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Workmen's Compensation

Volume 344: debated on Wednesday 1 March 1939

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asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the judgment delivered by the House of Lords on 22nd February, in the case of Radcliffe versus Ribble Motor Services, Limited, and to the observations made therein by Lord Atkin, with whom Lord Macmillan and Lord Wright concurred, upon the legal doctrine of common employment; and whether, in view of those observations, it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to remove or mitigate the effects of that doctrine in restricting the legal remedies of injured workmen?

My right hon. Friend has seen a report of this judgment and of the references therein to the doctrine of common employment as the foundation underlying the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The question of the effects of that doctrine is intimately connected with the question of modifying the workmen's compensation system, and is included in the terms of reference of the Royal Commission; and in my right hon. Friend's view legislation for that purpose cannot properly be considered apart from the Commission's advice and recommendations on the compensation system and its relationship to other provisions or remedies for injured workpeople.

In view of the fact that the highest court of the land says that this doctrine is looked at askance by judges and text-book writers and that there are none to praise and very few to love, is not that sufficient authority for legislation to be advanced without waiting for an inquiry into what is, after all, an entirely different subject?

No, Sir. I hesitate to cross swords with the hon. Member on a legal point, but the authority that he has quoted went on to say:

"It has been confirmed by several decisions of the House of Lords and has been accepted by the legislature on several occasions."
I would point out that the hon. Gentleman's quotation does not altogether give both sides of the matter, and I think that, as this question is intimately concerned, if not with the legal, at any rate with the common-sense aspects of workmen's compensation, we had better await the report of the Royal Commission.

The hon. Member has not read the words:

"But it was too well established to be overthrown by judicial decisions."
and is that not a clear indication by Lord Atkin that he thought it ought to be otherwise?