HC Deb 26 July 1957 vol 574 cc801-3

Lords Amendment: In page 19, line 38, leave out from "pay" to the end of line 7 in page 20 and insert: the like damages, recoverable in the like manner and within the like time, as would have been payable if—

  1. (i)the death had been attributable to the negligence of the Board; and
  2. (ii)the persons by or on behalf of whom an action could have been brought against the Board for damages in respect of the death if it had been so attributable included any person who at the time of the death was, or but for the injury would have been, wholly or partly maintained by the deceased and
  3. (iii)where the death resulted from an injury caused in England or Wales, the damages were claimed under the Fatal Accidents Acts, 1846 to 1908;"

Mr. Maudling

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I think it would be convenient to discuss with this Lords Amendment the next one, which is consequential upon it.

The purpose of the Amendment is to go some way, though, I admit, not all the way, to meet a point made by hon. Gentlemen opposite at an earlier stage when we were considering the question of who should be able to claim damages from the National Coal Board in respect of the death of someone killed as the result of subsidence damage. Our original proposal was that the claim should be confined to people who were wholly or mainly maintained by the deceased per son. We have now extended this to include people partly maintained by the deceased person. We have not gone to the extent of saying that people in no way dependent on the deceased should have a claim. We do not see why we should go further and provide that a person with no dependence on the person killed in these unfortunate circumstances should also receive payment, but we do concede that the original provision did not go far enough, and by this Amendment we include people partly dependent on the deceased.

Mr. R. Williams

I am sorry that the Government have not been able to go the whole way in accepting our arguments about the amendment of this Clause. They have certainly gone a considerable distance beyond their original proposals, and I am perfectly satisfied that the Minister has completely fulfilled his own undertakings made to the House at an earlier stage. It is necessary for the record, however, for us to clarify the position by saying that there can be no claim in respect of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions)Act, 1934, that is, in respect of loss of expectation of life. That will be completely excluded. Therefore, a different principle will apply here from that which would have applied had the law of negligence been put into full effect in these cases.

The Minister said this morning that the Government did not feel disposed to accept that sort of claim, because it would mean that people who were in no way connected with the deceased or were only remotely connected might have benefit which would flow from payment being made in respect of the estate of the deceased. I can imagine cases where sixth cousins in Australia or Canada could recover an amount payable to the estate, because of the effect of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions)Act, but it would be wrong to let the Amendment pass without pointing out that that is the far-fetched case. In the great majority the person who would be claiming under the Fatal Accidents Acts would also be the person who would benefit as a consequence of a successful claim under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions)Act. In most circumstances it would be immediate relatives and dependants who would be entitled, but at this stage we cannot usefully pursue that argument.

My only point in mentioning it was that had I remained silent I might have been taken to accept the Minister's interpretation. In fact, I take the opposite view. I think that the Minister has been over-influenced in this matter by the farfetched case and has neglected, though I do not think that it was his wish to neglect, the overwhelming majority of cases where full benefit would have been payable. I do not think that any member of the public would have seriously objected if the claim made by this side of the House had been sustained, but now there is still this inconsistency in this part of the Bill as compared with the general law.

I must add, however, having made that criticism of the Clause, that in getting away from "wholly or mainly" the Minister has done a really good job. Now that the matter is expressed in the form "wholly or partly", persons who would be entitled to claim under the Fatal Accidents Acts will come in as in the ordinary way.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. T. Brown

I know that I should be ruled out of order if I began to discuss what led to an Amendment on these lines being proposed in Committee. People are not fully aware of what is taking place, but there is evidence that their Lordships gave every consideration to the points raised in Committee. I am glad that that is so, but I express the profound hope that no one would have to claim under the Clause. These cases are rarities, but they have happened and when they do happen they are very severe. We are making provision here for those who, unfortunately, lose their lives or are crippled by mining subsidence.

Question put and agreed to.

Further Lords Amendment made: In page 20, leave out lines 26 to 29.—[Mr. Maudling.]