HC Deb 24 February 1961 vol 635 cc1138-55

Order for Second Reading read.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.

The broad affect of this Bill is to enact into the law of this country The Hague Protocol of 29th September, 1955, which amends the Warsaw Convention of 1929 relating to carriage by air.

The Bill proceeds by way of repealing the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, which embodied the original Warsaw Convention and by re-enacting the Warsaw Convention, as it is modified by The Hague Protocol of 1955. It follows from what I have said that the Bill is primarily a ratification Bill. It gives effect, so far as this country is concerned, to something in the nature of an international treaty which we cannot ratify until we have made the necessary changes in our own domestic law.

At the outset of this somewhat complicated Measure I should express my gratitude for the help which I have received in the preparation of the Bill. It would have been quite beyond the resources of an unofficial Member to draft a Bill of this character. It will, indeed, be a sufficient operation to carry it through its stages in the House.

In the consideration of the Bill it may be divided into two parts: that which merely embodies into our domestic law the terms of the Convention, and those parts of the Bill which make provisions which are not absolutely essential to the ratification of the Hague Protocol—and might be described as optional parts of the Bill. The intention of the Warsaw Convention was to unify the private law of different States relating to carriage by air primarily in respect to liability to passengers or their goods and in respect to documents of carriage. Those two separate aspects are linked together. As to the definition of "liability," the amended Convention which we are considering in the Bill, proceeds upon the same general scheme as its predecessor, the unamended Warsaw Convention, that there is, first of all, a limit to the compensation which may be recovered in respect of personal injury or damage to goods as the result of an air accident. Under the Convention at present in force in the 1932 Act, damages in respect of a passenger are limited to about £3,000 for death or injury. In respect of damage to goods, whether cargo or passengers' personal effects, the present limit, under the 1929 Convention and the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, is in round terms about £2 10s. per lb. avoirdupois. In fact, these things are calculated in a nostalgic unit called the gold franc, with the details of which I need not trouble the House.

On the first point, the change introduced by the Bill and the Protocol is exactly to double the maximum. The maximum under the Bill if passed into law will be £6,000 in respect of each passenger. On the second point, damage to goods, there will be no change in the maximum.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Are the limits which the hon. Member mentions with or without insurance?

Mr. Bell

This has nothing to do with insurance, which would be something additional to be effected by the passenger if he thought fit. The Bill is to regulate the liability in law of the carrier for what might be described as the wrong or injury which he does to the passenger or to the goods.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

Does that mean that the operator will be responsible in the amounts the hon. Member mentions, quite apart from any separate insurance which a passenger might take out?

Mr. Bell

It is quite clear in our law and in the law of other countries also, as far as I know, though I cannot speak with any authority on that, that insurance policies are quite irrelevant to the amount of damages recoverable. They do not in any way diminish a claim for damages. They are additional to it.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

Will my hon. Friend say whether there are similar limitations on compensation placed on carriers in this country? For instance, has the British Transport Commission to pay only a certain amount of compensation?

Mr. Bell

There is a very close analogy indeed with carriage by sea which is governed by similar international conventions and similar legis- lation in this country, but carriage on land has never in practice been governed by international convention. For what are, perhaps, obvious reasons, it has been regulated by contract between the parties, which, incidentally, has not always proved more satisfactory.

The next element of the scheme upon which the Convention proceeds, after limiting the compensation which can be recovered for these occurrences, is to extend the liability of the carrier by virtually, although not completely, providing that he has to pay whenever anything happens. He can escape liability if he can prove that he did everything necessary to prevent the occurrence, but since it has, very naturally, been pointed out that if he had done everything necessary to prevent it happening it would not have happened, the effect of the Convention in practice has been virtually to make the carrier the insurer of the passenger and of the goods up to those limits. Thus, the passenger, while he loses by a limitation on the amount which he can recover, gains by a much greater certainty amounting almost to total certainty that he will at least recover up to 'the amount. He will not have to argue about liability.

The House will find the various Articles of the amended Convention set out in the First Schedule. Article 22 which deals with the limit of compensation and Article 20 which gives the definition of liability are to be found on page 12 of the Bill as printed.

There are circumstances in which a passenger can obtain unlimited compensation from the carrier—for instance, where he can show wilful misconduct, or something equivalent, on the part of the carrier. That is a very difficult thing to prove and, in effect, it means that, except in a glaring and extraordinary case, it is the limits of the Convention which govern compensation. But in an extraordinary case it might be possible to show wilful misconduct by the operator leading to the damage.

