HC Deb 03 May 1963 vol 676 cc1510-28
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, at the beginning to insert: Unless the court in all the circumstances otherwise thinks fit". This is not a major Amendment. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) will have appreciated from the Report of the Edmund Davies Committee that one of the solutions to this problem to which the Committee gave attention was that the court be given discretion. The recommendation of the Committee in paragraph 31 of its Report states: The simplest proposal which we considered was to confer upon the courts an unfettered discretion to extend the three-year period in any case which appeared appropriate. If that suggestion, which appears to have solid grounds for support, were to commend itself to the hon. Member, then it seems to me that the appropriate way of giving effect to it would be by introducing into the Clause some such words as those which I have put down. I am not convinced that my draftsmanship is perfect. It may be that I should have put down a supplementary Amendment to omit the word "not" in line 9. But the object of the proposal would be to give the court discretion. The House would be interested to know whether the hon. Member for Colchester considered this suggestion and whether there are good reasons for rejecting it.

Mr. Buck

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) asked me whether I had considered the suggestion and whether there are good reasons for rejecting it. The answer to both those questions is, "yes". It was considered and there are objections to this course.

If he had read a little further, in paragraph 31 of the Edmund Davies Report, he would have found the objections there set out succinctly and ably. The first point which is made in this Report against giving the court unfettered discretion is that it would encourage optimistic litigants. Someone might chance his arm. He might say, "I might be lucky with the judge". That is a phrase which one has heard on occasions. He might say, "We will try it out". That is the speculative and optimistic embarking on litigation.

That is a less fundamental objection than the next which is delineated in the Edmund Davies Report—the basic uncertainty which this course would bring into the whole of this realm of the law. We should not know the principles which the courts would adopt. We should be giving them no guidance if this were made the solution. We should have to wait until there was a body of case law built up to show the way in which the courts thought appropriate to exercise their discretion before any lawyer could give any client advice of any certainty. This body of case law which various courts would be establishing, the criteria on which they decided whether to exercise discretion, would be built up at the expense of litigants. This would leave the matter much too vague. There would be no guidance. This is the view put by the Edmund Davies Committee, and one cannot fail to agree with them that it is a substantial objection to this solution being adopted.

The solution was carefully considered by them. It has a great attraction of simplicity. If I had found any simple solutions when considering ways of tackling this problem, I should have welcomed them very much. But this proposal has drawbacks, and for the reasons I have stated I do not think it appropriate to give a court unfettered discretion.

I do not want to take technical points, but the Amendment as framed would give the court a discretion in addition to the potential litigant having to fulfil certain conditions. This would be hard on potential plaintiffs, who would have to fulfil the conditions set out in the Bill and then would have the possibility of the court deciding against them. That would be an added hardship which I know the hon. Member for Islington does not wish to introduce.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I see the validity of the objection to the wording in its context in that it mounts an unfettered discretion, an undefined discretion, on top of one which is already defined. But the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and I wanted to bring forward the other possible way of proceeding—that of a discretion in the court. We did that in our search for the same simplicity as inspired our last new Clause, and to try to get rid of the great complications. I think that neither the hon. Member nor myself wishes to press the Amendment very heavily at this stage, because we are conscious of the limitation of time at this stage of the Bill. That is the disadvantage of these highly technical Bills being brought forward in a way in which we feel some constraint of time upon us.

But I am not impressed by the difficulty put forward in the Report of the Edmund Davies Committee. I think that was a bad point. The court exercises its discretion in many other matters of this kind without there being the difficulties of uncertainty and chance to which the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) referred. There is, for example, the question of leave to appeal out of time, with which we are all familiar. That is entirely at the discretion of the court, but I do not think that we find any particular difficulty in advising a client whether he has a chance of getting leave to appeal out of time in the circumstances. There are many other cases in which one deals with a pure discretion of the court only defined, if it is defined at all, by precedents and practice.

