charged; and the members of the Committee were satisfied that in no trade except the most expensive—the coal industry—would the cost of workmen's compensation amount to a penny, and in most cases it would be a fraction of a penny, in the £ on the cost of production of any article manufactured to-day in England. Thus the cost of workmen's compensation should not in any way affect the sale of an article, and could hardly affect the pockets of persons who buy it in the retail shop at a later date.
I hope that, this subject will soon be considered by the House. Before, however, it is considered, I trust that hon. and right hon. Members will do the Committee the honour of reading and considering their Report. If they do so they will, I think, come to the conclusion that there is a way in which workmen can be benefited to a much greater extent than they are at the present moment. They will come to the conclusion, I think, that, if workmen are benefited in that way it will be for the good of the State and to the benefit of industry in general. Everybody to-day agrees that what is wanted in this country is confidence between masters and workmen. What better basis for this can there be than the subject we now have before us? I cannot help thinking that in this, as in other matters, if the subject were really seriously considered by the employer and —if I may say so—if employers were properly approached by the workmen, that there would be a consensus of opinion that the workman is entitled, if injured in industry, to be made well at the expense of the industry, and that the widow and children of a man killed are likewise entitled to fair compensation.
If that conclusion be agreed upon, I cannot help thinking that employers and workmen would also come to the conclusion that the Committee over whom I had the honour of presiding arrived at a very fair compromise between the different parties in the recommendations set out in the Report. I hope that the Government, acting through the Home Secretary, will see their way this Session to introduce a Bill to give effect to the recommendations contained in the Report. If there is any idea that the Members of this House will be hostile to those recommendations, or that some hon. Members will be hostile to them, I believe that after discussion there will be no opposition. In that belief I urge the Home Secretary to take steps to introduce a Bill without delay.
The discussion up to now of this question is very encouraging, and I should think it requires little more to influence the Home Secretary. So far, the discussion has been confined to one particular point, but may I call attention to the terms of the Resolution, which are as follow:
To call attention to the question of Workmen's Compensation; and to move, That in view of the unsatisfactory state of the law relating to Workmen's Compensation and of the fact that the War Addition Acts expire at the end of this year, this House is of opinion that a Government Bill to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, should he introduced and passed dining the coarse of this Session.
There are other Acts affecting workmen's compensation. I believe there are three or four Acts dealing with compensation to workmen in a different way to the Workmen's Compensation Act. There is Lord Campbell's Act; the Employers' Liability Act: and on the top of those comes the Workmen's Compensation Act. It is not only a question of amending the Workmen's Compensation Act, but the codification of all the Acts dealing with compensation to workmen. I will give my reasons for this. I might as well remind the right hon. Gentleman that the pigeon-holes at the Home Office are pretty well stocked with suggestions on this matter from the Labour party. The Employers' Liability Act gives compensation on the basis of a full wage and compensation for death is the same under both Acts, but under the Employers' Liability Act you must establish to the satisfaction of a jury the fact that the employer had some knowledge of the defect of the machine, otherwise you do not get compensation. The Workmen's Compensation Act only pays 60 per cent, instead of the full wage, and this Act has gradually taken the place of the bigger Act. Since the passing of the Workmen's Compensation Act in 1597 and the passing of the Employers' Liability Act in 1882 a new condition of things has arisen, and very often those who do not know the conditions of the later Act accept the principles of the Workmen's Compensation Act without inquiring into their rights under the bigger Act. The result has been that gradually the Workmen's Compensation Act has been accepted in cases where I know that a good case existed under the Employers' Liability Act. Although I am grateful to the Committee which sat under the chairmanship of the hon. and learned Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Gregory) for going as far as they did, I cannot accept the principle of 60 percent, offered in the Holman Gregory Report. There is only one solution of this difficulty, and it is that the equivalent should be made the same under one Act as it is under the other so that a man shall not be deprived of his rights under the Employers' Liability Act.
