§ 9.42 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY- GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move, in page 11, line 1, after "is," to insert "without his actual fault or privity."
The Committee, I am sure, on general principles will always welcome an Amendment which effects in six words what previously has been effected in about 60 words. The Amendment affects in more appropriate words what was intended by paragraphs (a) and (b) of Sub-section (2), and there is an Amendment later to delete these two paragraphs. The purpose of the Clause is to allow in certain circumstances liability to be limited. It is intended that the limitation shall not apply if the person responsible is actually at fault himself in causing or being privy to the damage. That limitation of liability already exists in the Merchant Shipping Act where the limitation of liability which is proposed here refers to cases where damage occurs without the actual fault or privity of the persons concerned. By putting in these words, which already exist in the Statute, we are carrying out a principle of limitation which has already been in operation for a number of years. By using these words instead of the words which were originally in the Bill we are following precedent. I can assure the Committee that these words, which already have had legal interpretation, carry out the general intention better than the words which were originally in paragraphs (a) and (b)
§ 9.44 p. m.
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
I do not think the Attorney-General has fully realised the difficulties to which this Amendment will give rise in practical operation. It may be that there is a precedent in the Merchant Shipping Act but in applying them to accident cases there is always an interminable controversy as to whether the accident was due to a defect in the mechanism of the machine or to 2331 the fallible human factor. We have committees of inquiry set up by the Air Ministry every time a machine crashes, and it is very difficult to bring home to a pilot whether it is his fault or not, though I notice that if he has been killed by the accident, it is nearly always put down to an error of judgment on his part and seldom, if ever, to a defect in the machine.
Let me give two or three examples. There is, first of all, the operation of landing, which is the one in which the most numerous minor accidents occur. A mistake of 10 feet in estimating distance from the ground may make all the difference and involve a crash causing serious damage. Are there to be attempts made to bring it home to the pilot that his judgment was not so accurate and precise as to absolve him from responsibility under this Clause? There are even more difficult examples. Take the case of a pilot who runs out of petrol, an almost daily occurrence in flying over this country, and as a result he has to make a forced landing, and crashes. He may say he thought the capacity for consumption of his aeroplane was slightly less than it turned out to be. Consumption varies according to conditions, strength of wind, and so on. Innumerable variable factors will make it impossible to tell whether in a given case the pilot has exercised due care or not.
Here is another example: Suppose a pilot is taking off on the journey from, say, Manchester to London, and allows himself an hour and a-half, as in normal circumstances he would take to make that journey, and he finds that, owing to an evening breeze at 20 miles an hour that arises, he is unable to make his destination before dark, and the machine crashes. Is that due to his fault? Suppose he takes off without a map and as a result loses his way and has a, forced landing. I could go on reciting these potential cases of doubt as to whether a given accident has occurred through the fault or privity of the pilot all night, and you can be sure that a body of case law will take 25 years to build up before this Clause conveys to pilots and third parties their relative positions in the eyes of the law. I really ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to give this matter further consideration. When it comes to a discussion of the Clause 2332 standing part, we shall have something to say about the absolutely farcical principle which governs the Clause, under which the damage is claimed will depend on the size of the instrument which has caused that damage and not upon the amount of the damaga done. I would urge the hon. and learned Gentleman, with the picture which I have endeavoured to portray to him, to give some further consideration before he places upon the Statute Book a provision which will give endless difficulties to the courts and cause endless confusion in the minds of the pilots, the operating companies, and the public who may seek to make claims under the Clause.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXWELL FYFE
May I say one word in answer to what has fallen from the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones)? He seems to confuse two essentially different matters—questions of law and questions of fact. The construction of the phrase "without his actual fault or privity" is not really a matter of great difficulty, because it must depend on individual cases, on the facts which constant.; each case, and it always remains a question of fact for the tribunal deciding the facts. I suggest that, when we have a phrase which has been found not difficult of construction, in so far as it has needed construction, for some 42 years under the Merchant Shipping Act, and which has been determinable by tribunals dealing with facts, my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has provided the best means of meeting the difficulties that may be involved.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I should like to ask the learned Attorney-General to explain the position. I understand that the words which it is proposed to insert are practically the same in effect as those which are to be deleted. I am not acquainted with the legal interpretation of these terms, but I should have imagined that the words which he proposes to insert, which are "without his actual fault or privity," were something very different from the words "wilful misconduct," which is what they are in the original Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) gave a number of examples which might quite well be construed as actual 2333 faults, but surely none of them could be called wilful misconduct. A man who runs out of petrol unexpectedly could not be called guilty of wilful misconduct, but it might be called an actual fault. I would like the Attorney-General to give us the benefit of his legal knowledge on this subject. It may be true that these words have been construed in the previous Act, but does he tell us that they have been construed as precisely similar to the words "wilful misconduct"? I should be very surprised if that were so.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Their meaning is, in my opinion, substantially the same. The basic idea at the bottom of this Section in the Merchant Shipping Act is this, that you prima facie limit a man's liability; you say he cannot lose the advantage of that limitation merely from negligence, but that he shall lose the advantage of that limitation if there is something more than mere negligence. It may be that the words "wilful misconduct" imply a slightly greater degree of culpability than the words "actual fault" The words in the convention were "gross negligence and wilful misconduct" We have been seeking in this Clause to get a form of words under which a man will not lose the advantage of the limitation of liability by what we may describe as mere negligence, but he will be called upon to show that what has happened has happened without his actual fault. Those are words which have been in the Merchant Shipping Act for a large number of years, and I think it is the most satisfactory form of words that could be inserted here.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
We do not propose to force this Amendment to a Division, but we object to the Clause as a whole, and we shall express our views on it as a whole.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that the working of this particular idea in the Merchant Shipping Act has been satisfactory, because I understand it is precisely the difficulty which causes a large number of men from the crews of ships to be brought to the court to swear as to the facts and to prove how people who have seen the same incident at the same time can form contrary ideas as to 2334 all the facts of the case. I should have thought that the last thing one wanted, in view of the comments that the judges continually make on this particular point, was to re-enact it in the Air Navigation Bill. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman, has chosen a most unfortunate analogy.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I beg to move, in page 11, line 2, to leave out "persons or."