Mr. Buck

In the example which the hon. Gentleman gave of leave to appeal out of time, a substantial body of case law has been built up to indicate the principles on which the discretion would be exercised. It has taken many years to build it up.

Mr. Bell

If the hon. Member thinks that there will be no body of case law built up on this Bill he is taking, from a professional point of view, an unduly pessimistic attitude. I do not think that there would have been any difficulty in a simple provision leaving this to the discretion of the court, with perhaps a little guidance in the Bill, and I should have preferred that method. I am glad that the hon. Member for Islington, East, put it forward, for it should be on the record that this has been considered not just by the Committee but by Parliament. One might come back to this in the end, because I think that it would work well and simply. We shall never get away from the difficulty of such possibilities of being lucky with the judge or unlucky with him. That is inherent in the whole process at every stage of any action.

I believe that we should have had considerable certainty here. We should quickly have got the feel of the kind of circumstances in which leave would be given. If we are not to give the right under Section 26 which we proposed in the new Clause, I should prefer leaving the matter to a pure discretion, whereas the middle road will be one of exceptional complication.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of what has been said and the explanation given by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out paragraph (a).

Mr. Speaker

I should point out that the survival, or failure, as the case may be, of the Amendment in page 2, line 35, to leave out Clause 2, will depend on the fate of this Amendment.

Mr. Fletcher

This is a substantial and very important Amendment, because, as you point out, Mr. Speaker, the proposal is not merely to omit subsection (1, a). A corollary, if the Amendment is carried, as I hope it will be carried, is that it would be necessary to omit Clause 2.

This is probably the most serious aspect of the Bill and one which the House should consider most carefully before reaching a decision. It will be observed by those who have studied the Report of the Edmund Davies Committee that that Committee thought it right, after some hesitation—and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) has thought fit to adopt that suggestion, I imagine almost entirely because it was their suggestion—to introduce into the Bill, as a condition of removing a hardship on which we are all agreed, the obligation on the kind of plaintiff we are considering of satisfying two conditions before he can bring an action. As the Bill stands, he has to satisfy the court, first that he has a good cause of action at all, and secondly that there are good reasons why this exception from the ordinary law of limitation applies to him. In other words, he has to satisfy the court that prima facie there are good reasons why he could not possibly have known at the time when the action arose that it did arise.

12.30 p.m.

Let us therefore consider whether on principle it can be said that it is either reasonable or just that these very onerous conditions should be imposed on an intended plaintiff which are not imposed on any other plaintiff. Many actions are brought, for various reasons and with various prospects of success. Every plaintiff has to decide, before he issues a writ or is advised to, what is the likelihood of success; what is the weight of his evidence; and what evidence could be brought by the defendant, about which he cannot ever be certain when he starts.

By Clause 2 we are going a long way to whittle down the rights which it is the main object of the Bill to confer on these workmen—miners and others—who suffer this kind of disease and all plaintiffs in this category. We want to put them on an equality with all other people who have a cause of action because of personal injuries. If Clause 2 is to stand, they are not put on an equality. They will not have the same right as every other citizen of the realm has of bringing his action. Like everybody else he has to take the chances of success and the hazards of not knowing the defendant's case. In the ordinary way a plaintiff does not have to produce his evidence until a later stage of the trial. He has the right to adduce further evidence after he has issued his writ which is not in his possession at the time of the issue of the writ. This class of people are denied these advantages and opportunities enjoyed by the ordinary citizen. A man in this class cannot bring an action, unless he goes through the process of first satisfying the court by the production of evidence on oath that he has a prima facie case, both on the merits and on the point under the Limitation Act.

