HC Deb 04 July 1930 vol 240 cc2322-8

"This Part of this Act shall continue in force for three years from the passing of this Act and no longer, unless Parliament shall otherwise determine."—[Colonel Ashley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Colonel ASHLEY

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We all want to get through this important and lengthy Bill in the shortest possible space, and, therefore, I appeal to the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) to help us to that end, because we do not want to sit here for many unnecessary days at this time of the year. This Clause, which is of considerable importance, was discussed at considerable length in Committee. It is purely a matter of opinion whether the idea embodied in it is right or whether the idea embodied in the Bill is the correct one. It simply means that Part II shall continue in force only for three years unless Parliament otherwise determines. Part II contains the insurance Clauses, and we are making a tremendous innovation. It states that all motorists shall be insured against third party risks, and it bands over entirely the question of whether premiums should be issued or not to the sole judgment of the insurance companies, a most undesirable precedent, but I do not see any other way of getting it. It is doing a very excellent thing in enabling hospitals to recover up to £25 money expended on treating insured motorists, and it is making a very considerable experiment in insurance legislation. I do not think anyone will deny that we shall never go back upon that. We may have to alter the provisions, but we shall never go back to a state of things such as that exists at present in which many motorists who are poor men have not taken out policies of insurance and in which a man who has been run down has no chance of getting compensation out of the motorist, and I hope we shall never go back from the provision to enable hospitals to recover money that they have expended on treatment. There is no doubt that it is very difficult to forecast the result of this sort of legislation. I should like to read a dozen lines from a very excellent article in the "Times" of 27th May with reference to this insurance innovation. Legislation in this direction has already been enacted in certain countries abroad, but it is still in the experimental stage. So far as the effects may be judged, there has been a marked increase in the number and magnitude of third party claims, and serious difficulties in settlement have occurred. The results of compulsory insurance in the State of Massachusetts have been to fill the courts with contentious claims and to cause a very substantial increase in the cost of insurance. While it has been shown that well over 90 per cent. of motor owners other than cyclists in this country are insured or sufficiently secured financially, there is evidently a general consensus of opinion that compulsory provision of security is desirable and must be tried. There are many things which will have to work themselves out in the next two or three years. First of all, are the insurance companies going to carry out their obligations and furnish insurance policies without asking unduly high premiums? The premiums are not controlled in any way by the Measure. It is entirely for the insurance companies. Is the machinery all right? Are the premiums to be higher or lower? We must come to the conclusion that in two or three years time Parliament will have to reconsider Part II of the Bill. Here comes the difference of opinion between the Minister and myself. He takes the view, which may be right though I think it is wrong, that it is far better to leave Part II in the Bill as permanent legislation and trust to the pressure of public opinion, when it is shown, that it needs revision, to bring pressure on the Government to pass an amending Bill. I was Minister of Transport for four or five years, and I came quite clearly to the opinion that it is very difficult, for a Minister who is not in the Cabinet to get more than a certain amount of legislation put through in the lifetime of a Parliament. Probably one big Bill in a Pariament is as much as he is able to put through, and the time of the Ministry of Transport in future, with a London Traffic Bill in the offing, will be fully occupied for the next four or five years.

My idea would be that Part II at the end of three or four years should be put automatically into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The Minister regards that as a piece of undesirable legislation. He has only been in the House for two periods of 12 months each. The wisdom of Parliament for a very considerable time has regarded the Expiring Laws Continuance Act as a necessary piece of legislation, and, whether it is a good thing or not, it is there. If a Measure is in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act it is much more likely to be taken notice of by the Government of the day and put into permanent legislation in proper form than if it is not in that Act. Every Government has a Home Affairs Committee which every year goes over all the Bills contained in the Expiring Laws, eliminates those that ought to be dropped, and recommends those that ought to be made permanent legislation. These Committees are listened to in regard to matters which might be passed over as indeed they might be in this legislation. I do not see why the hon. gentleman cannot accept my new Clause. I am bound to put these views forward, because my desire is to help the Bill and to try and make these insurance Clauses work. They will, in due course, have to be remodelled and made permanent.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the encouragement which he gives to the House generally, including his own side, to consider this long Bill as expeditiously as possible and I am sure that my hon. Friends will do everything which will be conducive to a day of excellent temper and plenty of work in the House of Commons. The Clause which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has now moved was, as he says, moved in the Standing Committee upstairs, when it was rejected by 20 votes to 12. I am bound to admit, as anybody would admit in connection with this part of the Bill, that there are elements of experiment in Part II. One is also bound to admit that possibly there may be imperfections in Part II, because it is a new chapter in legislation, and it is by no means a simple piece of legislation. Therefore, I should not be honest with the House if I did not admit at once that it is to some extent experimental.

