Short Title, Commencement and Extent

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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Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan 12:00 am, 21st March 1969

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 20, at end insert: (3) Nothing in the Government of Ireland Act 1920 shall prevent the Parliament of Northern Ireland from making laws for purposes similar to the purposes of section 1 of this Act.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I suggest that it would be convenient to discuss, at the same time, the following Amendment, which is linked: No. 4, in line 21, after 'Act', insert 'except the foregoing subsection'.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

That is convenient, Mr. Speaker, and I wish to make it clear at the outset that this series of Amendments has nothing to do with one-man one-vote or with sit-down strikes in Stormont. It is a formal matter and is in no way controversial.

The Amendment is designed to remove any possible doubt about the power of the Northern Ireland Parliament to legislate in a similar way to this Measure. The new subsection (3) is a common form provision often found in the Statute Book. Clause 1(4) of the Bill binds the Crown and Clause 2 extends to England, Wales and Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland. It is possible that the Parliament of Northern Ireland will wish to pass similar legislation and it is important that it should be clear that it has the power to do so.

There is no doubt that the Northern Ireland Parliament has power to pass a Bill similar to this one. There is, however, some doubt about whether it could make such a Bill binding on the Crown in terms of Northern Ireland. It would clearly be wrong to allow doubt on this point to continue, and the Amendment makes the position clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 4, in line 21, after 'Act', insert 'except the foregoing subsection'.—[Mr. Hugh D. Brown.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]

12.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

My sponsoring of this Bill was strongly criticised by a Scottish newspaper. Since it is usually the Daily Express which makes criticisms, I should make it clear that on this occasion it was not the Daily Express. I was accused of having sponsored a mouse of a Bill. There is something in this, but it must be remembered that a private Member is confronted with the choice of producing something useful, practical, modest and worthwhile with some possibility of success, and producing something that may be regarded as a propaganda exercise. Being mindful of this criticism, I preferred to produce a mouse rather than to do a bit of roaring and accomplish nothing useful.

I have been encouraged by the support of the Government. My right hon. and learned Friends have been extremely helpful with the technicalities, and, with natural Scottish modesty, I claim that the Bill arose from a case in Scotland to which reference has been made.

This Bill is a small but useful piece of social reform, which is designed to assist and protect the ordinary worker in the factory. The Bill may in a small way reflect favourably on the Government. This is not a party point. I am certain that the electors of Walthamstow, East will not be agitated about our deliberations this morning; they are probably thinking about other things; but in the eyes of the voters and the trade unionists we have done something useful.

Honourable Members opposite have been extremely helpful, courteous and co-operative. While we all might have dreams of leading the troops into rousing battles, we have on this occasion worked together very well and with understanding. I am, therefore, delighted to ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

12.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

On Second Reading 1 had high hopes that, with good will on both sides, we might be able to produce a Bill which was well rounded. By that I mean a Bill which would seem to be reasonable, moderate and fair to everyone affected by it. I am naturally delighted that Section 2(2) now reads: This Act shall come into force on the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the date on which it is passed. Those words are included as a result of the persuasive pleading of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis), who has the distinction of being the only hon. Member, other than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown), to have had an Amendment accepted between Second and Third Reading.

The main purpose of the Bill has been variously defined during debate, but I think we all agree that in general terms the purpose is to make it easier for an employee to obtain damages for an injury caused as the result of a latent defect in equipment by making the employer liable for such damages, in addition to anyone else who may be liable in tort. I do not think that there has been any dispute about this general purpose throughout the passage of the Bill. So far as the Bill achieves this purpose, I support it.

I confess to a sense of disappointment at what at times I felt to be a stonewalling innings played by the hon. Member for Provan at one end of the pitch and the Solicitor-General at the other. Nevertheless, I congratulate the hon. Member for piloting through a Measure which I hope will be effective in alleviating hardship in an area in which hardship may well exist. On these grounds I support the Bill on Third Reading.

12.55 p.m.

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

I greatly welcome the progress which the Bill is making. I congratulate my hon. Friend for the work which he has done upon it. It is a useful Bill and I think my hon. Friend has made good use of his legislative opportunities.

12.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Hamilton Mr James Hamilton , Fermanagh and South Tyrone

It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Third Reading of the Bill, and I am also pleased to have been a member of the Committee which considered it. It gives me even greater pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown), whose constituency is next door to mine, and I am glad that he has selected this subject for his Bill. The Bill gives untold joy to the trade union movement as a whole and particularly to my union, the Constructional Engineering Union.

In Committee, it was noticeable that, although we all had our differences of opinion in party politics, the Committee worked with great cordiality. We were determined to produce the best possible Bill which would be beneficial to employees and to employers. I have been told by many employers in my constituency that they are happy that such a Bill should pass through the House. The Bill will make the position clearer to all, particularly to trade union officials who are involved with accidents at factories. I hope that the Bill will have a safe passage in the other place and that, when it reaches the Statute Book, it will make the job of the trade union official much easier.