Why should he have to do that? It throws an additional burden on him. It makes him hesitate perhaps doubly before he exercises his rights. It may give the defendant an opportunity of knowing well in advance what case he has to meet. It would seem also to deprive the plaintiff of the opportunity of adducing further evidence at a later stage. If he brought an action in the ordinary way he might succeed, but he may find that under this procedure for same reason or other he cannot overcome this first hurdle. He may find that he cannot satisfy the judge for some purely technical reason or other and therefore cannot get his action started. It is quite wrong in principle that this unusual burden contained in Clause 2 should be put upon him. The object of the Amendment is therefore to delete Clause 1(1)(a) and the whole of Clause 2.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

As I have not previously had the opportunity of catching your eye at this stage of the Bill, Mr. Speaker, may I in prefacing what I have to say on the Amendment make clear and underline that I, too, most warmly support the general principles of the Bill? I am as emphatic as any other hon. Member in trusting and believing that the House will in due time give it a Third Reading, because it clearly contains most advantageous provisions.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), who has promoted the Bill with such distinction, will devote careful thought to the argument advanced on this point by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher). This is exactly the sort of point which will come before those whose duty it is to advise persons affected by the Bill in the first instance. That is why this is so particularly appropriately raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East, who, as we all know, is an active and practising solicitor. It falls to that profession, of which I myself am a junior member, to seek to advise those who one trusts in due time will have the advantage of these provisions of the general procedure lying before them and the hurdles, as the hon. Gentleman called them, over which the case has to be got.

I am not clear that I understood one or two matters in relation to Clause 2 which arose out of an earlier exchange between my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester and Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). I should like to be a little clearer than I am. For instance, as I understood it, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester was emphatic that these provisions would be operated by way of affidavit evidence. I should be very gateful if my hon. Friend would make it more clear why he is able to be so emphatic about this.

Mr. Buck

I was not emphatic about it. The words I used, I think—we shall see them tomorrow—were that that is what is expected—that is, expected by me and by those with whom I have discussed the matter. One is at a loss to know of any other ex parte proceeding which is not by way of affidavit but where there is oral evidence. In the last resort, oral evidence can be given on ex parte applications. However, I am at a loss to think of an ex parte application which is otherwise than on affidavit.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I may very well have misunderstood how emphatic he was. He has greatly helped me by partly clearing up that point. It had left in my mind a slight doubt as to exactly how this was to be handled.

Although I think that hon. and learned Members sometimes find this a little difficult to understand—this is a point I have made on a number of occasions—there are a great many persons who are affected by the provisions of various Acts passed by Parliament who have a very real fear and anxiety at having to take part in legal proceedings. This is a fear which we meet in our branch of the profession—not only in this matter, but in other matters—fairly frequently. To erect a second hurdle or a preliminary hurdle—the obtaining of the leave of the court—at first sight seems regrettable in that context. I hope that when my hon. Friend the promoter replies he will be able to deal fairly fully with this aspect.

I quite realise what, in general, my hon. Friend's argument will be. This point was not discussed in detail in Committee because the Committee stage did not take very long, and my hon. Friend was then very frank, though not on this point, in expressing himself as having considerable confidence in the interpretation of the courts. Speaking as a member of the legal profession. I am sure that he is absolutely entitled to have that confidence.

The important point, however, is that this provision, and other provisions like it, is directed towards persons who, if one may say so without a hint of superiority, make no pretence—why should they?—of knowing anything whatever about the law and its workings, and it therefore behoves us, in legislating for something of a very humble nature, to make the provisions as uncomplicated as we can. That is why I think the Amendment, which has allowed us to have just a brief look at the provisions of Clause 2, is of great value, and why I hope that we may be satisfied beyond doubt that the provisions of the Clause as drawn are those that should now be agreed to.