Here I come to the second change which is made in the Protocol, because the wording has been very considerably tightened up. It appears in Article 25 on page 13 of the Bill: …that the damage resulted from an act or omission of the carrier, his servants or agents, clDne with intent to cause damage or recklessly and with knowledge that damage would probably result That is stronger wording than "wilful misconduct" and therefore would seem to narrow the right of a passenger to obtain unrestricted compensation.

In this country the change will have virtually no effect. It is made really to deal with American juries who have been rather willing to find wilful misconduct so that unlimited compensation is awarded where they felt it desirable. Our own courts here—we have not for some time had juries in civil cases of this kind — have always interpreted "wilful misconduct" in what one might call the expected sense. There is a considerable body of opinion which believes that it will have no effect in America either and that American juries will not be defeated by this small change of wording. However it is a change in the Bill.

The fourth element of the scheme concerns the time limit on claims by the aggrieved person or his dependants. In the case of personal injury, the limit remains at two years. In the case of damage to property, there were before some extremely harsth time limits of three, seven or fourteen days according to the nature of the damage to the articles. They have been extended in the Bill to seven, fourteen and twenty-one days which will be a considerable alleviation to people who have to make claims for damage to their chattels or cargo. The period may still seem rather short, but we must protect the operators as well as the passenger oar cosignoir. We must give the operator a chance of checking to see what has happened while the matter is still fresh. We are dealing with a bargain struck between fifty different countries, every one of which has its own ideas of what is fair and equitable. All that one can do is get the best bargain one can. Having got it, unfortunately, one has to take it or leave it. One can either ratify the Protocol or refuse to do so.

Another considerable improvement in relation to liability is the deletion of the exception for negligent navigation. Under the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, the carrier can escape all liability in respect of cargo and passengers' baggage if he shows that the damage occurred through negligent navigation. That is borrowed from the carriage by sea provisions, where it has always struck me as a rather extraordinary exception, but it is well established in them. It appeared in the Warsaw Convention, but I am glad to say that under the Hague Protocol it disappears. Therefore, that defence would no longer be available to a carrier and if damage were done to chattels, unless he could show that he had done everything necessary to avoid it is almost impossible to do if it, which damage happens, the consignor will succeed in recovering his damages.

Mr. H. Hynd

I hope that the hon. Member will deal with one important point. Article 22 specifies the amount of damage or liability in francs. There is a complicated definition of francs in Article 22 (5) and the Bill states that the Minister may from time to time specify what that means. Would it not be better if we could have the reference in the Bill to liability in British currency, so that we know where we are?

Mr. Bell

At present, I am simply describing the changes introduced by the Hague Protocol, which is annexed to the Bill. Having done that, I will then come to the Clauses of the Bill, which introduce various glosses and what I call some optional provisions. What I have been saying up to now does not appear in the Bill but can only be derived from a reading of the Protocol itself in the Schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Hynd

Now we understand.

Mr. Bell

The hon. Member will find that it is necessary to know what the Schedule does before one considers the minor, consequential and, to some extent, optional variations which appear in the Clauses of the Bill. I will deal with the point presently when I come to the Clause which deals with it.

Another change which appears in the Protocol and in the Schedule, but not in the Clauses of the Bill, is that the servants or agents of the carrier are protected in the same way as the carrier by limitation of liability. In the past, it was doubtful whether the servants or agents of the air corporations were protected by the limitation of liability. There was always the risk that a person injured in an air accident might sue the servant or agent and so escape the provisions of the Convention and, incidentally, visit possibly enormous liabilities upon an unfortunate employee of the corporations. That is corrected in Article 25A of the scheduled Protocol.

Coming, as I must, briefly to the documents of carriage, the changes are of three main kinds. The first is to reduce greatly the complication which is required in the ticket so that the carrier shall enjoy the protection of the Convention. At present, a quite minor slip in writing out the ticket will deprive the carrier of protection under the Convention, and not merely deprive him of the limit to compensation, but, by a strict reading of the existing Convention, subject him to unlimited liability even if he is not at fault and the accident should be caused by the negligence of the person injured.

Under Article 3, on pages 7 and 8 of the Bill, the carrier need only insert the particulars which are there specified, which are roughly these: the starting point and the destination of the journey and if these are not in different countries both contracting parties one stop in a different country to show that it is international carriage; and also a notice drawing the attention of the passenger to the fact that the provisions of the Warsaw Convention probably apply to his journey. The object of that is to warn him that the compensation would be limited and that he had better take out an insurance if he wants more reassurance against injury. It is essential that that warning should appear on the ticket so that the passenger knows where he is and can put his 2s. into the machine or take whatever consequential action he thinks proper.

