HC Deb 29 June 1934 vol 291 cc1454-61

11.17 a.m.

THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move in page 9, line 37, after "thereby," to insert: by reference to any of the following matters—

  1. (a) the age or physical or mental condition of persons driving the vehicle; or
  2. (b) the condition of the vehicle; or
  3. (c) the number of persons carried in the vehicle; or
  4. (d) the weight or physical characteristics e goods carried in the vehicle; or
  5. (e) the times at which or the areas within which the vehicle is used; or
  6. (f) the horse power or value of the vehicle; or
  7. (g) the carrying on the vehicle of any particular apparatus; or
  8. (h) the carrying on the vehicle of any particular means of identification other than any means of identification required to be carried by or under the Roads Act, 1920."
This Amendment arises out of certain proceedings in Committee. The Clause as amended deals with the question, if there are conditions in the policy which would entitle the insurer as against the assured to say, "I need not pay," as to the extent to which the injured party should be prejudiced and should not get his money from the insurance company. In the original draft the Clause contained a certain exception. An Amendment was moved which would have made of no effect as against third parties all the conditions which might appear in the contract between the assurer and the assured. It was pointed out that a sweeping provision of that kind would lead inevitably in certain cases to the assured having to pay higher premiums, namely, those who are at present getting insurance at a cheaper rate because, for example, they only wanted to be covered if the motor car was used for certain limited purposes—take the case of a man who merely wanted to use a car to fetch gravel from a gravel pit to his work. My hon. Friend stated that he could not accept a Clause which swept away all conditions, but he was prepared, if the Committee decided in favour of such a provision in principle, to insert at this stage Amendments which would make of no effect so far the injured party was concerned certain conditions which had been suggested as ones which ought not to prejudice the injured party. It is in those circumstances that the Amendment is moved.

With regard to paragraph (b), the condition of the vehicle has been proved by experience to be one of the conditions on which insurance companies have most frequently relied, as far as they were concerned quite rightly, and, therefore, the injured party went without compensation. "The weight or physical characteristics of the goods carried in the vehicle," again, has fairly often arisen in practice. We have considered very carefully the various conditions that arise. There was one condition in a proposed new Clause which it has not been found possible to accept. It would bring within this category the condition that the vehicle should not be let out for hire. The premiums demanded when vehicles are let out for hire are naturally very much greater than the ordinary premium that an ordinary person has to pay. It is not at all a common care for someone to break that condition and let out on hire a vehicle which is not covered for hiring. We have thought it right not to put that in.

11.22 a.m.


While agreeing that the Amendment covers a number of the points which have to be dealt with in respect of contingencies which may arise where insurance policies have restrictions. I am not satisfied that the exceptions go as far as they should. Of course, there are some circumstances, such as conditions against misrepresentation, where it might be impracticable or impossible to avoid results which might follow to the detriment of a person who was knocked down, but in those cases where it is not viciously wrong to ask for conditions of a nature which may interfere with an injured person obtaining relief, not to be inserted, I think the hon. Gentleman should go very much further than he has decided to go. I believe there are serious difficulties which may arise and which have not been taken into account. I do not think it would be such a very serious thing if the question of hire were included. At present it is difficult, because insurance companies have to provide in their policies for contingencies which arise in exceptional cases over hire. Assuming that the obligation was upon insurance companies in respect of all policies, I think that the premium that would be demanded would not be such a great increase upon the premium required in circumstances where a car is not to be let out on hire at present.

If you have the advantage of a small additional premium from all the policies instead of a large additional premium in respect of some of them, even if the premium were somewhat larger, the fact still remains that our anxiety, I believe the anxiety of the Minister and everybody else concerned, is that the individual who is injured should not suffer any disadvantage. Even if a slight hardship be entailed upon motor owners or upon any one else, I am convined that the opinion of the public as a whole is such as to be agreeable to all cases of injury being covered. I should like to ask the Minister—I may be wrong, though I think I am right—whether the Amendment does not exclude other cases which may arise. For example, there is the prohibition of the use of a motor car for certain purposes. An owner-driver may insure merely for the purpose of driving the car himself because he receives a reduction in the premium of 10 or 15 per cent. It may easily happen that some other member of the family or some other person may for a short period, or even for a longer period, use the car either with or without the knowledge or consent of the owner. If an accident happens, it is a very serious thing indeed if the injured person is deprived of compensation. That is what it really meant in many cases in which a car was not at the time of the accident driven by the owner who had received a reduction of 10 or 15 per cent. on his premium because of the limited application of the policy. It may be argued that the person who is injured has a right of action against the person who has driven the car negligently, but we know that in practice you cannot get anything from the actual driver, and, if it be possible, you are thrown back upon the owner of the car or the insurance company.

I do not see anything in the Amendment which deals with the case in which an insurance policy is issued to cover two or more cars on condition that only one car shall be used at a time. Policies are issued with the limitation that the insurer will only be responsible in the event of one car being out at a time. It is obvious that occasions must arise when a person who is insured in that manner may have more than one car out on the road at the same time. In these circumstances, if a person be injured, he has no right of claim from the insurance company. There is the question of the use of a car for limited purposes. I have already referred to the letting out of a ear on hire, but there are other circumstances in which an insurance policy covers a person only when the car is being used for specific purposes. All these are considerations which a person who is taking out a policy has in mind at the time when he is called upon to exercise his discretion as to what kind of premium he is to pay. It is obviously an inducement to the person insuring to take out a policy of a limited nature, because in those circumstances he pays a smaller premium. It is not that such a person is vicious or that he does not feel as much as anyone else that a person who is injured ought to be compensated, but possibly for want of thought, or not realising what the results of an accident may be, he takes advantage of a smaller premium in order to be able to get a policy of a limited nature.