Mr. Taverne

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) will withdraw his Amendment and, instead, support that in page 2, line 40—leave out from "if" to end of subsection (2) and insert: it is satisfied that the requirements of subsection (3) of the preceding section in relation to that cause of action have been fulfilled". As the Bill stands, a plaintiff would first have to prove that he came within the special provisions of the Limitation Act; that he could not have discovered the injury in the time. Secondly, he would have to prove that he had a prima facie case on merits. I support that second point, and I hope that it will be carefully considered by the hon. Member far Colchester (Mr. Buck). In regard to the first point, I do not support the Amendment, although I have no particular objection to it. On this question, a balance has to be maintained between the disadvantage of delaying actions indefinitely and the tremendous hardship that is suffered by some plaintiffs in certain cases to which reference has been made. Hardship is sustained by some defendants in having to meet a case long after the normal period has passed, and it is reasonable to provide that the plaintiff should prima facie show that he could not reasonably have discovered his injury in time. There is no great hardship in that. He has only to produce an affidavit, with a doctor's certificate attached to it saying that he is suffering from pneumoconiosis and could not have discovered that fact more than twelve months before the time.

If this Amendment is carried, the whole Bill may run up against certain snags. At the moment, it has the support of both the National Union of Mineworkers and the employers, but if the Amendment is carried it may be felt that the Bill leans too much against defendants, and difficulties will be raised in the Bill's further stages—

Mr. Fletcher

Would my hon. Friend tell us whether he really thinks there would be any opposition from any interested quarter if the Amendment were passed?

Mr. Taverne

I discussed this Amendment with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) last night, and I think he agrees that there is some force in saying that, in some circumstances, if the provisions are too hard on employers, objections will arise.

It is no great hardship on a plaintiff to produce an affidavit with a medical certificate attached to it. If the Bill as it stands is something that the National Union of Mineworkers is willing to accept, why should we not act on the basis of what all those concerned will accept? For these reasons, I hope that the point that a plaintiff must prove a prima facie case on the merits of the action will be acceptable, but that the present Amendment is not accepted.

The Committee stage of this Measure, because of general agreement, lasted less than one and half hours. There is, at the moment, general agreement between all the parties affected. I hope that hon. Members will not use this Bill now in order to delay the discussion of the next Bill on the Order Paper. I hope that they will not, in effect, filibuster, and bring this House into disrepute—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is going beyond the rules of order relating to this particular Amendment.

Mr. Taverne

Then I hope that this Amendment will be withdrawn, and that the Amendment standing in the name of my lion. Friend the Member for Bedwellty will later be accepted.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Buck

This Amendment raises matters of great interest and, as the hon.

Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) has just said, we have to consider that the Bill represents an effort to maintain a balance between the position of plaintiffs and that of defendants.

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said that the Bill as framed took away from the rights of every person by providing for this preliminary procedure. At the moment, a person who does not know that he has been substantially injured is in the unfortunate position of being debarred by the Limitation Act because of the effiuxion of time. He now has no right at all, because it is a profound principle of law that we should do nothing to encourage or help stale claims. We must bear that principle in mind as the background of the Bill.

This Measure makes very great inroads into the principles of limitation that have heretofore appertained, as was recognised very fully by the Edmund Davies Committee. Paragraph 17 of that Committee's Report states: … it is intended to protect defendants from being vexed by stale claims relating 'to long-past incidents about which their records may no longer be in existence and as to which their witnesses, even if they are still available, may well have no accurate recollection. If one is dealing with claims that are stale, in the sense that the word is used in the Report, one has to consider whether it is not appropriate to give added protection to defendants.

This Bill breaches the whole limitation principle quite substantially, and we have to decide whether it is right to keep the balance by protecting defendants from those cases that have no substantial merit in them. That was the approach adopted by the Edmund Davies Committee, and it has a lot to recommend it. The Committee stated that: Relaxation in proper cases of the three-year rule in favour of plaintiffs must impose an additional burden on defendants. We think it would be a mistake if this burden were increased by opening the gate so wide as to let in a flood of cases which are not truly within the categories with which we are concerned. The Committee then considered three ways of dealing with the problem.

We first have to decide whether the Edmund Davies Committee was right in considering whether there should be a balance between the protection of plaintiffs and the protection of defendants. It is appropriate that there should be, as it were, some quid pro quo, and it is frankly that which is accorded to defendants because they are having a protection removed from them. I suggest that it is not an unreasonable proposition. It would seem that so strongly was this the view of the Edmund Davies Committee that it considered most carefully other ways in which this balance could be accomplished—and those ways are set out in paragraph 33.