We are discussing in this Clause a very serious question, and I have put down two Amendments to raise the question whether a person's liability should be limited to loss or damage to persons. In the Second Reading Debate, the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air used the following words:I recognise, of course, that the ideal state of affairs would be that third parties on the ground should be indemnified against all possible loss."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1936 col. 1709, Vol. 310.]The Under-Secretary then went on to explain that the premiums would be so expensive as to hinder the development of aviation. The point I wish to make is that this Clause, if I understand it rightly—and as I am not a lawyer, I am not certain that I do understand it rightly—provides that in the case of certain accidents, the liability is not only limited as to property but as to persons. If a glider, for instance, came down on a crowd and 10 people lost their lives, the total liability would be limited to £1,000, which means that the dependants who lost their breadwinners would get £100 each. I think that is a scandalous proposition. I think the limitation of the liability so far as accidents to persons are concerned is not what it ought to be. In the Second Reading Debate the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary referred to the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and said that there was some similarity between the provisions of that Act and those of this Act. I wish the Attorney-General would make that clear. So far as I understand it, there was in the Road Traffic Act no limitation of liability if a motorist killed a third party. I think that in that case the man retained his common law rights, and my contention is that under this Bill he loses his common law rights by this particular provision.
2335 It seems a peculiar thing to me that if an individual in the State is called upon to contribute to a subsidy and one of his children is killed in an accident caused by the person who receives the subsidy, the person who causes the accident gets an absolute limitation of his liability. I want some consideration to be given to this question. I do not know whether the Merchant Shipping Act applies both to property and to persons. There may be some argument on the grounds that the premiums would be too expensive if there was not a limitation as to property, but my opinion is that there can be no justification for not giving adequate protection to persons on the ground. When I mentioned this matter in the Second Reading Debate, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) gave certain figures as to the cost of insurance, and I take it those figures were correct. In my speech on that occasion, I asked a question as to what would be the added cost if there were no limitation of liability, and the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State said that he would give a reply. He neither gave a reply on that evening nor on the subsequent occasion when the Air Navigation Bill was discussed. I would ask hon. Members not to allow their enthusiasm for civil aviation so to run away with them that they deny the ordinary citizens of the country adequate protection if an accident should happen to them.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
This Amendment raises, so far as persons are concerned, the general principle of the limitation of liability. I would like, in the first place, to have your assistance, Captain Bourne, on a point of Order. I would like to ask whether, if we discuss on this Amendment the question which it raises as to the general principle of the limitation of liability, that discussion could be taken on this Amendment so that we need not have it again on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I took this Amendment as being purely concerned with the question of the liability of the person. The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) appears to me 2336 to raise the whole question of the policy underlying the limitation of the damage. I thought we would take the general discussion on that Amendment, and having had it, not repeat it again on the Question, "That the Clause, stand part of the Bill."
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
That settles the point of Order, but it will be necessary for me to some extent in dealing with this Amendment to refer to certain general questions which apply to the limitation of the liability both with regard to persons and property. The Committee will no doubt be ready to excuse me for repeating my: elf when we consider the next Amendment. The question of and the justification for the limitation of liability must be considered in. relation to the other principle of the Bill, namely, compulsory insurance. Under the common law, there is what may be a very drastic limitation of liability. You cannot get blood out of stones, and the defendant cannot pay more that he has got. The Bill proceeds on the two complementary principles, first imposing compulsory insurance and then saying that the liability which; he insurer may be called upon to meet shall be limited according to the provisions of the Clause. It is true that there might be cases of very extensive damage done by a very rich individual or company, in which, under the common law, greater sums might be recoverable than the maximum stated here. On the other hand, there might be many more eases in which, in the absence of a compulsory insurance provision, very grew; damage might be done by a person of limited means and in which the people injured might get nothing. The Gorell Committee considered this matter carefully and paragraph 79 of their report states:We think it would definitely be to the interest of the third party to have the certainty of recovering a reasonable sum.That applies not only to personal injury but to damage to property. Representatives of a large number of nations assembled at Rome also considered this question and decided that limitation of liability, in respect of both personal injury and damage to property, was a right proper and reasonable provision to introduce if you were at the same time introducing compulsory insurance. As to the argument that in other connections there is no such limitation of liability the 2337 answer surely is that a single airman might in an accident do almost incalculable damage. [An HON. MEMBER: "The insurance company ought to pay !"] The insurance company, no doubt, ought to pay if they have received a proper premium, a premium which would cover in certain cases an almost unlimited risk. Imagine, for instance, an aeroplane coming down on a big crowd at a cup tie or on some place where masses of human beings are gathered together. It might even descend on this House. The damage done in such cases might be very extensive. In dealing with this Amendment I am bound to refer to the general principle because the general principle is inevitably raised by an Amendment which seeks to strike it out of the Bill, in so far as personal injury is concerned, but hon. Members will notice that all the examples I have taken are in relation to the question of personal injury. The position seems to be this, that if you have not compulsory insurance in these cases, there is the possibility of an injured person not being able to get anything, whereas, if you have compulsory insurance and a limitation of liability, there is available, within those limits, a substantial sum. The hon. Member opposite shakes his head and £5,000 may not represent a substantial sum to him but—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is more than many defendants in accident cases possess to-day. Reference has been made to the question of whether or not it would be practicable to get insurance at reasonable rates if you had unlimited
§ liability. Inquiries which we have made show, and I think common sense points to the conclusion, that you would not be able to get insurances at a reasonable rate if you had the possibility of unlimited liability in cases of this kind where the damage done by aircraft might run into great sums. It is a question, of course, like many other questions, on which arguments have been produced on both sides. But I would again emphasise that this point has been considered by the representatives of many nations as well as by the Gorell Committee and those bodies, having weighed all the arguments for and against, have decided that the two principles on which the Bill proceeds should be taken together.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I am very disappointed with the reply of the Attorney-General. I cannot believe that, with a risk which would be spread over a tremendous number of journeys and with the rarity of accidents, the premium would be such as to have a serious effect upon the companies. I am also dissatisfied with the reply from this point of view—that even if the premium were large, that is no reason why a poor person should have to bear the burden of the huge loss which such an accident might entail, with, possibly, tremendous disadvantages to himself and his family. I am prepared to divide the Committee on this Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the words 'persons or' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 158; Noes, 87.2339