We ought to make the Clause very much wider. I hope that between now and the time that the Bill is considered in another place the Minister will go back to many of the points which were put in Committee and will reconsider the drafting of the Clause, so as to enable all cases to be covered. I base my request not only upon the advantage which will accrue to the community as a whole, which is the most important consideration and the advantage which will accrue to those who might be injured without having any right of recovering damages; but upon the belief that the extension of these restrictions is not such a serious thing from the point of view of persons paying the premium provided that they are extended to all policies. It is not as though it was merely a question of a small proportion of policies in respect of which the insurance company might turn round and say that because of these new conditions they are entitled to ask for a very much heavier premium, but it extends over the whole range of insurance. There the risk is distributed over all the insurance throughout the country and therefore the additional premium must needs be very much smaller, and in the circumstances is not regarded as a serious consideration by those called upon to pay it. I hope that the Minister will take these matters into consideration, because there are difficulties that have to be kept well in mind.

11.33 a.m.


Those of us who pressed this matter in Committee and who have succeeded in getting conditions taken off felt disatisfied when we saw the list put out to-day. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) has mentioned a number of conditions. With his native modesty he has omitted a condition which I brought to the notice of the Committee. There are policies which are null and void if the driver of the car should be of the Jewish religion. That condition everybody in the Committee thought to be a most monstrous condition to put into a policy, and it would be even more unfair that the man who was run over by the holder of a policy of that kind should, under those conditions, be penalised. The point was raised in Committee and it has not been met here. It not only applies to members of the Jewish religion, but also to certain professions, such as actors and actresses. If a car be driven by an actor or an actress, the policy is rendered null and void. I ask the House to think of the poor man who is run over by an actress, and to do something to remedy that state of affairs.


With regard to the hon. Member's reference to an actress running down somebody, if he will refer to the Road Accidents Report, he will find that women have very much better records as drivers in regard to the safety of cars than men.


I have not found in my reading of the Road Traffic Act Accidents Report how many actresses have run down people. My statement referred to actors and actresses, and if the hon. Lady prefers it I will say that a person may have been run down by an actor. There is also the question of a car being limited to driving for business purposes and then being driven for pleasure. That is one way in which the policies very frequently become void, and consequently help the insurance company. Could we have a condition restricting the policy to a class of driver, the one-named driver, driving for business purposes also made void for this limited purpose? If the Minister goes through his list I think he will agree that he has left out a good many points that were raised in Committee. I know that there are some conditions that he must keep in. He must keep in anything that will enable the insurance companies to stop the man with a bad record from driving a car. I do not want to do anything to militate against that object, but there are some ridiculous conditions and discriminations that ought to be guarded against.

11.37 a.m.


When this matter came before the Committee and Amendments on this point were discussed the Minister agreed to accept the principle. He said that he had listened carefully to the various arguments and that he agreed to accept the principle. Whilst admitting that the Amendment he has proposed is an improvement on the existing provisions, I do not think that it goes far enough. We have to bear in mind the position of the third party. It is the third party who is injured and he may be left without any compensation. If between the insurance company and the person who has taken out a policy there has been anything that has not been quite proper, then the insurance company should take action against that particular person, and the third party who has been injured should have some guarantee that he is going to get compensation. I hope the Minister will give the matter further consideration and make any necessary alterations when the Bill goes to another place.

11.39 a.m.


We have had interesting observations made on certain technical aspects of this matter which I do not wish to pursue, but I desire to say that this question affects a very large number of people outside the House and some inside the House. Some of us have come within the ambit of these difficulties. Let there be no illusion on the subject. This is a matter that many people are closely watching, and it is the duty of the Government, in reviewing the legislation, to vest the liability for injury in all reasonable circumstances. I trust that the Minister will carefully consider the cases mentioned by hon. Members opposite and ensure that cases of injury are covered by the revised law. I say that particularly for the reason that insuance companies in recent years have elaborated the science of evasion and avoidance which one immediately comes up against if one suffers any injury in connection with a motor-car accident. Excepting the old Employers' Liability Acts and the Workmens' Compensation Acts, I do not think that in any branch of law the remedies supplied by Parliament are more often evaded than in respect of insurance in regard to motor accidents. As a well-wisher of the Government I would urge my right hon. Friend, between now and a later stage of the Bill, carefully to review the matter and see whether further tightening up could not be done in order to reassure public opinion that all reasonable cases of injury are brought within the Statute.

11.41 a.m.


My hon. Friend made it quite clear in Committee that the Amendment that he would propose would not cover all cases. The principle which we have gone on is to try and cover cases which are common and to bear in mind that if certain cases were put in the Clause it might inflict a considerable extra premium on all those who are quite willing to abide by the conditions which enable them to get a premium at a reduced rate. We will, however, carefully consider the observations which have been made. Without referring to them in detail, we were glad to have some of the cases brought to our attention, and we may be able to meet them.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 9, line 40, at the end, to insert: Provided that nothing in this section shall require an insurer to pay any sum in respect of the liability of any person otherwise than in or towards the discharge of that liability, and any sum paid by an insurer in or towards the discharge of any liability of any person which is covered by the policy by virtue only of this section shall be recoverable by the insurer from that person. This is a drafting Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.