The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) referred to a most iniquitous instance of a decision under the existing Workmen's Compensation Act, and I would like to give one or two examples. Two men were killed putting on the hatches of a ship. They had finished a day's work with the cargo. It seems that the combings of the hatches were defective, and the hatch gave way, and they were both precipitated into the hold of the ship and killed. That was manipulated by the legal mind and the county court judge who tried the case into decision that these men were not in or about any part of their occupation at the time the accident occurred, and the county court judge, with his brilliant legal acumen, in giving that interpretation, likened it unto putting the cork into a bottle and taking it out of the bottle, which he said was no part of the process of filling or emptying the bottle. How could a man fill a bottle or empty it without taking out the cork? These are only some of the samples of legal decisions which have been given. The hon. Member for the Springburn Division (Mr. Macquisten) said that security was better than compensation. The hon. Member as a lawyer will remember that in 1905 the Home Office set up a public inquiry into the cause and prevention of dock accidents, and it lasted seven months. Amongst other places we visited Glasgow, and there we found the hon. Member for Springburn was one of the most vigorous opponents of a Measure of that kind being passed, and at that time he was not a Member of this House.
There is another question to which I would like to call attention, that is, light employment. I want to give another example of how this works out. Only on Monday last one of our chaps came to me. He had been practically maimed for life. He incurred injury to the spine. He is able to do very little indeed, and, being rather illiterate, could not take a writing job. Indeed, the strain of sitting down in one position was too much for him. The employer offered him light work which the man tried, but was unable to carry it on. His compensation was reduced by the county court judge to 1d. per week in view of the fact that he had secured light work. He has now neither the light work nor the compensation. Both have gone. Another point is in connection with the question of giving notice of the accident to the employer within a certain period. This notice has to be given by the injured work-man, and if he does not give it within six weeks his claim for compensation is prejudiced, and the county court judge in cases has absolutely ruled him out of court. I do not want to harrow hon. Members with details of my own case. I have before told the House what occurred to me nearly 40 years ago. But I know men who have not been able to give notice within the six weeks, and whose relatives were ignorant of the fact that notice had to be given. That has actually happened, and it has been used to oppose the claim to compensation. As to the question of malingering, the insurance company, to whom the employer hands over his liability at so much per head, will take good care that the man does not malinger. From the date of the accident until he is forced back to work again by repeated special surgical examinations, they sit on his doorstep trying to persuade him to accept loss than he is entitled to. There, is no fear of malingering. There is no humanity about an insurance company, whatever there may be about employers. The fact is that the employer hands over his liability for compensation to a company which is making a dividend out of the misfortunes of the men. These are points which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman's notice, and I hope he will deal with them when he is answering, as I am sure he will, in a sympathetic spirit.
I should like to take up one or two points by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw). It is not often I am in agreement with him and his colleagues, but on this occasion, in the main, I am entirely in agreement. I only disagree on one or two matters of detail. The hon. Member made a moving appeal to employers in this House, and in the country to show some generosity in this matter. I disagree slightly with that. I do not think that the extra burden that is to be laid upon us as employers in order to give extra benefits can really be described as anything serious. I do not think we shall have to exercise, anything so noble as generosity in paying up that little extra premium which we may be called upon to pay. I understand that the insurance companies concerned in this branch of the business have shown some real generosity, and have accepted the principle of taking reduced profits as compared with those they previously received. I admit that in many cases insurance companies which deal with employers' liability insurance have made very large, profits in the past. I know that from personal experience. But as the whole object of these insurance companies is to make profit, one cannot say that they are acting unjustly because those profits happen in the past to have been high. At any rate, they have now accepted the principle of reduced profits and the generosity for which the hon. Member opposite appealed is really being shown not so much by the employers as by the insurance companies. The hon. Member hinted that insurance companies put very great difficulty in the way of men getting compensation when they had been insured with them. I may say that my experience, and the experience of other employers to whom I have spoken on the matter is quite opposed to that suggestion. We never had the faintest difficulty with the insurance companies in that regard.
I am mistaken. I am reminded it was the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) who threw out that suggestion. I do not think he is right, for, as I have said, in our experience we have found that the companies have been very reasonable in meeting the claims upon them. After all, it is very much the same with fire insurance. If one has a fire in one's house, the insurance company almost tumbles over itself to pay up, because it looks upon every claim paid as a good advertisement and a source of increased premiums for the future. There was another point mentioned by the hon. Member for Preston. He said that to assess the value of a man's life at £300 is an extremely cynical proceeding. Suppose you assess the life at £1,000. To my mind that would be just as cynical. It is not the actual figure you place upon the life as valuation that is cynical. What is cynical is to attempt to reduce human life to a money valuation. The point of the matter is that one has to fix some nominal conventional figure in order to express the relative loss to a man's family between loss of limb and loss of life. Therefore, I do not think it is right to speak of cynicism in this matter, when it is merely a conventional figure which has to be fixed in any ease.