I have been impressed by the work which has been performed during the passage of the Bill. Those of us who do a great deal of Committee work cannot say that we always enjoy it, but I enjoyed every minute of the work in Committee on this Bill.

Although one Glasgow newspaper has said that this is a mouse of a Bill, to members of the trade union movement, to my constituents and to the people of Scotland it is not a mouse of a Bill but rather a lion of a Bill, and one which is essential. I therefore have much pleasure in supporting the Third Reading.

12.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Miscampbell Mr Norman Miscampbell , Blackpool North

I apologise for not having been here throughout the whole sitting this morning, but I had a very urgent engagement.

Like the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton), I, too, enjoyed the Committee stage very much. It was a constructive, helpful and worthwhile Committee.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) on bringing forward the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) on being the only hon. Member to get an Amendment accepted. I put my name to that Amendment, and it was the only Amendment which my hon. Friend was advised would be of no use, there was no point in moving it, and he must go ahead on his own. However, that just shows how wrong one can be.

I have always had a fundamental objection to dealing with a problem by deeming someone to be negligent. It may be that it is not possible to avoid it. I accept that it probably is not possible in this case. But it is right that, in passing the Bill, this House should recognise that it is not a satisfactory way of solving any problem, and I hope very much that it will not be regarded as a precedent if it can be helped.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan said that he had been accused of producing a mouse of a Bill. It is a little bigger now. It might be considered a little rude, but I would think it more appropriate to refer to it as a rat of a Bill. Certainly its terms are wider than some of us thought they would be. We thought that we were putting to rights the well-known problem which arose in Davie v. New Merton Board Mills. We realised after the Christmas Recess that we were riding a much fiercer horse than the one on which we started out. It is clear that, in changing a social position, we have gone much further than the narrow legal view that we took originally. I was very conscious of this, because I had firm assurances before Christmas there there might be some changes made in the Bill. However, it became clear after Christmas that the atmosphere in the Committee had changed and that those alterations were not forthcoming.

We must recognise that we are placing another burden upon employers. It may be that it is rightly placed upon shoulders which can bear it. It is a burden which they have accepted and about which they have not complained. No doubt they will have to cope with it by means of extra insurance. We should recognise that one side of industry is bearing a burden in order that an innocent worker shall not end up without the compensation which is his due.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Provan. I think that this will be a helpful Bill.

1.3 p.m.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Aberdeen South

I want to add my own congratulations to the very many which must have almost buried my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown). My own feeling has always been that any attack upon his choice, having been fortunate enough to win the ballot, has been misplaced and quite unfair. It is always tempting to go for the spectacular Bill which will hit the headlines in the Press and draw the attention of an hon. Member's constituents to his activities. In my view, in many ways that is a futile activity, and my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having gone for a Measure which had every chance of success, and that fact has been borne out by the co-operation which has come from all sides of the House.

The Bill will improve our law, and it will improve the lot of certain employees who, in the past, have found themselves handicapped when seeking damages or compensation to which they were entitled.

I want also to congratulate the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), who has done a great deal of work on the Opposition Front Bench in a splendidly non-partisan fashion. I hope that no one will think it amiss if I pay tribute to his work.

A point of some substance which, rather surprisingly, was mentioned only by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) arose when he departed in to the animal world. The Bill has concentrated entirely on the very real disagreement about the suitability of certain words—"deemed" and "not deemed". It was suggested that this was the only difference between the two sides and, at the end of the day, that turned out to be the case.

I must confess that, throughout the Committee proceedings, I was under the impression that there was likely to be another and much more serious battle about the scope of the Bill. Opinions apparently changed over Christmas. There had been an undertaking from my hon. Friend that he would look again at the definition of "third party" and the possibility of excluding certain categories. He said that he might perhaps be able to help the Committee. In the end, he felt unable to do that, for reasons which I quite understand——

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss any other matter than that which is in the Bill. If he is suggesting that a change could not be made, presumably that is a matter which is not in the Bill and is, therefore, out of order.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Aberdeen South

I appreciate that nicety, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have no intention of discussing hypothetical changes which might have been made. However, I think that I am in order in commenting on what is in the Bill and the varying interpretations which have been placed upon it at its different stages.

There is no doubt that there was a certain amount of difference between the two sides as to what the Bill was attempting to do. In column 129 of the Committee stage, the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) put forward his own views on this question and supported them with a battery of quotations from my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, my hon. Friend the Member for Provan, my own contributions on Second Reading, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer). He said that, in his view, the interpretation then put on the Bill by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and my hon. Friend the Member for Provan represented "a big shift" from his own interpretation, which he thought was generally accepted on Second Reading. I would not categorise it as a shift from a mouse to a rat, but I think that it is a substantial point worthy of comment, particularly as the fight which appeared to be developing did not come to pass.

