No. 670.
Mr. Winchester to Mr. Bayard.

No. 123.]

Sir: The Swiss Federal Assembly has closed a called session of three weeks’ duration. The chief object of the special session was to secure the enactment of the federal bankrupt law, which had passed [Page 1066] the national council, but failed to reach the state council in time for action at the session in December last. This law has been a matter of long and careful consideration, its preparation being first committed to a special commission composed of prominent lawyers and business men, and then revised by the federal council before’ its submission to the Federal Assembly, and it was thought that it would be accepted without much discussion or any material amendments by that body. Contrary to this expectation, it has provoked considerable opposition, resulting in many amendments very largely changing the character of the law as presented. This came from the fact that Switzerland has never had a national bankrupt law, but each canton has its own separate insolvent laws, and the effort was naturally made by the representatives of the cantons to adjust the details of the proposed national law to the peculiar provisions of their respective cantonal laws. The practice of referring differences between the two houses of the Assembly to a conference committee, as with the Congress of the United States, never having been adopted, or any other expedient to facilitate the solution of this difficulty, such differences are bandied between the two houses until a compromise is reached, sometimes running through several years and numerous sessions. Whilst the state council during the session just adjourned did not fail to act upon this bankrupt law, it refused to concur in amendments made by the national council, and substituted others of its own. The passage of the law, therefore, failed, but its friends are confident of its final success either at the June or December session.

Other important matters received attention, among which may be mentioned the extension of the factory law. A most excellent factory law was enacted by the Government in 1877, fixing the daily working hours, minimum age of children to be employed, inspection of buildings and machinery, and liability of employés in case of injuries and death. This law is now made to embrace various industries not heretofore included, such as construction of telephones, telegraphs, railways, transportation by water or vehicle, mining, and tunnels. Its provisions relating to the proper guarding and secure fencing of machinery have been increased. Nothing can be more important. Workers among machinery-should not be left to depend for their safety on their own care and watchfulness. Every man has unguarded moments. No workman can do his best when he has continually to think of something else than his work; and it is as much to the advantage of the employer as of the employed that the law, should enforce by heavy penalties the provision of every known means of making work in the factory safe for the workers.

There was also an important step taken towards the enactment of a patent law. Switzerland, although very active in the furtherance of protection to literary property, has never extended either by national or cantonal legislation any protection to individual property. To do this requires a constitutional provision, not being included in the enumeration of powers to be exercised by the Federal Assembly. The federal council having recommended the adoption of an amendment to the constitution expressly conferring this power, the Federal Assembly passed a resolution for its submission to the people and cantonal governments, it being necessary for its validity to be ratified by a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the cantonal governments. The popular referendum will take place in July; the action of the cantonal governments must await the meeting of their respective assemblies. A similar law was submitted in 1882 and defeated by the popular [Page 1067] referendum. It is claimed, however, that there was no serious objection on the part of the people to a patent law, but its defeat resulted entirely from being submitted simultaneously with a law for obligatory vaccination, which was strongly opposed. Standing alone on its own merits, its favorable reception is not doubted. Then there are weighty public considerations operating in its behalf that did not heretofore exist. Switzerland is rapidly becoming the seat of various international bureaus, the organization of which is showing a vigorous and wide-spread tendency. The convention for establishing an international bureau for the protection of industrial property, held in Rome, April, 1880, located the temporary bureau at Berne, requiring notice of the accession of additional states to the union to be announced to the Swiss federal council, and it is considered an assured fact that Berne will become the seat of the permanent bureau of the industrial union, as it is now of the copyright union, the consolidation of the two under one director being already predicted in the interest of economy, and as cognate matters that could be advantageously placed under one management. It is this that renders it almost absolutely certain for the proposed patent law to be accepted by the people and the cantonal assemblies.

The Federal Assembly also approved an international regulation for the navigation of the lake of Geneva. Hitherto the steamers on that lake, which, during the summer season, carry an immense number of travelers, have been exempt from any kind of surveillance. Commissioners appointed by the French and Swiss Governments have agreed upon a code of regulations to the end of protecting passengers and the proper inspection of the steamers.

I am, etc.,

Boyd Winchester.