Those, however, are minor points. The real point on which I disagree with hon. Members opposite is that they keep suggesting that the State should interfere in this matter, or that the burden should be put upon the industry rather than upon the individual employer. If they consider the matter carefully, I think they will agree with me that you cannot put a burden on an industry. It is the individuals in that industry who have to put their hands in their pockets and withdraw the money to meet that burden. An industry is in just the same position as the State. It is not a thing that can bear a burden; it is not a thing that can pay money. It is individuals always who have to pay money in these cases. I hold very strongly, as an individualist and as an employer of labour, that the whole of this burden should be taken up by us as individuals; that, if we, employ a number of men, it is our very first duty to see that those men are insured against privation due to injury received while they are working for us. If you say that an industry as a whole must insure its own men, en bloc, against death from accidents, or against minor accidents, you at once introduce the extremely vicious principle that the man who is endeavouring, either by working shorter hours or by instructing his foremen and managers not to press too hard for output, or by working day work in preference to piece work—the man who in these ways makes the risk of injury and accident in his works very much less —is, under a system of insurance by industry, going to pay for the man who is utterly regardless of his workers.
Nobody suggests that there should be a flat rate. The rate to the employer would be based on his experience. Under a Government scheme it is perfectly possible to rate a man on his two or three years' average, in the same way as is done here, and a careful employer would get a lower rate than a careless one.
Taking the case of a small works, like, for instance, my own, where there are only about 100 men employed, the three years' average gives a totally false basis. There was one unfortunate fatal accident in connection with a process in a coal pit, which I will not mention because I am personally interested in it; but there had not been a fatal accident in connection with that process for eight years. Except in very large industries or very large units, where there are hundreds or thousands of men employed, it would not answer For one employer to take a three years' average is a most unsound procedure in a matter of this sort. The one and only solid and sound basis is to make the employer who employs the men responsible for them, and no employer of labour can allege that that puts too hard a burden upon him. The premiums for insurance against injury to workmen, both minor and fatal injuries, are so comparatively small as compared with the output of the men themselves, that it is perfectly ludicrous to try to dodge that liability in any way or to spread it over the whole industry. In just the same way, if you introduce any system of State insurance in this matter, you are relieving the man who really ought to pay, and I say, as an employer, that it is no business whatsoever of the taxpayer to contribute to this. If you say that by law the employer is responsible for the whole damage, and even if the employer wishes himself to pay for the whole damage, a very considerable portion of the burden is going to come upon the community, whether you wish it to or not. All these things are bound to spread themselves over the whole, community, no matter what you do. You may say that in calling upon people to pay some tax or rate you are taking the money for some social service, but actually that amount is spread over the whole of the producers of this country; and it is the same in all these State insurance schemes. Whatever dodges are proposed to relieve the people who really ought to pay, and by whatever dodge the taxpayer, of all persons in the world, is dragged in, it is a gross injustice that any taxpayer outside my industry or my employment should be expected to contribute to the insurance premiums which I pay to save my men from privation in cases of accident, and I do hope that hon. Members opposite will endeavour, if they can, to agree with me in this, as I have gone so far in agreement with them tonight, that it is we employers who must pay for this risk, and any system by which we do not do so is based upon a totally unsound principle.