The question arises: What are the practical advantages of putting in temporary legislation? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, and rightly so, that we ought not necessarily to assume that the insurance companies are not going to play the game. In fact, insurance companies have given me an undertaking that as a direct result of this part of the Measure as it was introduced in the House of Lords premiums would not be increased, but they must be guided by actual financial results under the new conditions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that insurance companies are free to do what they like within certain limits. It is conceivable that grievances might arise, though when I held out the same possibility upstairs he chastised me very severely for casting the slightest doubt upon the bona fides of the insurance companies. It is true that this is a possibility. If the insurance companies were not keen on Part II—and I cannot say that they were enthusiastic—they have accepted it and have been very reasonable in their discussions with the Government. Though they have not welcomed it with open arms, so to speak, they have acquiesced in it in the public interest. If they did not want it, and if they wanted it to come to an end, the best thing would have been to have put a time limit upon it. I suggest that the point is against, and not for, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. As be says, and I agree with him, at this stage we have no reason to believe that the insurance companies will do other than work this part of the Bill genuinely.

I come to my personal views upon the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I said upstairs, and I still believe it, that, although the Expiring Laws Continuance Act may be an inevitable Parliamentary institution, it is not particularly or outstandingly a creditable institution to Parliament. It means that when Parliament passed tertian legislation it was not sure whether it was doing the right thing or not and it decided, therefore, to provide for a definite limitation of time. These limitations in time were put into certain Acts as concessions to the Opposition who did not want the Acts at all. The Government of the day said, "Will you swallow it if we put in a limitation in time?" Legislation really ought to be so framed as to be sound in itself and permanent. I agree that there are times when legislation is of a purely temporary character and therefore limited in time and you carry it on under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, but to say that the Expiring Laws Continuance Act encourages Governments to polish up laws and amend them and put them in order is, with great respect, a fallacy.

The Motor Car Act was passed for a three years period in 1903, when motor traffic, as everybody knows, was in a very experimental stage. The Motor Car Act, 1903, is still upon the Statute Book—27 years later. Why Because whenever a Government, irrespective of party, were faced with the urgent need which we have known for many years, for amending the laws relating to road traffic, it was an alternative to providing Parliamentary time and an easier course to adopt to say: "Put it off for another year by putting it into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill." Any Cabinet, whatever its party, faced with the necessity of bringing in a Bill of this kind, which, I think, is a very useful Bill, quite apart from its Part I provisions, would have an easy alternative by saying: "Well, let it stand over for another year, and put it into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill." Everyone knows that in nine cases out of ten they would submit to the temptation to put it into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. If this part of the Bill works out badly and difficulty arises, it is best for it to be permanent and so force the Government to face the matter, and not fall back on the convenient but miserable expedient of holding it over for another year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I trust that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will now be converted by my second effort to persuade him on this point and that his suggestion will not be pressed. I really think that the most effective method on the whole will be to leave the provisions as they are.


I am afraid that the persuasiveness of the Minister of Transport, whatever effect it may have had upon my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member of Christchurch (Colonel Ashley), has not had the effect of converting me to his views. He quoted the case with the Motor Car Act, 1903, which was a very large, wide and embracing Act. This particular part of this Bill only deals with insurance. He knows well that time has not been found up to the present to remedy the defects which have gradually arisen. Only a small Measure would be necessary to amend what might be the defects found after two or three years' working of this part of the Bill. One does not like the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, but under that Act you have an opportunity of debating the several Acts and can find out details which are wrong and how they can be remedied. You can obtain different suggestions from all parts of the House which make it easy for a Minister to remedy defects by introducing a short Bill. The Expiring Laws Continuance Act has many advantages in that way. Part II of this Bill, frankly, is an experiment. Other countries have tried it and have found considerable difficulties, and I think that we shall be faced with the same kind of difficulties.

There may be an increase in premiums. The whole thing is a compromise at the present time. The Minister knows of the difficulties of dealing with hospitals. Clause 36 is a compromise. The produc- tion of a certificate and the increase in the numbers of disputed claims and a vast amount of other details can only be decided by practice, and we suggest that at the end of three years' working it would be time to look at this part of the Measure to see whether it had worked well. Then, if it had not worked well, far greater pressure could be brought to bear on the Government to amend a small part of it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. By this means a small Ministry like the Ministry of Transport would be able to introduce a small Bill to amend the portion concerned. I support my right hon. and gallant Friend in asking for a limitation of time for this part of the Bill.

Colonel ASHLEY

I beg to ask leave to withdraw my new Clause for the purpose of being able to get on with business?

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.