|Division No. 213.]||AYES.||[10.13 p.m.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Colman, N. C. D.||Furness, S. N.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Assheton, R.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Goidle, N. B.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Courtaufd, Major J. S.||Goodman, Col. A. W.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Craven-Ellis, W.||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Bainlel, Lord||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Cuiverwell, C. T.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Davies. Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Donner, P. W.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Drake)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Drewe, C.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Bull, B. B.||Dugdale, Major T. L.||Gunston, Capt. D. W.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Eastwood, J. F.||Guy, J. C. M.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Eckersley, P. T.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Harvey, G.|
|Cary, R. A.||Emery, J. F.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Entwistle, C. F.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Channon, H.||Findlay, Sir E.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon J. W. (Ripon)|
|Holmes, J. S.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Moore, Lieut, Col. T. C. R.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),|
|Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Hunter, T.||Munro, P.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Nall, Sir J.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Joel. D. J. B.||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Palmer, G. E. H.||Southby. Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Keeling, E. H.||Penny, Sir G.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Strauss, E. A (Southwark, N.)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Petherick, M.||Strauss. H. G. (Norwich)|
|Latham, Sir P.||Radford, E. A.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Leckie, J. A.||Rankin, R.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Levy, T.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Tanker. Sir R. L.|
|Lewis. O.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Liddall, W. S.||Reid, W. Allen (Derby)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Titchfleld, Marquess of|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Tufnell. Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry)||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Mebane, W. (Huddersfield)||Rowlands, G.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Macdonald, Capt, P. (Isle of Wight)||Salmon, Sir I.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|McEwen, Capt, J. H. F.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|McKie, J. H.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Windsor-Cilve, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Magnay, T.||Savery, Servington||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Scott, Lord William|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Selley, H. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward|
|Markham, S. F.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||and Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Grenfell, D. R.||Parker, H. J. H.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddi'sbro, W.)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Griffiths, J. (Lianelly)||Potts, J.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Groves, T. E.||Price, M. P.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Batey, J.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Quibell, D J. K.|
|Bellenger, F.||Hardie, G. D.||Riley, B.|
|Benson, G.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Ritson. J.|
|Bevan, A.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Rowson. G|
|Broad, F. A.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Silkin, L.|
|Bromfield, W.||Holdsworth H.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Burke, W. A.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Charleton, H. C.||John, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Chater, D.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Stewart. W. J. (H'ght'nle-Sp'ng)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kelly. W. T.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kennedy, Rt. lion. T.||Taylor, R J. (Morpeth)|
|Dagger, G.||Lathan, G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, J. J.||Tinker. J. J.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lee, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Leonard, W.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Leslie, J. R.||Westwood, J.|
|Ede, J. C.||MacLaren, A.||Whiteley, W.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Maclean, N.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Mathers, G.||Windsor. W. (Hull, C.)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Messer. F.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Montague, F.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||TELLER FOR THE NOES.—|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Sir Percy Harris and Mr. Mander.|
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I beg to move, in page 11, line 6, to leave out from "aggregate," to the end of the Subsection, and to insert "twenty-five thousand pounds."
This Amendment raises the principal issue of the Clause, and the important principle of limited and compulsory insurance. According to the Clause, in the case of an aircraft which is an airship the limit of the liability which has to be insured against is £25,000, in the case of 2340 a balloon £5,000, in the case of a glider £1,000, and in any Other casea number of pounds sterling equal to the number of pounds a -avoirdupois constituting the weight of the aircraft fully loaded.I have no hesitation in saying that that scheme of compulsory insurance for aircraft cannot be defended upon any logical principle, as I think the majority of hon. Members will agree. The defence for putting in into the Bill is two-fold. First, that it implements the Rome Convention, and, secondly, that there must be some 2341 way found of dealing with compulsory insurance and that there is no more reasonable alternative. I think there is a reasonable alternative, and perhaps more than one. One way would be to enforce compulsory insurance up to any limit you like for any class of aircraft without making that the limit of the claim on the part of any persons who are either injured personally or through the destruction of their property. There is no reason why a Common Law claim for damages should not still exist and yet compulsory insurance be instituted up to various levels. We on this side take the line that there is no real, tangible case for limiting liability in this way. We have aircraft of various kinds capable of causing unlimited damage, or damage which cannot be limited in any term of words. Tremendous damage can be caused by a small aeroplane, as also by a large aeroplane. That is why we say that there is no logical case for governing the amount of insurance, or of recompense to a person injured, by such an arrangement as pounds avoirdupois compared with pounds in money.
With a new development of transport which is potentially so dangerous, it is incumbent upon us to look at the question from the point of view of people who might be injured or lose their lives, or in relation to the amount of destruction of property that might occur, in the case of a bad accident, and we should take that as our fundamental consideration. On the question of what charges might be made by insurance companies, I agree with other speakers that there is no reason even to limit insurance, and if you limit it, certainly not to make the limitation in certain cases as low as it is made in the Clause. The Amendment that I am moving proposes to substitute £25,000. As we have reached this stage of the Bill, we would accept that limitation, which means compulsory insurance up to that amount, and a limitation of the protection, as it were, against any further action on the part of persons injured. We want to cut out the lower figure.