I think everyone will agree that this has been a distinctly interesting Debate and has thrashed out the whole subject in a way which is most helpful to those who are concerned. I should like to express, and I am sure I am voicing the feeling of the whole House, our gratitude and thanks to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Holman Gregory) and his Committee for the Report they have given us. It is, in my judgment, one of the most valuable and instructive Reports that any Departmental Committee has ever presented, and I believe it has done a very great deal to make this subject thoroughly understood, and if only more people would read and study it there would be less trouble in the way of those who want to make some change in our present system. One thing is perfectly clear and that is the complete agreement that something must be done. It is very interesting to observe that four hon. Members who have spoken, connected I know in a large way with Labour, my hon. Friends the Member for North Cornwall (Sir G. Croydon Marks), the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Colonel P. Williams), the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Carr) and the hon. Member who has just spoken have supported some change and some improvement as whole heartedly as any hon. Member opposite, and it is clear that something will have to be done. The War Additions Act, which came to the rescue of men who are in receipt of compensation for injury during the period when prices had risen and the ordinary compensation for wholly inadequate, came to an end this year. I do not believe a single hon. Member, no matter where he may sit, would suggest that we should allow the War Additions Act to lapse and put nothing in its place. We are faced therefore with this position. Either we must do something this Session or we must include the War Additions Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act at the end of the Session.
It would be very unsatisfactory to allow this Session to go by with nothing done, and for that reason I hope the House will accept the Motion. I hope it will be clearly understood that I am not in any way accepting or pledging the Government to any detail of reform that has been put forward. There are certain things on which we are all agreed and one is that the old maximum of £1 and the maximum of £300 in the case of fatal accidents are inadequate, but while we are all agreed that they are inadequate, there is by no means a unanimity of opinion as to what they ought to be converted into and what the sums should be. Equally with regard to matters of compulsory insurance and State insurance. Compulsory insurance was strongly recommended by my hon. and learned Friend's Committee. Un- doubtedly, there is a great deal to be said for it. There is also a great deal to be said for State insurance in a matter of this kind, but it is perfectly clear from the Debate to-night that there is no unanimity of opinion upon it. Therefore it would be idle for me to attempt to suggest to the House to-night what line the Government would take on either of those two points. We are, however, agreed upon general principles, and we are agreed upon this, that the main things that we ought to aim at are, first of all, the prevention of injury altogether, and, secondly, the best possible means for recovering the worker and bringing him back for the use of the State and the use of the industry. These are the two main principles that we must have before us. I believe that the average employer in this country really does appreciate these two main principles, but the difficulty is to agree upon the best method of carrying them out.
There are many points in the Report of my hon. and learned Friend's Committee which are very highly controversial, and it may be very difficult for the Government, when they are introducing a Bill, as I hope we shall be able to do, to deal with these highly controversial points. When, therefore, I say that in drafting a Bill I shall always have before me the recommendations of that Report, I must not be taken as pledging myself in any way to bring in a Measure which deals with every recommendation they make. This is a great national question, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall that this is no party question. The best method of proceeding is to endeavour to get agreement between all the parties concerned. By agreement between the parties concerned we can do more to bring in effective legislation than we can by having what would develop into a real party strife on the Floor of the House.
I have already approached men who represent the employed, and men who represent the employers. I am hoping that when they have considered, each of them, their own proposals, and I have myself put forward certain general proposals as a sort of basis for discussion, that we shall be able to get a committee, consisting of representatives of the workmen and representatives of the employers, and that we shall be able to thresh out a certain measure of agreement which will, at any rate, give us the basis of a measure which will be introduced into this House. It may very well be, and it probably will be, that there will not be agreement upon all points. I can well understand that it will be very difficult, indeed, to get an absolute agreement upon a question which involves the fixing of a definite sum of money. It may be very difficult, indeed, to agree upon the best method of calculating what is a fair payment for the injured workman, or what is a fair payment with regard to the child of the man who has suffered fatal injury. These are matters of very considerable difficulty, but, at least, discussion round the table can do no possible harm, but may lead to very great assistance in regard to this important matter.
Now with regard to the other points, such as the protection of those who are employed by employers financially weak. I agree with one of my hon. Friends who said that it is not the case that so many cases occur where the employer is financially weak, where a man gets no compensation or where an employer goes bankrupt. Those cases are recorded and they are not many. But anyone who has practised in workmen's compensation cases knows that there are many cases all over the country where a wholly inadequate sum is accepted in settlement because, if not, nothing at all would be received. Some method must be proposed to meet a difficulty of that sort. Whether we shall be able to come to such a measure of agreement in our discussions with regard to our proposed legislation for this Session I do not know, but at least we can try. Therefore I hope sincerely that within a very short period we shall have a round table conference which would enable the Government to bring before the House a Bill which, even if not agreed in all its provisions, and I am sure that it will not be, and which may not be accepted by those who are outside the conference, will at least have a very large measure of support in this House, and may, with the assistance of Debates in this House, be made a really effective and good Act of Parliament. That is the position which the Government take up to-night.
