HC Deb 18 April 1957 vol 568 cc2071-3
1. Mr. F. Allaun

asked the Minister of Labour whether his attention has been drawn to recent cases in which insurance companies have denied liability to firms insured by them because of a clause in the insurance policy providing that the insured must take reasonable precautions to prevent accidents, and in which the firm might have insufficient funds to meet the claim even after liquidation; and if he will consider introducing legislation to make compulsory insurance against the employers' liability at common law.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance (Mr. Robert Carr)

I have looked at the facts in the case which the hon. Member has brought to my notice. The employer concerned is insured, and the question of compulsory insurance against employers' liability at common law would not seem to arise in this case. I understand that no judgment concerning damages to the injured person concerned has been given. The general question of compulsory insurance has been examined in the past, but legislation to require it is not considered appropriate.

Mr. Allaun

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that in this case a young Manchester woman was scalped by her lathe, involving damages estimated at £7,000; but, because the employers had failed to guard the machine, the insurance company disclaimed liability; and because the engineering firm is so small, it could not pay her the damages, even if it went into liquidation? If a man knocks down a woman with his car in the street, the insurance company is liable to that woman, even if the driver had falsely purported to the insurance company, for example, to have a clean driving record. Could not the law be made parallel in these cases?

Mr. Carr

There is no evidence that if there were a judgment in this girl's favour damages awarded would not be paid. It would be improper for me to comment further on the merits of the case as, for all I know, further events may be impending. On the general question of legislation, this was gone into as a result of a deputation from the T.U.C. as lately as 1955. The T.U.C. was asked to submit evidence and was informed at the time that, although it was clear that hard cases could arise, we did not feel that the number justified the complexed legislation involved, which would, moreover, be difficult to enforce. My right hon. Friend would be open to consider further evidence at any time, but it has been carefully considered only recently.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary appreciate that, in the circumstances which my hon. Friend mentioned in his supplementary question a most appalling injustice might occur, and that the sort of answer which the hon. Gentleman has given is exactly the kind of answer that is always given for stalling on this kind of question? Will he not consider dealing with cases of injustice which could easily arise because great hardship can conceivably often arise in these cases?

Mr. Carr

I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we do not lack sympathy for these hard cases when they arise. This is a difficult matter. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that there is a saying about hard cases sometimes making bad law. We have considered this very carefully in the past, and we will keep a close eye on it, but legislation was thought to be extremely complex and difficult to enforce and, in view of the little evidence forthcoming as to its need, it was thought not right to embark on it.