When the Attorney-General said that unlimited insurance would imply and call for an unreasonable and prohibitive premium, he should have told us what his own knowledge was upon that subject. I have found it exceedingly difficult to 2342 discover any insurance company who will make a standard proposal with regard to unlimited insurance. Any particular case might be considered upon its merits, but I do not know any insurance company which has a particular standard for unlimited insurance. We are not proposing an insurance for unlimited liability, but the high level of £25,000. We should consider the Clause and the Amendment upon the basis of what can be done with a limit as high as that, or something approximating to that.
I find it impossible to insure a Gipsy Moth aeroplane through Lloyd's. The Gipsy Moth has been called the poor man's aeroplane. I am not sure about the meaning of that term; it is, of course, a comparative one. A small aeroplane of that kind can do as much damage as a Continental liner. A limit of £5,000for third-party risks would require a. premium of £12 l0s. a year, for one accident. It does not cover a series of accidents in the course of the year. For a limit of £10,000, the premium would be £17 10s. and for £20,000, £25; and that is the highest figure I have in these estimates. The extra £5,000 would probably bring the figure to about £28 per year.
§ Mr. M0NTAGUE
They come indirectly through Lloyd's The hon. Member knows that you do not get estimates of that kind direct from Lloyd's and that they refer you to a certain company. I have seen the references to those other figures. I do not need to go any further than that. I suggest that the kind of insurance we are proposing would cost, for a small type of aeroplane, about £27 or £28 in the course of a year. The owner of a Gypsy Moth aeroplane would to-day,. I imagine, insure voluntarily for £5,000. He would pay £12 10s. now for his insurance; and, in order fully to cover£and everyone should realise the necessity for covering£third-party risks, he would have to pay an additional £12 or £13 in the course of a year; so that all this talk about interfering with the encouragement of civil aviation and penalising the small private owner is really of very little consequence. If people want to fly, we ought to begin to consider the circumstances of the present state of aeronautical develop- 2343 ment, and we ought to consider the interests of the public first. No one is more concerned with the development of civil flying than I am. I enjoy flying very much, and should like to be a pilot myself, but perhaps I am too old now to begin. I am sure, however, that if I felt that I was justified in incurring the expense of a small aeroplane, and the cost of its upkeep and use, I should not boggle at an additional £12 or £13 a year in order to carry out a reasonable insurance, so that no one to whom I might cause damage to life or property would stand in danger of being let down. For these reasons, which, I think, are substantial and adequate, I move this Amendment.
§ 10.32 p.m.
Let me hasten to tell the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) that he is not at all too old to learn to fly, and, if it is any compensation to him, I should be delighted to teach him free, gratis and for nothing, and without any form of insurance being necessary either for him or myself.
I want to take up the point he made that there was no case for the limiting of liability by the procedure of avoirdupois weight in relation to the amount of compensation. The Gorell Committee considered this point for a very long time. It is hard to defend in a few moments a point which we considered for a long period of weeks, but the principle that, generally speaking, the bigger the aeroplane the more damage it is liable to do, was, broadly speaking, the principle on which we had to work. On these committees one has to work on some sort of principle. It is not always easy to find a principle, but, having found one, it is better to stick to it. I do not think it is illogical to say that it would be an exceptional circumstance for a Moth to crash in a city, burst a 40-gallon tank of petrol and set fire to a whole town. That is as unlikely to happen as the bursting of the petrol tank of a car and setting fire to a whole town. Generally speaking, you must proceed on the principle that, if a big aeroplane crashes, it is liable to do much more damage than a small one. That is, broadly speaking, the principle on which we proceeded, and it is one which I personally am willing to stand by.
2344 Your predecessor in the Chair, Sir Charles, said that on this Amendment there might be a general discussion of the principles of limitation of liability, and I want to put to the Attorney-General this problem We have not heard yet whether this country is going to ratify the Rome Convention or not, and I am going to proceed with my argument on the basis that I do not know. There is an 'aeroplane flying over the hon. and learned Gentleman's house. Unfortunately, it crashes next door to his house. Firstly, it is a British aeroplane. Under this Bill, under the particular weight, the maximum compensation granted would be £5,000. The second case is that the aeroplane that crashes is a foreign one owned by a national of a country which has ratified the Rome Convention.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think this had better be discussed on Clause 18.
I am only discussing it because your predecessor, Sir, said that we could have a general discussion on this Clause as to the limiting of liability.
I am not dealing with the question whether or not we should ratify the Rome Convention. Suppose that the aeroplane belongs to a national of a country which had ratified the Rome Convention, the compensation would be £7,000, provided the franc had not appreciated. If the franc had appreciated by 50 per cent. it might be only £3,500. Suppose a third case of an aeroplane belonging to a, foreign national of a country which has not ratified the Rome Convention, there would be no compensation at all for the British national whose house was damaged and whose family might be seriously injured. He might be able to have recourse to the courts but, if the man had no particular assets in this country, there might be grave difficulty in recovering any damages at all.