I am sure that the House would not ask me to pledge myself as to any of the various details which have been men- tioned in the course of the Debate. They are extremely interesting and instructive, but, having regard to the position which we have taken, I do not think that it would be proper for me to give a Government opinion and then to ask both sides, employers and employed, to come and discuss the matter in a conference. I think that the proper thing for us to do is to keep silence upon those matters until we know what measure of agreement between those chiefly concerned can be reached at the conference. There are many points which have been raised in the course of the Debate which are of very great interest, into which I should like in many cases to have entered, but I think that it probably would not be the wish of the House that I should do so now. I know that, there are many shortcomings in the Act as it exists. I have heard heartrending cases of legal inefficiency described by my hon. Friends opposite, but I must say that I should like to hear the explanation of the County Court judge before accepting those cases entirely as they have been stated. Equally there are many cases which are very grave to the employer.
We want to remove these cases, and the best way to remove them is to get both parties together and to thrash out the best method. We are all agreed that something must be done. We are all agreed that this is not a party but is a national question, and in spite of the strictures of my hon. Friend we are all agreed that it should be a charge upon the industry of the country. The industry, of course, means the people engaged in the industry, with this addition, that the State has not got any person to whom it can pass on this burden of compensation. It is paid by the individuals who constitute the State. They have got to bear the burden themselves, and cannot even make the purchaser pay. We are agreed upon general principles, and therefore I hope, with the assistance of hon. Friends who have kindly promised to assist me, and with the assistance of employers, we may thrash out a Bill which we can bring to this House with a promise of a fair measure of agreement, and that we shall, before this Session has passed, have passed a Measure which will put the whole subject of workmen's compensation upon a much more satisfactory basis.
I am very glad to know that the speeches to-night have been sympathetic to the proposal put before the House. The Home Secretary has been talking about sitting around a table and getting an agreed Measure. I thought that had been done over two years ago. Our representatives who sat upon the Committee signed the findings of that Committee with the idea that a Bill was to be brought in immediately to give effect to them. There were some things in the findings that we did not like at all. One thing especially was that a man who was on compensation at the time was not to benefit by the new Bill or by the recommendations of the Committee. Notwithstanding that, for the sake of agreement our representatives signed the recommendations, To-night we are again talking about agreement. I do not know whether the proposal is to get the same Committee together again and to go over the business once more. We were hoping that the Home Secretary would tell us that he was bringing in a Bill to give effect to the findings. My hon Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) made a statement as to what the cost would be, but he was far too high in his estimate. He was speaking of the coal industry. I suppose he had in mind full wages for an injured workman. Why in the world an injured workman should not receive full wages when at home I do not know. But that is not the finding of the Holman Gregory Report. The payment up to now for that industry is something less than 2½d. per ton, and it is estimated that if the full findings of the Holman Gregory Report were given effect to the cost would be less than 3d. per ton. It would be a cost upon the industry, and, as far as South Wales is concerned, the workman would pay no less than 83 per cent, towards the fund, and the employers only 17 per cent. From the employers' standpoint, therefore, it is not a very serious matter.
Many deputations have waited on the Home Secretary, sometimes from the whole of the trade unions and sometimes from sections of them. For the last two years we have put down resolution after resolution, and yet we find ourselves in exactly the same position to-day. The widows are left as they were before, with £300 only, and the judges make that pay- ment of £300 go as far as possible. The highest amount I have known a judge to give, no matter how many children are left, has been about 25s. a week. These widows would have been far better off if there had been no £300 and they had applied to the guardians, for they would have received much better treatment. I have been wondering during the last few months whether we had a Compensation Act in force or not. After March, 1921, thousands of our light employment men were deprived of the work they were doing and no compensation was paid to them, because up to that time their earnings had been over and above what they were when the men worked in their normal occupation, at 'least in the case of those who were injured before the War began. So they received no compensation. The judge decided that it was owing to the state of the labour market that these men were idle and he refused to give compensation to the extent of the injury that they received.