Therefore, it is laid down in the Convention, as amended by the Protocol, that if that notice does not appear on the ticket, the carrier is open to unlimited liability, though not to liability if he is not really at fault, and, for example, the accident was the fault of the passenger. In that respect, there is a change—a very obvious change—for What I think must have been an inadvertence in the Warsaw Convention itself.

In relation to passengers' baggage, there is a distinction in the Convention that the carrier must issue a baggage check to the passenger in respect of all his baggage, except small articles carried by the passenger himself and for which the passenger therefore accepts responsibility. We all know how that operates when we make an air journey. One has a baggage check, but not for the things that are carried on one's arm. It is very difficult to distinguish, in law, between small articles which a passenger takes with him and perhaps larger articles which he also takes with him and for which he ought to have a baggage check. The Protocol clears that up, and provides that there are two kinds of baggage; those for which the baggage check is in fact issued, which come under the Convention, and those for which a check is not issued, which therefore come under the definition of articles which the passenger is taking with him and for which a single maximum figure is given.

Those are the main changes I wish to emphasise, because, at this late stage of the afternoon, I feel that we should not go into the enormous detail, which we could do when we come to analysing the Protocol, and I now turn to the Clauses of the Bill. The first Clause introduces a novelty into English legislation, because it annexes the Protocol in its French text to an English Bill. So far as I know, that has never been done in an Act of Parliament hitherto, but it seems to be inevitable, because the French text is the one which must prevail in the event of any discrepancy between the French, English and Spanish texts, which are the three texts. It has been found in relation to carriage by sea that even though the French text of the Carriage by Sea Convention was not scheduled in the Carriage by Sea Act, 1932, nevertheless, the courts have felt at liberty to examine the French text and modify their interpretation of the Statute by reference to it. Therefore, in this Bill the step has been taken of actually scheduling the French text.

Clause 1 also provides that the Clause, and therefore the Bill, comes into force only on such date as Her Majesty may by order appoint, and the reason for that is that the Protocol itself will not come into force until 30 States have ratified it, and up to now only 18 have done so. It is essential not to bring the Bill into force before 30 ratifications are available, because otherwise, owing to a slight oversight at the time of the Convention, the Warsaw Convention would be annulled before the Protocol came into force. That would be an unfortunate gap.

Clause 2 provides for the definition of High Contracting Parties, and that is merely to deal with a legal difficulty which arose in the past and with which I will not trouble the House today.

Clause 3, which seems a little enigmatic on the face of it, is merely put in to please Scottish lawyers who have hitherto been rather annoyed that Lord Campbell's Act has been inadvertently applied to Scotland for carriage by air under the 1932 Act. The Clause corrects that unintended invasion.

Clause 4 deals with some consequential provisions relating to the English law of joint tortfeasor, with which again I think the House will not have much concern, and it also makes certain that there can be no duplication of damages by the claimant proceeding in a number of different countries and getting accumulated totals each one limited by the Convention but undiminished by previous ones.

Then I come to the point which the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), who has now left the Chamber, raised by way of an intervention, and that is the power of the Minister of Aviation to specify in £ sterling value the gold francs. That is a novel provision and one which certainly could be considered in Committee. Hitherto the practice enjoined by the 1932 Act has been for the value of the gold francs in sterling to be ascertained as at the date of judgment. That has not in fact produced any difficulty in operation though it probably has caused a certain amount of trouble. The gold quotation in London on the day that the judgment is given has to be ascertained. There is power under the Convention for each country to round the figure off in terms of its national currency, and it has been thought simpler that an Order in Council should give the actual amount.

At to the provisions which I mentioned relating to actions against servants or agents in Clause 5, a time limit of two years is applied to them because it was omitted from the Convention, possibly by inadvertance, and it is thought wrong that a person who is debarred by effluxion of time should recover damages out of time by going against the servant or agent because at the Hague in 1955 this point was overlooked. Therefore it is filled in by Clause 5, which also applies the Convention to arbitration.

