HC Deb 25 January 1949 vol 460 cc722-3
19. Mrs. Leah Manning

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that the British War Claims Commision have refused to accept service of proceedings in order to establish the question of liability in the case of an infant, Alan Ruffell, who was seriously injured when knocked down by transport driven by an American soldier in September, 1944; that this case has now been proceeding for some years; and what steps he proposes to take to end the continued evasion of the matter by the British War Claims Commission.

Mr. Shinwell

I will, with permission, circulate a statement on this case in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:

In the light of the evidence given by the United States driver, and by a doctor, who was an independent witness of the accident, it was considered that no liability could be admitted on behalf of the United States Government for this accident. Accordingly, the boy's mother was informed that the claim was repudiated. An ex gratia payment of £28 was, however, made to cover the mother's out-of-pocket expenses, and, in addition, the hospital charges, totalling approximately £159, were met in full by my Department. These payments, which were made in July, 1946, were stated to be in full and final settlement of all claims arising out of the accident and were made without any admission of liability. The claimant took no further action to reopen the matter until September, 1947, 14 months later, and three years after the accident. Subsequently, my hon. Friend wrote on 20th July, 1948, and the circumstances were fully explained to her in a letter dated 7th August. Since then no further communication has been received from anyone representing the claimant. I cannot, therefore, see that there has been any evasion of the matter.

My Department did not instruct the Treasury Solicitor to accept service of proceedings, because the further claim which was being pressed did not appear to fall within the scope of the agreement entered into with the United States Government.

If the United States authorities and my Department were to agree to the matter now being litigated 4½ years after the accident, the case of the United States driver (whose testimony is vital, and who has long since left this country) would be gravely prejudiced by reason of the delay that has occurred.

The question whether any further payment of an ex gratia character is warranted, as already indicated in the letter to my hon. Friend, is primarily a matter for the United States authorities. My Department is, however, consulting with those authorities to see whether any such further ex-gratia payment can be made.