Extension of Employer's Liability for Defective Equipment

Orders of the Day — Employer's Liability (Defective Equipment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 1969.

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Amendment made: No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 15 and insert: the injury shall be deemed to be also attributable to negligence on the part of the employer (whether or not he is liable in respect of the injury apart from this subsection),".—[Mr. Hugh D. Brown.]

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Stoke Newington and Hackney North

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 5, at end insert: equipment" includes any equipment, plant, gear, machinery, tool, clothing, apparatus or appliance or any part thereof.

The Amendment was originally put down by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), who, unfortunately, is unable to be present today to move it. I added my name to the Amendment because I regard it as well worthy of discussion.

The Amendment uses the term "equipment ", which, the House will recognise, is a very wide term. The Oxford Dictionary defines "equipment" as the action or process of equipping or fitting out; the state or condition of being equipped; the manner in which a person is equipped.

Obviously, that does not carry the matter very much further.

The definition of "equip" is stated to be to furnish for service; to provide with what is required for efficient action as arms, instruments or apparatus of any kind".

The term "equipment" is, obviously, a very wide one. I have tried to see whether there is any legal definition of what the word means. The term is dealt with in a case in 1906, when Mr. Justice Kekewich said of equipment in connection with a hospital that it scarcely needed definition and that it covered anything and everything which was required to convert an empty building or part of an empty building into a hospital or part of a hospital, with all modern appliances.

In a later case in New Zealand, which is the only other one that I can find in which the word is commented upon, Mr. Justice Smith said: That the word 'equipment' may have a wide meaning is plain, but the width of its meaning trust depend on the circumstances

He dealt with the word as used in connection with a lease and he decided from the clauses contained therein that it did not include tenants' fittings and fixtures.

The object of the Bill is to protect the workman against a defect in anything which is supplied to him in connection with his work, whether it be plant, gear, machinery, tools, clothing, apparatus or appliance or any part thereof. The Amendment seeks to avoid the possibility of the use of any ingenious argument, which lawyers are sometimes capable of putting forward, that something which is supplied to a workman, and in which there is a defect, cannot properly be called equipment. In my view, the word should be inserted to make absolutely certain that the workman is fully protected. Above all, I suggest that the words cannot possibly do any harm.

Moreover, I suggest that a strong point in favour of the insertion of these words by way of definition is that they have statutory authority. In Statutory Instrument No. 1580/1961, the Construction (General Provisions) Regulations, 1961, which deal with the safety of employees in factories, Regulation 4(2) defines "plant or equipment" in this way: plant or equipment includes any plant, equipment, gear, machinery, apparatus or appliance or any part thereof".

Again, in Statutory Instrument No. 1581/1961, the Construction (Lifting Operations) Regulations, 1961, which deal with the provision of lifting appliances in factories, Regulation 4(2) defines "plant or equipment" in exactly the same way.

More recently, in Statutory Instrument No. 94/1966, the Construction (Working Places) Regulations, 1966, which deal with the safety of working places and access and egress, Regulation 4(2) contains the very same definition. One therefore gets in Statutory Instruments the recognition by the legislature that there is a necessity to define the words "plant" and "equipment".

The Regulations to which I have referred deal specifically with the safety of workmen in certain ways and the possibility of accidents to them. Clearly, the legislature has in those cases taken care to define the word "equipment" so that there can be no doubt with regard to it. I suggest that it cannot be said that it is unnecessary to do so in the present case.

There is a strong case for the insertion of these words. I hope that the Amendment will be carefully considered. If it cannot be considered in the way in which it is put forward, I hope that consideration will be given to it when the Bill reaches another place.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

The Amendment states that "' equipment' includes any equipment" plus all the other things. I should like to know from the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) whether the second "equipment" covers such things as corrosive fluids, gases or liquids. This is a valid point. Cleaning or plating materials are used as equipment by an employee and, due to a defect in their constitution or chemical reaction to them, an accident could occur. Does the second "equipment" cover such items?

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Stoke Newington and Hackney North

I recognise the point that is made. The reason for including the second word "equipment" is because, in the Regulations to which I have referred, the legislature thought fit to define "equipment" in the way in which I have ventured to repeat that word. It does not do any harm and I suppose that it covers any possibility of non-inclusion of anything which should be included.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Shoreditch and Finsbury

A workman who uses a tool-cutting machine might use soluble oil to lubricate the cutting tool and the soluble oil might overflow on to his lathe. It could get on to the trousers of his overalls and cause cancer of the scrotum. Does my hon. and learned Friend feel that the wording of the Amendment would cover such a situation? The oil is part of the equipment which is used, but by the time the soluble oil has left the equipment it is in limbo. Does the Amendment protect people using that type of equipment, although it is not the equipment which causes the problem but the effect of using the equipment?

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Stoke Newington and Hackney North

I think that these words are as wide as they possibly can be. I bow to the intelligence of the legislature on former occasions on putting forward that definition.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) will not press the Amendment. There are two main reasons why it would not be desirable to make the change he proposes.

First, if one starts, when dealing with a word like "equipment", to give instances of it, however compendious the list may appear to be, one is bound to cast doubt on the generality. This is an important objection and an argument by way of analogy to the Statutory Instruments to which my hon. and learned Friend referred does not prevail over this point. There is a territory, so to speak, between premises on one side and materials on the other and, broadly, the territory between is well described and delimited by the term "equipment."

The matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Fins-bury (Mr. R. W. Brown) referred would depend on narrow matters of fact. The hypothesis which he put forward was more in the category of material than of equipment, but I take the point that one may have a situation in which there is a corrosive effect on material, machinery, equipment or plant and that the result may be dependent on whether the harmful agent would come within the term "equipment". For this reason it would be better not to attempt a more particularised definition of "equipment".

Secondly, there is authority for the proposition that when one is dealing with words of general application in a Statute one must, for the construction of the Statute, narrow the term that one is seeking to construe to the fitness of the Statute. That principle is applied in considering the meaning of a word of wide application in an Act.

When one considers that proposition in the context of this Measure and applies that principle to it, the result is that an undesirably narrow or restrictive interpretation of "equipment" would not be resorted to by the courts. For these reasons I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not press the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I find it difficult to disagree with the argument advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. Despite the reasonableness of the case made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), I hope that he will withdraw the Amendment; and perhaps we can discuss the matter to see if there is a possibility of approaching the subject in another way.

12.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Stoke Newington and Hackney North

I thought it right to table the Amendment because of what I said originally, and I hope that the matter will be further considered.

The Solicitor-General suggested that the Amendment would be restrictive, but I am not sure about that. The fact that the word "equipment" may be inserted a second time surely means that it cannot possibly be restrictive. I recognise the wide way in which "equipment" could be construed and that when certain words are included in legislation there is a danger that the courts may have to define them in a particular way and that difficulty might arise.

Nevertheless, the legislator, knowing of these difficulties in matters very much akin to this—matters concerning the safety of work in regard to the use of appliances in factories—thought fit to insert a definition of "equipment". The same argument might have been used on that occasion against the insertion of that word.

I realise, however, that there is weight in the argument adduced by my hon. and learned Friend and while I hope that the matter will receive further consideration, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.