I think the only other matter to which I ought now to draw the attention of the House is Clause 10, which allows Her Majesty by Order in Council to apply provisions of the amended Convention to carriage by air which is not international. The Convention itself only applies to international carriage as defined in it, which means carriage from the territory of one contracting party to the territory of another contracting party or at any rate with an intermediate stop. If it is internal carriage inside the territory of one contracting party there must be at any rate an intermediate stop outside that territory, and from that hon. Members will see that there is a good deal of carriage which is not international carriage, for example, carriage between the territories of countries which are not contracting parties, or our own domestic airlines which are entirely inside our own jurisdiction and to those to the Convention does not apply unless it is specially applied by an Order in Council.

The existing Convention has been so applied since 1952 and Clause 10 provides for the amended Convention to be equally so applied. There is a little difference here to draw to the attention of the House. The new provision is wider because it is thought desirable that it should apply to gratuitous carriage which hitherto has not been covered by the provisions of the Air Navigation Order and also to carriage by a carrier who is not an air corporation and at present lies outside the Convention.

The Convention does not apply to the Crown and hon. Members who have taken a trip in Crown aircraft know that they have been asked to sign something which is flippantly called a "blood-chit", because if they did not sign it the Crown might find itself open to unlimited liability if they were injured. The Bill would enable the Crown to take advantage of limitation of liability and the ordinary civil passenger rules to apply, and for what it is worth hon. Members would no longer have to sign a "blood-chit" whenever they went for trips in Crown aircraft.

There are other provisions such as those applying the Convention to stowaways who naturally enough have no tickets. There are many similar small matters in the Bill but I think that I have said enough to indicate the general nature of the Measure. While I appreciate that there will be many comments to be made about it in Committee and that the Bill will have to have detailed consideration there, I will say no more because I know that other hon. Members have some comments to make on it this afternoon

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

As one hon. Member who has signed quite a number of "blood-chits" I welcome the Bill, but it is not purely from selfish personal interest that I do so. I welcome it also because I think that it is an important Measure and I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) on choosing this as his subject. Like the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) I am very fond of animals but, as he pointed out, we have had so many Private Members' Bills dealing with animals that it is a welcome change to find that there are other subjects in which hon. Members are interested.

I feel some sorrow that the Bill means attending the funeral of the Warsaw Convention and the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, because they were very important and friendly Measures which brought order out of chaos. Before we had them there were no uniform rules or laws which defined liability, even in respect of passengers. National laws differed, with the result that there was great confusion.

After the last war I was told a little about this when the Convention was being examined by I.C.A.O. I spent a happy day in Montreal in 1945 with members of the Legal Committee who were then working on the Convention. They drafted what became the new Convention.

Although this is a Private Member's Bill, two of the questions which I should like to ask are inevitably addressed to the Government. First, there is the matter of ratification. Clause 1 (3) provides that Her Majesty by Order in Council may certify the day on which the Con- vention comes into force in the United Kingdom.

Clause 1 of the Bill which gives the force of law to the Convention is to come into force on that day. Thirty ratifications are needed and I did not know until the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South pointed it out that there have been eighteen ratifications so far. I should like an assurance that there will be no question of our not ratifying only because eighteen and not twenty-nine other nations have ratified. Timing is important in this matter. If we hang back, nobody will get anywhere.

I do not understand the point of Clause 3. I understand that the invasion of Scotland's principles of law by Lord Campbell's Act displeased the Scottish lawyers, but is the effect of Clause 3 to make uniform the United Kingdom law? Or is it to revert to the old national laws for different parts of te United Kingdom?

Mr. Ronald Bell

It is the latter.

Mr. de Freitas

In relation to Clause 4, I ask the Government for an assurance that they will keep up to date the orders giving effect to subsection (4). Over the years there has been an inflation of the value of the pound, especially in the last ten years, bringing its value down from 20s. to 15s. and that tendency, though not perhaps at the same rate, is Rely to continue over a period in the future. It is important, therefore, if the provision becomes law, that the Department concerned shall continually keep this matter under review and make changes in the law.

Mr. Dudley Williams

How can Parliament change the law? As I understand it, this gives effect to some international proposal, and there is no chance of the law on a Convention being changed unless we have another international proposal.

Mr. de Freitas

The fault is mine for using the word "law". If the hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 4 (4) he will see that it states: The Minister of Aviation may from time to time by order…specify the respective amounts which for the purposes of the said Article 22 and in particular of paragraph (5)… that is to say, they translate this gold definition into English sterling. We can discuss that more fully in Committee if the hon. Gentleman is interested. but at the moment I will not weary the House any further on the point. I do not know of any other case where there is a power like this for a Government Department, and it is up to the Department to see that it s brought up to date.