I want to know whether between now and Report the Attorney-General will consider introducing some provisions whereby the pilot of an aeroplane making 2345 a journey within these islands should be obliged to have third party cover in order to protect British nationals and put them on the same basis as if their houses are crashed by a British aeroplane. I trust that he will be able either to destroy my argument entirely, with which I shall be content if my premises are wrong, or, if they are admitted, that he will give some assurance that British nationals are protected against foreign visitors in the same way as they would be against accidents caused by British nationals.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I should apologise for intruding in a discussion which has so far been carried on by experts except that, when I glanced at the Clause, I realised that it dealt with a subject upon which experts ought to be silent and laymen ought to speak, because it has evidently been drafted by those who are more concerned about stimulating flying than about protecting the, civil population. It is to my mind a disaster that a limitation upon insurance should be imposed in a Bill brought in by the Air Minister, because he is the last person to look upon this matter with a judicial mind. To a specialist there is nothing like leather, and he is merely concerned about the flying part of it and is not in the least concerned, as far as I can see, about the protection that should be afforded to the civil population. If hon. Members who are not immediately connected with flying will have a look at the language of the Clause, I am sure that they will be alarmed by it. I listened to the Attorney-General very carefully, and his argument appeared to be that because this new service was likely to kill more people than any other service, the people ought to have less protection against it than against any other service. The hon. Member opposite shakes his head. Or is the argument that the premium would be so high as to be a deterrent to flying if there was unlimited liability on the part of the flyer? Is not the argument that the premiums would be high because the accidents would be many If the number of accidents fell, the premiums would fall also.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
May I enlighten the hon. Gentleman on this matter? Is it not the fact that the reason why at the moment the premiums are high is that 2346 there are so few risks of this nature to take on? When you get an infinite amount of business, as you do with the motor-car, the risk will go down, but now that there are so few aircraft the risks are proportionately high.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his interruption used language which was unjustified by what he said afterwards. He has not enlightened me at all, and I am sure that he has not enlightened the Committee. What actually happens is that there is a higher proportion of accidents compared with the number of vehicles employed than. there is in most other industries. The hon. Member will agree that if the number of accidents fell the premiums would fall. It is assumed by the insurance company that when there is a disproportionate number of accidents, they must charge a higher premium. We have the strange argument put forward that the more the public is exposed to risk the less protection it is to have. That is a fantastic proposition, to which we cannot assent at all.
The Merchant Shipping Act has been quoted in justification of the language in this Clause. I am not a lawyer, and I am, therefore, subject to being put right, but I understand that the accidents which occur on the sea are very largely due to collisions. When people go to sea they go with the full knowledge of the risks they incur. There is in the Merchant Shipping Act a limitation of compensation liability in proportion to the tonnage of the ship, in exactly the same way as is suggested in this Clause. A poor man walking on the earth can avoid accident only by getting off the earth. You can avoid an accident at sea by not going on to the ship. The man who goes on to a ship is like the man who goes in an aeroplane. He does it with the full knowledge of the risk he runs, but the poor, innocent child running on the earth, or the poor peasant applying himself to his obscure labouring work, or the poor artisan in the town, completely unaware of the peril overhead, is wholly exposed to it, without any compensation, or with very small compensation, and without being a party at all to the risk he runs. It is wholly unjustified to import into this novel service the language found proper for the merchant shipping of the world.
These are merely passing reflections which occur to a non-specialist in the 2347 matter, but it is a fantastic proposition to say that, if I were injured by a big man, I should be likely to get more compensation than if I were injured by a little man. If this sort of thing were introduced into the motor-car world, and if I had two legs knocked off by an Austin Seven car, I should have less compensation than if I had one leg knocked off by a Rolls-Royce car. That is exactly the principle contained in this Clause. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) is an aviator who thinks that nothing in the world is finer than aviation. He looks upon this matter entirely from the point of view of the man in the air. His remarks will be within the memory of the Committee. He talked about tonnage, and spoke as if that was the primary consideration. The primary consideration is the poor chap who is going to be hit. What he is concerned about is not tonnage but the damage that is done to him. The Committee is supposed to be framing laws to protect the ordinary civilian, the passenger on the streets, from accidents from the air.
This is not a party matter. It is a matter in which every hon. Member is concerned, and I would ask the Government to reconsider it. It is a very serious matter. I believe that there are ways out of the difficulty which the Government have not sought. If I were to suggest them now the Debate might be taken off its main line. Some of us, however, would be happy to make those suggestions to the Attorney-General. The country as a whole would be deeply alarmed if it was thought that vehicles of all kinds were to be encouraged to fly over their innocent and unsuspecting heads and that if the vehicles fall upon them their claims will be limited in this way. We ought not to pass this virgin legislation—this is the first Bill practically regulating traffic in the air—with out asking ourselves what the effects will be. I do not want to see flying limited or deterred in any way, but deterrents will be put in the way if thousands or millions of people are to be exposed to injury without any adequate protection from the law.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
No one can make the slightest complaint of the manner and tone in which the hon. Mem- 2348 ber for West Islington (Mr. Montague) moved his Amendment. It clearly is a point of importance and difficulty and one on which different views can quite properly be taken by reasonable people. I have sometimes been a little astonished at what appears to me to be the over-great admiration which hon. Members opposite display for international conventions. It is very interesting to find that on this matter they are repudiating a principle which has been accepted after great discussions by two international conventions. The Warsaw Convention of 1929 and the Rome Convention of 1933, came to the conclusion that this limitation of liability was justifiable, and the Gorell Committee, after hearing arguments on both sides, again came to the conclusion that, paying due regard to the interests of third parties on the one hand and of aviation on the other, this was a proper case for the limitation of liability.
The Amendment is not one which would abolish that principle. It would in fact put in an arbitrary sum of £25,000 for all classes of aeroplanes. This was considered very carefully by the Colwyn Committee, and they came to the conclusion that this was a sound principle. The Amendment is directed less against the principle of limitation than against the scaling down of liability according to the size of the aeroplane. Broadly speaking, the smaller the aeroplane the less likelihood there is of the damage running into astronomical figures. There is also the fact that to many flyers of small aeroplanes the difference between a premium of 10s. and £25 is a substantial item in the general costs of running his machine, and incidentally making his contribution towards the development of civil aviation.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Is it not the case that it is not a question of measuring the damage but of measuring the cause of the damage? If it is a, certain size the damage must be so much limited; if it is another size, another limitation.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am afraid I do not follow. I think the point is clear that the smaller the aeroplane the more you can limit your damage. The hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) asked me three questions. He asked me whether we are prepared to ratify the Rome Convention. 2349 That point clearly arises under Clause 18, but I shall not be trespassing on the Rules of Order if I say that substantially the Clauses in this Bill are carrying into effect the main principles of the Rome Convention. My hon. Friend assumed that my house was damaged by three different aeroplanes, and he pointed out the difference between the somewhat large liability that could be reached under this Bill and under the Rome Convention. The hon. and gallant Member also asked what would be the position of a foreign aeroplane coming here from a country which had not ratified the Rome Convention. I would refer him to paragraph (8) in the Second Schedule to the Bill, which gives the Secretary of State power to make regulationsfor prescribing that the provisions of Part III of this Act which relate to insurance, securities and deposits in respect of third party risks shall, in relation to any such class of aircraft registered outside the United Kingdom as may be specified in the regulations, have effect subject to such modifications, adaptations and exceptions as may be so specified.There is, therefore, power in proper cases to see that aeroplanes which come here from the country which the hon. and gallant Member has in mind shall insure themselves, so that if they do damage to our nationals there will be an effective policy of insurance in order that the person injured may recover damages.