The Committee went so far as to consider whether, in certain circumstances, an additional burden of proof should not be imposed on plaintiffs by making it the same as that which appertains in criminal cases. That would be a very heavy burden to place on them—as I see the hon. Member for Islington, East recognises—but their even considering this course indicates how serious the Committee thought the position to be, and how important that a balance should be kept.

The Committee then considered whether corroborative evidence should not in all circumstances be required of the plaintiff. My recollection is that it determined that if it were to be properly enforced this action would be too harsh to potential plaintiffs. It then arrived at the solution which I have sought to adopt in this Bill, namely, a sort of filter procedure applicable before heavy expenses are incurred by anybody—as my hon. and learned Friend said earlier this will not be a lengthy or excessive procedure—to see that unmeritorious claims do not come before the courts and defendants are not put to unnecessary expense.

That is the basic principle of this. I recognise that there is much to be said on either side relevant to the whole of the problem, but I recommend to the House that the balance between the rights of plantiffs and defendants should be safeguarded. I think that we can deal with the other matters which appertain to this Amendment on a later Amendment put down in the names of the hon. Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and others. The principle on which this Bill is based is that there should be a balance kept between the rights of plaintiffs and those of defendants.

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Member has referred to unmeritorious claims. In the ordinary course, a person is entitled to bring an action if he thinks that he has a meritorious claim. He does not have to satisfy a judge. No doubt plenty of actions are brought that may be unmeritorious. but people are entitled to bring unmeritorious actions if they think that they have a chance of success.

Mr. Buck

People are at the moment entitled to bring unmeritorious claims, but the question that we are considering is whet1ier they should be entitled to bring unmeritorious claims when they have the added confusion of being unmeritorious claims of antiquity. Here we are giving people a new right. At the moment, a citizen has no right at all to brine an action, meritorious or otherwise, after the effluxion of the limitation period. We are giving a new right here, and it would seem appropriate that there should be some procedure to try to make sure that defendants are not put into the very great difficulties that they are sometimes put by having to meet such stale claims, claims that may not have any merit in them. That is the point that I have been trying to make.

I submit to the House that it is one of some substance. How effective is the filter procedure laid down in my Bill and put forward by the Edmund Davies Committee I am frankly in some doubt. I think, however, that it will be effective in weeding out certain unmeritorious claims, which it ought to do, because defendants ought not to be put to expense in dealing with stale claims of that nature. How really effective it will be, time will eventually tell.

We look forward with great interest to the discussion which will follow if this Bill goes to another place where, with great respect to everyone here, there is a vast weight of legal knowledge, and I hope that the legal Lords will participate in the debate.

One realises that there are two sides to the question. The safe course, I suggest to the House, is to adopt the compromise recommended by the Edmund Davies Committee and allow this Clause to remain without the Amendment.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I cannot bring myself to regard a claim for personal injuries brought after three and a half years as a stale claim. This is to some extent where we see these things a little differently. I agree that I am starting from the point of view that I never really liked the reduction of the six years' period to three years in cases of personal injury. I thought that it was a mistake, and what we are doing today is in some degree the consequence of it.

I take a slightly different view as to how the balance should be struck between the plaintiff and the defendant. After all, if somebody has caused injury to somebody else by his wrongful act, I find it hard to understand why so many obstacles should be put in the way of the person who is seeking redress, simply because the consequences of the wrongful act cannot be properly assessed until a certain period of time has passed. It seems to me that the injured man who is put in that position is not really someone who has been guilty of neglect or delay such as to put him at the mercy of the legal process. He comes to the court with clean hands, and he should stand on the same legal basis as any other litigant going to the courts. That is the way I look at it, if, in accordance with the provisions of Section 26 of the Limitation Act, he is coming to court out of time, outside the ordinary limitation period, but is able to say that he is seeking to rectify the consequences of a mistake that is not the fault of the defendant, but simply a mistake. He is not subjected to any of this screening process. He has not to prove a prima facie case. He has not to satisfy a judge on application that he had no means of earlier knowledge.

