HC Deb 24 April 1860 vol 158 cc53-4

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to limit the liability of innkeepers, said, that the statute law which now regulated the liability of innkeepers dated from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. By an Act passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, an innkeeper was rendered liable for the goods of his guests infra hospitium, but not in the field or adjacent premises. By the common law innkeepers were bound to receive any guest who presented himself, and if they refused accommodation they were liable to an action and indictment. This enactment had borne heavily on innkeepers who had severely suffered from its provisions. In former days, when travelling was more tedious and disagreeable, when the roads were frequently infested with highwaymen and robbers, too often acting in concert with innkeepers, travellers were proportionately few, the dangers of the road were great, and the liability of innkeepers was only reasonable. But at the present day, when an innkeeper's house was filled night after night and for hours in the day with fresh guests, all strangers to him, it was not, he thought too much to ask that an innkeeper should only be responsible for goods above a certain value, which were actually placed in his charge. His attention was drawn to this subject by a trial at the assizes in the north of England, consequent upon a robbery committed at one of the inns in York. A considerable amount of property was taken from the bedroom of a traveller by a person supposed to have been concealed under his bed. The suspected thief escaped early in the morning, and was apprehended some weeks afterwards, but was not indicted for the robbery, as the evidence did not make a conviction probable. The owner of the lost property, however, brought his action against the innkeeper for restitution. The defence set up was that the innkeeper was not liable so long as the owner had personal control over his property. The law was, however, differently, and doubtless correctly, laid down by the learned Judge who tried the case, affirming the liability of the innkeeper, who had to pay a sum of £200, besides the value of the lost pro- perty—about £500 or £600. It appeared to him that an innkeeper should only be liable for goods exceeding a certain value actually placed in his custody or delivered to his charge. This limitation of liability was recognized in almost every other business. Common carriers by the 11th of George IV., and the 1st of William IV., obtained exemption from unlimited liability. Railway companies had obtained a similar exemption, and it must be borne in mind that such limitation did not supersede, but confined within certain limits, the common law liability. He now sought to apply that principle to innkeepers. He proposed to make them liable, as at present, for goods up to a certain value, say £40. So far the present law would be unaltered; but lie proposed that the value of goods above that amount should be declared to the innkeeper, and, if necessary, deposited with him for safe custody, in order to make him liable for any loss. Such a system worked well at the railway stations, where luggage was deposited in a safe place, and a ticket given for it during the absence of the owner. Some such arrangement was quite practicable at inns or hotels, and would be advantageous both to the traveller and innkeeper. The traveller would obtain safe custody for his property, and the innkeeper would be relieved from liability beyond a certain amount unless he bad actually charge of the property. He had added a clause giving summary jurisdiction to a magistrate in cases where meat, drink, or lodgings had been obtained without the means or intention of paying for them. This fraud could now only be punished by indictment, and was a serious hardship upon innkeepers. He, however, attached the greater importance to the other portion of the Bill, by which he hoped to secure to the traveller the safe custody of his goods, and to the innkeeper partial relief from his present liability. He would conclude, therefore, by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law respecting innkeepers and to prevent certain frauds upon them.

Leave given.

Bill to amend the Law respecting the liability of Innkeepers, and to prevent certain frauds upon them ordered to be brought in by COLONEL SMYTH, Mr. ROEBUCK, and Mr. EDWARD EGERTON.

Bill presented, and read 1°.

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