That is a conditional power. Can we have an assurance that the Government will put this conditional power into execution in order to give this protection?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I have answered the question which the hon. and gallant Gentleman put to me, and I will see that the attention of my right hon. Friend is drawn to this matter. It is the intention to use this power in order to give proper protection in the case of foreign aeroplanes.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I ask a question on this matter of insurance? I am rather convinced by the arguments of the Attorney-General, and I realise the difficulties. Take a house like Knole, which is on the route from France. Suppose. a glider crashes through the roof of the house and destroys one or two valuable pictures. The sum of £1,000 is absurd as damages. What happens in that case?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am not sure that my Noble Friend was here earlier in the Debate when I pointed out to the Committee that limitation of liability must be considered in connection with the system of compulsory insurance.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
You say to a man that he must. insure so that he cannot use an aeroplane without a certain expenditure and in order that this compulsory expenditure shall not be unreasonably high you limit the amount of the liability which he may have to pay.
§ Mr. H. G. WILLIAMS
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman take the view that this principle now applies to road vehicles?
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
I am sure the Attorney-General when he reads his remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow will not be proud of his logic. He has tried to enunciate the principle that compulsion to insure entitles the insurer to some limit of the amount of his insurance. The Committee should pay some attention to this proposal. There has been a tendency on other Clauses of the Bill to justify them by a reference to some other body which has come to some recommendation as to what the House of Commons ought to do. On every proposal that we have brought forward we have been refused on the ground that the decision of the House of Commons has been prejudged. We must remember that we are the people who are giving the laws to the nation, and it is no defence to say, when we go to our constituencies, that these fallacious principles were imposed upon us by officials or by an outside body, not even the Gorell Committee, which was composed of people who look at these problems by the one-eyed method of the aviator, though that perhaps is not a very happy metaphor. I would rather say that this has not, been looked into by an impartial body concerned with the interests of the public.
I think that if the Committee will go into it closely, they will find that we are going to put on to the Statute Book an 2351 entirely fallacious principle. The true measure of a rate of insurance is not the ratio of a single premium to a single potential claim; it is the ratio of the total amount of premium to the total average claim. That is the simplest and most obvious actuarial principle, and to say, as the hon. Member above the Gangway said, that because one aeroplane is liable to cause one great amount of damage, that entitles the damage to be reduced, is entirely fallacious. About 2½ per cent. of the total cost of running an aeroplane in a year will cover the, owner of that aeroplane against all third-party insurance. If the total amount of damage done by aeroplanes all over the country in the last few years were added up and fairly apportioned among all the owners of private aircraft, there would be no difficulty in private owners meeting their insurance premiums. It is a very small proportion of the total expenses of running an aircraft, and I would undertake, if the right hon. Baronet would entrust some of us on this side with the monopoly to insure against all third-party claims with regard to aviation in this country, that we should be prepared to do it for a premium amounting to no more than 1 per cent. of the total cost of running a machine for a year. Why therefore should we, for the sake of saving this infinitesimal proportion of the cost of running aeroplanes, pass a Clause which abrogates the whole principle of insurance and indeed the common law claims for damage caused?
From the lowest county court to the highest court of the realm we hear Judges constantly pressing upon juries that they must not fix the amount of damages according to the means of the defendant but solely according to the amount of damage suffered. We are abrogating an entire principle, and the hon. and learned Gentleman who defended it was not very happy, nor do I believe the right hon. Baronet is satisfied with it. I believe he has been told by his Department that he has to accept this Clause without Amendment, as he was told that he has to accept the amount of the subsidy. I appeal to the Committee not to rest upon the recommendations of an outside body against their own better judgment. This is not a proposal to limit the liability; the object of all this is to limit the premium. We can limit the premium 2352 without limiting the liability, and I would go so far as to say, although I am not entitled to speak for anybody except myself, that if some measure could be introduced which, while retaining the principle of limiting the premium by some method which I should be prepared to suggest, would save us from putting this false principle of limiting the liability upon the Statute Book, I believe it would be possible for the Under-Secretary to conduct the progress of this Clause much more smoothly.
§ 11.1 p.m.
I can assure the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) that there is no prejudging of the case here, because the Committee is perfectly free to do what it likes in the way of amending the Bill. Nor, I submit, is there any new principle of law involved. The principles of law that are enshrined in this Clause have applied in the case of ships for a great many years. I wish to point out that a very large amount of unlimited liability is still left on the airship or aeroplane. We have inserted the words "without his actual fault or privity" into this Clause, and as I read the Clause now the restriction of the liability to £25,000 in the case of an airship only applies to an accident which is caused without the actual fault or privity of the person responsible for it. If the accident is caused by his fault or negligence, the common law liability still applies. I think my right hon. and learned Friend will agree with my imperfect statement of the law. I think the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr., Holdsworth) does not appreciate the real extent of the limitation which was caused by those words.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
The trouble is equally as great if the other words apply. I want him to be covered in either case.