I am chiefly concerned with Clause 1 (2) which stales: If there is any inconsistency between the text in English in Part I of the First Schedule to this Act and the text in French of Part II of that Schedule, the text in French shall prevail. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South said that so far as he knew this was without precedent in modern times. It is true that for many centuries we worked with the French language, and we have had a variety of French, English and doe Latin. But now we have become accustomed to working in English and indeed in Erskine May, Chapter XIX, page 444, it states: A Member must address the House in English. What happens when we are in Committee and wish to amend something? What is the effect if we are referring to the French text which, after all, prevails over the English text, if we can discuss that only in the English language? We have all experienced problems in the translating of English into French and French into English, and I should like some information on that point. I welcome the Bill and I feel that the hon. Member far Buckinghamshire, South will play the rôle of a rapporteur.

3.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

As was said by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is to be congratulated on having introduced a valuable Measure which I am sure will be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The object of this Bill, as he clearly indicated, is to make possible the ratification of the Hague Protocol of 1955 amending the Warsaw Convention of 1929 relating to liability of air carriers engaged in international carriage.

As my hon. Friend indicated, the Hague Protocol of 1955 provides for the doubling of the present limit of liability for injury or death of a passenger from about £3,000 to about £6,000; and for making other minor amendments, to which he referred, to the liability of air carriers for damage to passengers' baggage and cargo. I say "about" because as the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), indicated in his intervention, the exact sums are expressed in the Convention in terms of a gold currency unit known, I think, as the Poincare franc, which does not now exist and which I do not think ever existed at all.

Mr. de Freitas

It exists notionally.

Mr. Rippon

It exists notionally, certainly, for the purpose of this Convention.

That is the difficulty which gives rise to the provision in Clause 4 (4) to which the hon. Member for Lincoln referred. The subsection provides for the periodical specification of the sterling equivalents of the liability limits in the Convention expressed in these gold currency units. I think, of course, we should all appreciate, if that is to mean anything at all, that the periodic review must take place as and when there is some fluctuation in the limit of liability through fluctuation in the price of gold or for some other reason.

No doubt the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South about the provisions under the 1932 Act and which were somewhat different can be discussed later in Committee. As the hon. Member for Lincoln said, the Protocol does not come into effect until thirty States have ratified. I think that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the number of States so far which have done so is seventeen or eighteen. I have no doubt that if the Bill is passed it will encourage further ratifications.

The hon. Member for Lincoln put some specific points on the effect of Clause 1 (3). The effect of that is to bring the Section into force on a day to be appointed. The reason for this is that the Protocol does not come into effect until ninety days have passed after the thirtieth ratification. The intention is, I understand, that a number of States, including the United Kingdom—if this Measure commends itself to the House—will deposit their ratification simultaneously so that the Protocol comes into force and the denunciation of the unamended Convention takes effect on a prearranged day. That is a matter of machinery which should work effectively and which we could, perhaps, discuss in detail later.

As my hon. Friend indicated, this Bill is modelled on the lines of the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, which it repeals and replaces, so perhaps the hon. Member for Lincoln is not quite right in thinking that it has disappeared altogether. The 1932 Act scheduled the original Warsaw Convention, and in the same way this Bill schedules the Convention as modified by the Protocol.

I understand the interest displayed in the provision of Clause 1 (2) which relates to the fact that the text in French in the Schedule shall prevail in the event of a dispute. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South pointed out, his Measure also schedules the text in French. The hon. Member for Lincoln raised an interesting point about what may happen in Committee when we start speaking in French. I do not think that we shall be able to amend the French text because, as the hon. Gentleman will see, one of the provisions of the First Schedule sets out Article 36 which states: The Convention is drawn up in French in a single copy whch shall remain deposited in the archives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Poland and of which one duly certified copy shall be sent by the Polish Government to the Government of each of the High Contracting Parties. That will be a duly authorised text. The Hague Protocol which amended the Convention was in three authentic texts—English, French and Spanish. It was provided that in the case of any inconsistency between these three texts the French should prevail

The House may feel that as the Bill affects the rights of individuals it may well be appropriate that a litigant who may not have access to the French text, although no doubt it will be placed in the Foreign Office treaty series in due course, should not be exposed to any risk of having it said at some later stage that some relevant matter in the Schedule was inconsistent with the French text. While in the particular circumstances of this Convention and this Bill it may be thought right to accept the text in a foreign language, I do not think that this ought necessarily to be regarded as a precedent for doing so invariably. I do not think that any difficulty arises so far as the courts are concerned because they have plenty of precedents for referring to French texts.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

Does not this difficulty arise in the case of other protocols?