We thought that was wrong; the employers thought it was wrong and they came to the decision that half the difference between the assumed earnings of the light employment men, and what they were actually receiving at the time of the injury should be paid. An agreement was arrived at, that a few shillings a week should be paid to some of these men, but the judge decided entirely against that, because of the labour market. What the labour market has to do with injury I do not know, but that was the position taken up. We contend if there is any legislation in need of overhauling, it is that in relation to workmen's compensation. We hope that in the very near future, a Bill will be introduced giving effect to the findings already agreed upon, apart from any new findings that may be come to. We feel that such a Measure is long overdue. We have pressed for it time after time, and I hope we are nearer to it to-day than we have been previously. My wish is that the Home Secretary should immediately bring in such a Bill.
I am sure the House is glad to have heard the declaration made by the Home Secretary on this matter. It would be most unfortunate if the present Session, which so many people regard as the last Session of this Parliament, were allowed to pass without placing on the Statute Book some permanent Amendment of the Compensation Acts. I hope, as I am sure many hon. Members do, that when the Government produce their Bill on this question, they will not attempt to set up any kind of State insurance in connection with it. I know there are people outside this House who say that the compensation question should be linked up, if not amalgamated with, the National Health Insurance scheme.
For my part, I take this opportunity of expressing the hope in connection with compensation that the interference of that extravagant, futile busy-body the State, will not be admitted; that this question will be adjusted on its merits and that in due course we shall get an Act, which, whilst keeping the charge as it is to-day, a charge upon the industry concerned, will meet those legitimate grievances or necessities for redress which exist at the present time. I hope we shall not allow this question to be used as one more instrument for enforcing the interference of the State, hut that we shall get a Measure, removing this question from any possibility of being involved in party controversy, and that before we rise for the Summer Recess this matter will have been suitably adjusted in accordance with the outlines given by the Home Secretary to-night.
We are all pleased that the Home Secretary has made the statement he made to-night, and we are looking forward to the possibility of a joint conference at which these important matters can be discussed. I wish to point out some of the matters which must come under review in connection with any new Measure to be brought before the House. First, some steps must be taken to reduce the cost of litigation. Why it should be necessary to call a long list of medical men to prove whether a man is a malingerer or not, passes my comprehension. In scores, if not hundreds, of cases, in which I have been concerned, three specialists have been called to prove a man a malingerer, and three others to prove the contrary, all at a very high cost. One contradicts the other, and the need for calling them is not apparent to me. Something ought to be done by which some easier and simpler method of ascertaining the exact position could be arrived at. I know there are the assessors, and I know there are means adopted to-day which do not quite remove our cause of complaint.
The second point we have to consider is in regard to compulsory insurance. I am agreed with compulsory insurance, and I have only been responsible for a few strikes in my life, in refusing to allow men to work for men with rotten gear and no money with which to pay compensation, and who would not insure, and I have indeed many and many a time agreed with men refusing to work for that kind of employer. Something ought to be done when the insurance is effected to prevent agents going to men in distress and inducing thorn—compelling them almost—to accept miserable sums in settlement. If we had time, I could give many such cases, but they are so numerous that we are all familiar with the evil. The third point I wish to make is one that has not been mentioned to-night. In the existing Act there was one of the wisest provisions introduced that has ever been conceived in connection with insurance against injuries, and that is the section dealing with industrial diseases. That has been a beneficent section, and has done an immense amount of good, not only in the prevention of diseases, but in having compelled many employers to resort to methods of improvement in their workshops. I hope that in any fresh legislation on this subject it will be made easier for industries to be included under that section. At the present time you have to prove your case and get your industry scheduled, and to my knowledge many and many an industry which I know is injurious to health has failed to get included in the Schedule under the Act. Consequently men are suffering in health to-day. I will go so far as to say that all industries ought to be included under that Clause and be required to prove afterwards that they are not dangerous to health. That would be the simpler and easier way. I am drawing attention to these three points in regard to which hardships arise, and I am sure that with generous treatment, and the continuance of the kindly good feeling that has been expressed on every hand here to-night, these things will be improved upon and will be greatly beneficial to the industrial community.
That, in view of the unsatisfactory state of the law relating to Workmen's Compensation and of the fact that the War Addition Acts expire at the end of this year, this House is of opinion that a Government Bill to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act. 1906, should be introduced and passed during the course of this Session.