In all cases where the accident is caused by the negligence of the person responsible, the common law liability remains and the damage has to be assessed by a jury.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I would like to put two points to the Attorney-General in regard to the international Convention which has been signed on this particular question. Will he inform the Committee 2353 whether the figures adumbrated in this Clause apply equally to all countries? I would like to point out the absurdity of this particular Clause. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) suggests to me that I might point out to the Committee that if a driver killed the Attorney-General the limit of liability would be £1,000.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
But if an airship killed his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the limitation would be £25,000. The whole position is absurd. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), as far as I could hear, said it was absurd that there should be a limitation of £1,000 in the case of pictures. I agree and I am in sympathy with a person whose pictures are damaged and who finds a limitation placed on the compensation, which bears no relation to their value. But the point which I am making is this and I do not want to be sentimental about it—that the greatest pictures are human beings.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I did not know it at the time but I have just been informed that it is possible to take out an insurance at a comparatively low rate against damage to houses or pictures by aeroplane.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I am not criticising the Noble Lord's statement, but it is not an easy matter for a poor person to find the money to take out an insurance against accident or loss of life. When we come to the conclusion that damage to pictures is a serious thing, surely we must also agree that risk to human life is a more serious thing. I appeal to the Noble Lord and his friends opposite to support me in this matter. Is this Committee going to say that a £1,000 limitation on liability£I do not care what the machine involved may be£will provide adequate compensation for loss of life? This is not a party matter. It is a question of simple justice, that the tragedies which might occur under this limitation should not be allowed to occur merely in order to save 100 or 200 people in this country £12 per annum in extra premiums. When the two things are weighed together it is obvious that they are out of all proportion. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) asked a question about the 2354 Road Traffic Act. He may not have been here when I dealt with that on the previous Amendment.
§ Captain GUNSTON
We must all recognise the difficulty of this question, and I sympathise with the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) in what he has said. We must also recognise that if there is no limitation, you will under this system of compulsory insurance—
§ Captain GUNSTON
If you have a limit of £25,000, coupled with compulsory insurance, it would mean to a great extent killing private flying or the flying of small machines. May I suggest, on the lines of the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Bradford with regard to personal injury, that if the owners of small machines£gliders and light aeroplanes£had to take out premiums merely against the chance of killing or injuring a person, the amount of the premium would be considerably lighter than if it included the risk of damage to property. I suggest that the Attorney-General should go into that question.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
On a point of Order. Is not this exactly the question which was discussed on the previous Amendment?
§ Captain GUNSTON
The Amendment moved by the hon. Member opposite was to abolish the limit altogether. The present Amendment would allow a limit up to £25,000. Surely I am entitled to make this suggestion, and I only want to help the Attorney-General. Surely I am entitled to suggest to the Attorney-General that he should consider this matter again on the lines I have suggested? If he adopted my suggestion the premiums would be lighter and private flying would not be discouraged.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
As far as I can follow the argument of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, it is that an insurance policy that is on an economic basis would kill private flying. That must mean that the liabilities which these people are likely to incur are heavier than they are willing to insure against and they must be passing on some part 2355 of their liability to the rest of the community in some form or another. That was really what was said by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) when he suggested that it was possible for the owner of Knole Park to take out an insurance policy against damage. It only means that some other insurance company has to pay for the damage that has been caused by the person who is not sufficiently insured. It is hardly for us on this side of the Committee to have too tender a regard for the misfortunes of private insurances companies, but they must, after listening to the Noble Lord, feel that they have been rather wounded in the house of their friend this evening.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am not responsible for that. I am only saying that I am informed that it is still possible to take out these policies.
§ Mr. EDE
I understood the Noble Lord to say previously that he had some interest in the insurance world, and I can hardly imagine an insurance company of which he was a member would feel very gratified if it had a large number of these claims for what one might call the unmet balance of damage caused. Take the point in regard to Knole Park a little further. A magnificent mansion at Wool, near Lul-worth Cove, was completely burned out. It was previously a great treasure house of art. I do not think that the size of the fire depends on the size of the match that starts it. I understand that the Great Fire of London was caused by somebody overturning a lantern into some straw. That is not the reason given for it on the Monument, I know, but recent historical research has established the fact that even in those days it was still not safe to take naked lights too near to straw when the carrier was in an inebriated condition. It cannot be suggested that a Flying Flea will cause a less-sized fire than the biggest airship that has ever been invented. The size of the fire has nothing to do with the light that causes it, and one of the principal dangers in these matters is fire. Here you have a machine that carries a considerable quantity of a highly inflammable and explosive and easily evaporated liquid. The danger from fire is, I understand, very real, and there is no ground 2356 for retaining this differentiation of liability and throwing on other insurance companies, or on private persons who have not been insured, the balance of any liability that may be created. If the fire at Wool had, in fact, been caused by an aeroplane falling on to the mansion, would it have been fair to the insurance company with whom the mansion had been insured to expect it to make up the balance over the £5,000, or the £25,000, or the sum represented by the "pound sterling-per-pound-avoirdupois" calculation?
I suggest to the Government that while this may be very good law it is very poor logic—I understand that is the only reason, for thinking it may make good law —and those of us who do not make our living by the law but hope that the law will occasionally protect our living and our lives, would be a great deal happier if the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept the Amendment.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Mr. FURNESS
In the course of this Debate there has been cited in favour of the principle of the limitation of liability those provisions as to the limitation of liability which prevail in the Admiralty Court. I think that Attorney-General will recollect that in that court and under the Merchant Shipping Act there is a difference between the amount a shipowner is liable to pay if there has been loss of life and the amount of his liability if there has merely been injury to property. If there has been loss of life, the limit is at a much higher figure. It is, perhaps, necessary that under this Bill there should be some limitation of liability, but I think that in the Clause as it now stands the figures are miserably low. It would be an intolerable thing, and one for which I could not vote, to pass a Clause which would limit to £1,000 the right of recovery of the widow of a man killed by a glider. I think the provisions relating to aeroplanes are far from generous, though I know so little about aeroplanes that I cannot calculate them. In the case of injury to persons or loss of life there should be a higher limit of liability than in the case of damage to property. I hope the learned Attorney-General will consider the situation in the light of the position under the Merchant Shipping Act and see fit to make the change which I have suggested.