Mr. Rippon

It may be on looking back that it would have been a good thing if we had scheduled the text in French to the 1932 Act. But one has to make a start somewhere and my hon. Friend has taken this course in this Bill. I do not think that it would apply to every Convention, certainly not to those Conventions which are concerned much more with the rights of States and relationships between States than with the rights of indivduals. This is a Bill which is particularly and peculiarly concerned with the rights of individuals to compensation. It is, therefore, particularly important that an individual litigant should be able to see in one document exactly what is the law which he is asking the Courts to interpret.

The hon. Member for Lincoln also raised the question of Clause 3. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South said that this applies to air fatalities the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act, 1846, thereby creating an action in tort on the part of the deceased's dependents. This Clause does not apply to Scotland, but Clause 11 in fact contains adaptations to Scots law which results in the law of fatal accidents in international carriage by air being the same in Scotland as the law applying to other fatal accidents. The 1932 Act, as he pointed out, took a somewhat different line by including a second schedule applying uniform treatment in the case of air accidents occurring anywhere in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the House will probably wish to allow the Scots this measure of individuality. It is a point Which we could discuss, perhaps in greater detail, later on.

There may be a number of quite difficult points on matters of detail which will arise to be considered in Committee, but I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having introduced this measure. It is a helpful Measure, and I think that it ought to be widely welcomed on both sides of the House.

I should perhaps mention Clause 10 and confirm that what my hon. Friend said about the effect of that Clause. As in the case of Section 4 of the 1932 Act, under which such an Order was made, this includes non-international carriage, such as domestic carriage and carriage between the United Kingdom and a dependent territory. This goes a little further in so far that it will be possible to apply such an Order both to gratuitous carriage by a carrier as he mentioned, or to the carriage of stowaways. I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

At this late hour I do not want to go into the details of the Bill, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) on introducing it and on his lucid explanation of a very difficult subject. We compliment him on the way in which he presented his case.

This is a Bill for the rights of individuals. The subject has been raised in debates in the House before. It aims at bringing up to date the Warsaw Convention, doubling the amount of compensation for passengers and providing better compensation in respect of goods carried on air lines. The hon. Member did not explain whether it protected the houses and lives of people over which the aircraft fly and give them proper compensation which the Bill should, but at least it is a step in the right direction and can be amended in Committee. I understand that 18 nations ratified the Warsaw Convention, and the hon. Member explained that it can go no further unless 30 nations ratify these provisions. It is a move in the right direction, however, and I hope that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading.

3.57 p.m.

Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)

I shall be extremely brief but I wish to register a protest against the type of Bill which is being put through as a Private Member's Bill. Hon Members need not worry; I shall speak for only two minutes and I do not intend to talk the Bill out.

This is a Bill of 14 Clauses and two Schedules, which the House has discussed for about an hour. That is not my idea of a democracy. If the Government want Bills of this kind to go through they should provide the time for them, and it is high time that some one said so.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I wish to reinforce the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Hicks Beach). It is monstrous that Bills of this nature should be pushed through on a Friday when about a dozen hon. Members are present. There is no detailed examination of them. Very important rights are to be taken away from people, and they will be forced to accept the limited rights granted under this Convention.

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) said that it was a step in the right direction. With great respect to him—and I have great liking for him—I do not think that this is so. The Bill means that if one is in an aeroplane and is injured as a result of misconduct or carelessness by a pilot, one's compensation is limited to £6,000.

Mr. Hunter

At present it is limited to £3,000. The Bill will make it £6,000.

Mr. Williams

With respect to the hon. Member, I do not believe that it is altogether limited in this country to £3,000. I think that people who are injured within the confines of the United Kingdom have a right of action at common law agairlst the carriage company.

Mr. Bell

That is not so. They are limited by the terms of the Convention.

Mr. Williams

It is monstrous that they should be. If one has the misfortune to be killed as the result of misconduct by the pilot of an aircraft, one's relatives might well receive considerably less compensation than if one had stepped off the pavement in Piccadilly Circus and been run down by a bus. That is wrong.

Mr. H. Hynd

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Williams

I do not want to talk the Bill out. I want to make a strong protest and to say that the Bill will be adequately amended in Standing Committee if I have the good fortune to be on it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).