There was disagreement about what this Bill really encompassed. Some tended to over-estimate it. There was talk about a new absolute liability. But one of the features of the Bill is that negligence has been laid down as the basis for action in the civil courts. There was the danger of under-estimating the importance of what was in the Bill when it was originally brought forward. I do not think that it was right to argue that it was a narrow attempt to reverse the decision in Davie v. New Merton Board Mills. It was not just a straight carry-over, although that was something which appealed to me originally. It was an extension of the principle of vicarious liability——

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this, but I must point out to him that he does me a grave injustice. He referred earlier to the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) had quoted large chunks of everyone's contributions, including my own. I hasten to point out to him that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not have done that, because he had nothing against me. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that it was members of the legal fraternity who were being quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Aberdeen South

I am anxious to do anything which will keep my hon. Friend happy. There was a plethora of quotations advanced, but I am prepared to make an exception in my hon. Friend's case.

I will not detain the House for long in pushing this matter too far. I think that everyone accepts that the intention of the Bill was to extend the principle of vicarious liability. I think that the point has been put in perspective by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. He said in Committee: The Bill is designed to abolish this rule by substituting in its place the contrary and wider rule, based on general public and social policy, that an employer is liable to his employee for injuries resulting from any defect in equipment caused by the fault of a third party—any third party, anywhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C. Wednesday, 22nd January 1969; c. 74.] Suggestions have been made about the difficulties which might arise in a situation where, under the Bill, there would be an action against the employer but not against the supplier of the equipment which was the cause of the accident, possibly because the defect was the result of activities outside the course of employment, possibly because it was a matter of industrial sabotage, or the criminal act of a third party. That situation, for social reasons, should be covered. It is very real and, on social grounds, I am prepared to support it.

There is no point in rehearsing at length the arguments in the matter as the point has not been argued at length from the Opposition. But in the context of the disquiet which emerged on Second Reading, and which is increasing in many quarters, about the present state of the law on damages, I feel that this is an interesting Bill which has taken us further along the road to loosening the present tight concept of negligence as enforced in the courts.

Vicarious liability, as it was put to me forcibly and properly by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) a little while ago in the form of an intervention, can be defended on the ground that, although there may be no moral control in the generally understood sense of the word, of an employee by an employer, the employer is still responsible for selecting and generally supervising his employees. If an action arises through the negligence of an employee and another employee is victimised there is an umbrella of liability which it is easy to see. Similarly, if we take the old narrow understanding of the Bill, which was mooted, it seems to me that we are still under the same umbrella operating in the same sphere. We could argue that the supplier of the equipment was picked by the employer and therefore it was right that the employer should be responsible for any accident resulting from the negligence of that supplier. This was the same argument and it left us in the same position as we were in with the general rule on vicarious liability which we all accept.

We have now moved a fair degree from that, because the Bill is saying that the employer will be responsible for the actions of third parties in a situation where the supplier would not be responsible. This is a different situation from the general mere extension of vicarious liability.

I welcome this and am prepared to see further pushes made in this direction. If the breach had been opened a little further, and we are encouraged in future to discuss or consider—and I hope it will be considered—whether we should not be looking at the whole artificiality of the situation where a man can be injured in his employment and, because of the technicalities of the law, can get no compensation, whereas his workmate, because he falls between these artificial definitions, can obtain substantial damages, it will be a good thing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) is to be congratulated for the useful reform brought about by the Bill. He is also to be congratulated because it will act, to some minor extent possibly but in a definite way, as a pointer to much wider and larger reforms which we must ultimately see in this sphere.

1.14 p.m.

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

I should like to add a few words to what has been said, but I will not detain the House long.

I had the privilege of taking part in the various stages of the Bill, and I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) on achieving Third Reading of the Bill and having it passed through all its different stages. I think that the Bill makes a very useful contribution in this sphere.

There is only one point I desire to make. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) talked about the provisions of the Bill as constituting some burden upon the employer. True enough, it is a burden, but it is one which the employer can quite properly cover by insurance.

The possibility of injury and suffering to a workman in matters of this kind is a real problem which can spell out very serious disaster in the way of injury to himself and suffering to his family.

My hon. Friend certainly deserves every congratulation for having brought forward a measure which will succeed in ameliorating any loss which may lie in that direction.

1.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Willesden West

I rise briefly to add my voice to the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown). I did not serve on the Committee, but I looked with interest at the Bill when it was first brought before the House because I am interested in the health aspects.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for succeeding in piloting the Bill through the House. Although it is mainly concerned with the legal responsibilities for defective equipment, there is also a side product, because, provided there is an improvement in this sphere, there will be an improvement in the numbers of people who do not suffer from accidents rather than those who do. As this is a great charge upon the National Health Service and elsewhere, I think that the whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for the excellent way in which he has got the Bill before the House and for the way that the House has deal with it.

1.16 p.m.

Photo of Sir Edward Brown Sir Edward Brown , Bath

It would be wrong of me, having opposed in principle parts of the Clauses of the Bill, to withhold my congratulation from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown).

The Bill in its present form now goes on, and one hopes that it will become the law. But I reserve to myself the doubts that I have about the legal arguments which will, in the first instance, take place arising from the operation of the Bill. Had all Members of the Committee been present today, there is not the slightest doubt that 100 per cent. congratulation would be due to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.