§ 11.24 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I have been impressed by the speeches and the references, including that of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, to the question whether we could not consider inserting a higher limit in the case of personal injury. I want to make it clear that I am not in a position to give a definite undertaking now, but we will consider the point and see whether anything can be done within the general principle which I hope I have made clear, and that is that we do attach importance to not imposing an unreasonably high figure of compulsory insurance. I do not want to hold out hopes, but it may be possible to do something, because the bulk of the damage done by aircraft is to property. I have been very much impressed by what has been said and will see whether anything can be done on those lines.
§ Mr. M0NTAGUE
On that assurance, and assuming that we may be able adequately to discuss the matter on the Report stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The following Amendment stood upon the Order Paper:
In page 11, line 31, at the end, insert:—
Provided always that for the purpose of removing doubts it is hereby declared that the liability imposed by sub-section (1) of section nine of the principal Act refers only to damage caused to the persons or properties of third parties on the ground or water outside the confines of a recognised aerodrome or sea-drome, excluding any person with whom the owner of the aircraft shall have concluded a lawful contract whether express or implied on the subject of liability."—[Mr. Perkins.)
The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) is out of order.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Mr. PERKINS
I beg to move, in page 11, line 31, at the end, to insert:(2) Liability for damage under this section shall fall upon the operator of the aircraft, and the principal Act shall be read as though the term 'operator' were substituted for the term 'owner' wherever this expression occurs in relation to liability.2358The operator shall be deemed to be the person who has the aircraft at his disposal, and who makes use thereof for his own account. If the name of the operator is not inscribed in the Aeronautical Register, or on some other official document, the owner shall be deemed to be the operator until proof to the contrary.Under the principal Act of 1920 liability falls upon the owner and not upon the occupier of an aircraft. By "owner" is meant the person who has hired an aeroplane for a period in excess of 14 days. We move this Amendment in the hope that the Government will accept it in order to remove responsibility from the owner to the operator of the aircraft. From what has been said upon the previous Amendment, I understand that it is the intention of the Government to ratify the Rome Convention at the earliest possible moment. The moment that this Bill become law, they propose to use all their powers and to ratify the Convention next month, or the month after.
Under the Rome Convention, it was agreed by all the Powers that signed it, and consequently by all the Powers that propose to ratify it, that the liability should not fall upon the owner of an aircraft but upon the operator, the man who was responsible for running the air line. Unless the Government are prepared to accept this Amendment or some similar Amendment, there will be a great difference between our national law and the international law. To prevent that clash, I am moving this Amendment.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I recommend the Committee not to accept the Amendment. It is true that the word used in the Rome Convention is "operator", but the definition of the word shows that there is very little practical difference between it and our word "owner", as used in the Bill. There is the further provision in the Bill which brings in the hirer for a limited period. The Bill is based upon the liability of the owner. Should the day come when we ratify the Rome Convention, we shall be justified in saying to the other Powers that we need not have the dual system under which, for the purpose of the Convention, we use the word "operator" we shall be entitled to say that the provisions of this Bill, as it is drafted, with the word "owner"; and bringing in the hirer, produce substantially the 2359 same effect as is produced in the Rome Convention by the word "operator", which is defined by Article 4 as the person who has the aircraft at his disposal and makes use thereof for his own account. This is one of the cases in which you find a certain phrase used in an international convention and not exactly squaring with our own law. It probably does not square exactly with the legal language of any of the countries involved, and each of them is entitled, when it comes to put the Convention into active force, to use its own terminology and its own words, if they produce substantially the same result. I hope, after that explanation, that my hon. Friend may see his way not to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. PERKINS
All these things are dependent upon whether the Government intend to ratify the Rome Convention or not. May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to give us some indication in that respect?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
At present the Rome Convention is not in a final state. Conversations are still going on between the' parties to it, and I think there is a sub-committee considering, in particular, Article 14 (b). The other parties to it have not yet ratified it, and I think I am right in saying that no country has gone so far as we are going in this Bill in substantially giving statutory effect to its provisions. We desire that our law shall carry out the Rome Convention in its final form. In order to ratify it, it is not, in my view, necessary that we should adopt the ipsissima verba of these particular articles. So far as this Article is concerned, we have in my view ratified it and carried it out by the words used in the Bill. When the Convention takes its final form, there may be matters in which further provisions would be necessary, but substantially we have gone a long way to embody its terms in this Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In page 11, line 36, leave out from the beginning to the end of line 3, on page 12.—[The Attorney-General.]
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I beg to move, in page 12, line 41. at the beginning, to insert: 2360Nothing in this section or in section nine of the principal Act shall affect the operation of the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, or any contract for carriage of passengers or goods by air in so tar as the contract provides for determining or limiting the liability of the carrier there under, and.As the Committee are no doubt aware, the question of the liability of an owner for passengers is covered by the Act of 1932, which schedules the Warsaw Convention. This Amendment is put down to make it clear that nothing in the Clause will affect the provisions of the earlier Act.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. PERKINS
I desire to draw attention to the question of the liability of foreign pilots coining to this country in regard to third-party risk, and to ask the Government whether, when the Bill becomes law, they propose to use their powers under it to compel foreign pilots who come to this country to have a certificate of third-party insurance. I raise the point because some time ago I landed in Germany without the necessary certificate for third-party insurance, and I was not able to proceed until I got a certificate to show that I was insured. I want to know if a foreign pilot, whether he comes from a country which has or has not ratified the Rome Convention, will be compelled to produce a certificate to show that. he has adequate assurance against third-party risks.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member probably did not hear the statement I made earlier. I cannot add anything to what I said then.