HC Deb 06 May 1931 vol 252 cc395-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer upon third parties rights against insurers of third-party risks arising out of accidents on the road in the event of the death of the insured. As the House is well aware, great public interest was taken in the insurance Clauses of the Road Traffic Act when that Measure was going through Parliament, a greater interest, probably, than in any portion of the Measure, with the exception of the Clauses dealing with the speed limits. For many years the public have been alarmed at the great increase of accidents involving personal injuries, and in many cases resulting in death, as the result of the negligence of drivers of motor vehicles. Before the Act of last year was placed on the Statute Book a very large number of persons who were injured, and the dependants of victims of fatal motor accidents, were unable to obtain any compensation. The negligent driver may have been "a man of straw," and in a large number of cases he was not insured against motoring accidents. The Royal Commission upon road transport recommended that motorists ought to be compelled to insure against third-party risks, and the public generally thought that as a result of the Act risks arising from negligent driving would in future be covered, but, unfortunately, it has been revealed that there are cases where injured persons are still unable to secure compensation.

That position arises in cases where the negligent motorist is either himself killed in the accident, or dies before a settlement of the claim has been arrived at, Within the last few days there has been considerable correspondence in one of the leading journals in the country-drawing attention to this defect in the Act. There are three or four curious complications arising out of this position of affairs. It is perfectly clear as the English law stands at present, that if the owner of the car is himself driving and injures somebody, and dies before a settlement can be arrived at, the injured party has no remedy, but if a servant of his is driving in the course of his occupation and the owner of the car dies before a settlement is reached, the injured person would be able to get at the servant, and, as the Act provides for an indemnity, in that case he would have his remedy indirectly against the insurance company. There is another large number of cases where cars and motor omnibuses are owned by limited companies, in which no question can arise; but, undoubtedly there are a number of cases, though probably not a very large number, where the remedy is lost by the death of the person responsible for the injury thus enabling the insurance company concerned to avoid liability.

The position is due to a very old principle of English law that a personal action dies with the person. Nearly 100 years ago Parliament realised the hardship of this principle, and in 1833 passed an Act which enabled a person injured in respect of his property, whether real or personal, to have a right of action, in certain circumstances, against the estate of the person who had committed the tort, should he die. Therefore, we are in this curious position. If I live in a house at the corner of a road and a large motor vehicle driven negligently damages my house—and there have been cases where a portion of a house has been taken away and the vehicle has landed in one of the rooms—and also kills me, should the driver himself also die my dependants have absolutely no remedy for the personal loss sustained by my death, although they may have a right of action against his estate for the damage caused to the house. Such a position as that is absolutely intolerable and indefensible.

I find that the Scottish law is very much more reasonable. In Scotland, the death of a negligent motorist does not deprive the injured party of a remedy, because the injured party has a claim against the estate of the motorist, and, as there is an indemnity under this Act, he would also be able to claim against the insurance company. I ask the House to agree to the introduction of this Bill in the interest of a very large number of persons who use the roads, and have no remedy in the circumstances which I have described. In the interests of the community at large, I think the law should be changed so as to give a remedy against the estate of the motorist who drives negligently, which, in effect, would be a remedy against the insurance company.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Llewellyn-Jones, Sir Robert Newman, Mr. Graham White, Major Lloyd George, Mr. Mander, Mr. Arthur Henderson (Cardiff), Dr. Morris-Jones, Mr. George Oliver, Mr. Alpass, and Dr. Peters.