Of course, it can be objected to in the course of the action that he does not come inside Section 26, and if he does not—well, he is unlucky; but the law does not impose this system of check upon him. Why should there be this special arrangement for people who are extremely analogous to those who are seeking to correct the result of a mistake? The mistake from which they are seeking relief is that they thought, wrongly, that they had suffered no appreciable physical injury from the wrong that was done to them. The mistake in fact is exactly parallel to the kind of mistake already covered by Section 26 of the Limitation Act. The parallel is so close, so obvious, that one inevitably asks: why these special provisions?

After all, when an application is made. these matters will remain to be decided in the action. The court may give leave, perhaps, both on the ground that there is a prima facie case and upon the ground that the plaintiff had no earlier opportunity of knowing about the decisive facts. Then, when it comes to the actual hearing, the court may reverse both those prima facie findings. Neither is disposed of and finished with by the application. The whole thing—both legs of it—has to been fully considered in the action, and the decision may go either way. So this is an extra process added to the normal legal proceedings in this kind of action and it is one imposed only on this particular kind of plaintiff. This is why hon. Members on both sides of the House ask: why? One does not, I think I may say, get a really satisfactory answer. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), who is no longer in the Chamber, has, I think, got rather too closely inside this matter. He seems to feel that it is really a private arrangement between the National Union of Mineworkers and the British Employers' Confederation.

1.0 p.m.

This arises, of course, with particular urgency because of the pneumoconiosis issue, which certainly closely affects the National Union of Mineworkers and employers in industry. However, the Bill is not concerned only with pneumoconiosis cases, for it is of quite general application. It should not really mean that because what are described as the "interested parties outside the House" have agreed on a certain bargain or compromise about this hon. Members should not inquire into it and suggest any changes.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwelty)

The hon. Member said that there had been some bargain or compromise arrived at between the unions and the employers. That is quite incorrect and I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw that statement. There has been no compromise or bargain concerning the Bill.

Mr. Bell

I was merely repeating words that have already been used.

Mr. Finch

No one said anything about a bargain.

Mr. Bell

I agree that the word "compromise" was not used, but there was nothing improper in my use of the term. I was not criticising anyone or suggesting that something had happened that should not have taken place. There is no reason why there should not be wide consultation or why people outside the House who are particularly interested in this matter should not agree among themselves on the kind of legislation they would like to see. All I was saying was that the hon. Member for Lincoln should not say that because that had been done we should not upset it. That was the only point I was making and, in fact, the hon. Member for Lincoln said it himself; and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) knows that.

As I was saying, not only pneumoconiosis but all sorts of other things arise. Indeed, the illustration given by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) was that of a road accident in which someone had been knocked over and thought that he had merely had a bump but later found that he was suffering from intra-cranial injuries. Thus we must consider everyone and not only the rather special circumstances of an industrial disease.

The industrial disease point actually gave rise, as is known, to the setting up of the Edmund Davies Committee and, accordingly, it has been rather essential to everyone to place special emphasis on the question of industrial diseases. All I am saying is that we must look at the whole sphere and think of everyone who may be affected by the Bill. It is possibly true that, in the pneumoconiosis kind of case, an affidavit with a medical certificate attached might be—I do not say it necessarily would—all that was needed in the screening process. However, there are other cases of a different character where the prima facie evidence which would be called for under sub-paragraph (a) would be of a different character and might be quite harsh, even perhaps oppressive, for the would-be plaintiff.

I feel, therefore—and I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) on this—that this requirement of an application for permission to bring an action should come out—that is, subparagraph (a) and Clause 2, because we are discussing the two Amendments together—and that the plaintiff should bring his action as of right. He would, of course, have to bring himself within the requirements of Clause 1(3) which sets out the facts of his not having had an opportunity of knowing about the decisive facts within the limitation period.

That seems to be a simple and practical method of proceeding and I hope that it can be adopted. I appreciate that this is the Report stage of the Bill and that we are not in Committee. However, I and a number of other hon. Members were not on the Standing Committee and this is the first opportunity we have had to bring forward Amendments. I dare say that it went through quickly in Standing Committee, but, as the hon. Member for Lincoln said, that does not mean that we cannot bring forward Amendments now in an effort to assist in the deliberations of the House and, perhaps, even make some slight gloss on the agreement reached between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Employers Confederation.

Mr. Finch

There was no agreement.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. To whom was the hon. Member giving way?

Mr. Bell

The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths).

Mr. J. Griffiths

The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has been constantly talking about an agreement. The National Union of Mineworkers, at the invitation of the authorities concerned, had a representative on the Edmund Davies Committee. It is known that the union is anxious for the Bill to be passed. Nevertheless, we shall endeavour to make some Amendments to it later. The hon. Member has repeated his remarks about an agreement five times. Once would have been enough—and that once would have been incorrect.

Mr. Bell

I did, in fact, mention it only once or twice. The subsequent three times have been in dealing with interventions. If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to labour the point he should not intervene about it. I only said that there was this agreement because I think that the hon. Member for Lincoln said that they were agreed about it. I am not suggesting that someone sat down and drew up a document; merely that I understand that they agreed about it. It may be that the parties concerned have not even been in touch with each other. Nevertheless, they are in concurrence, if I may be permitted to use that word. I do not quite know the difference between "concurrence" and "agreement", but I mean to say that they think the same about the subject.

I think that the hon. Member for Lincoln was making the point that since the people concerned—I believe that he said those who were "directly" or "primarily" concerned—both felt the same way about it, it would be better to keep the solution as proposed. I am not making an adverse point and, in fact, am rather on the side of the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). He may like to know that I shall be supporting his Amendment later. I hope, therefore, that he will not quarrel with me too much about this now because we may find ourselves in disagreement about something which had not previously occurred to either of us. I am sure that we both wish to remain allies on his later Amendment.

This is a broad matter in which many points must be taken into consideration and I think that there are hon. Members on both sides who feel that this procedure might be a little too oppressive for the general run of plaintiffs who might find themselves in this position. For that reason I hope that the House will consider the Amendment of the hon. Member for Islington, East sympathetically and that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester will reconsider it.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Buck

I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, to leave out from "was" to before "in line 19 and to insert: after the end of the three-year period relating to that cause of action or was not earlier than twelve months. This Amendment meets, and does so entirely, a point which was raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). It was, in fact, the first Amendment tabled and when it was discussed in Committee I undertook to look art the matter again. I have done so and am glad to inform him that, having been convinced by his argument, I have tabled the Amendment.

As the Bill is drafted, a person can bring an action so long as it conforms with the matters we have already dealt with when discussing an earlier Amendment—that is, that the real damage done to him has remained outside his knowledge, either up to the end of the three-year period or, to use the old formula in the Bill, that it … was so near to the end of that period that it would not have been reasonably practicable for the plaintiff to bring an action, in reliance on those facts, before the end of that period … That is the formula at present. The point raised by the hon. Member for Bedwellty was that the person might be in some difficulty if he were to discover the real nature of his injury towards the end of the three-year limitation period. He might be in some difficulty and, as the hon. Member for Bedwellty suggested, it would be better to have an element of certainty in this matter rather than a formula which the court would have to determine as to whether it was so near to the end of that period that it would have been reasonably practicable for the plaintiff to bring his action.

The merits of having a fixed period were delineated by the hon. Gentleman, and I have been convinced. I have had the discussion that I said I would have with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and, in spite of the fact that in Committee my hon. and learned Friend said that he was not convinced that twelve months was the right period and that it might have to be a shorter period, nevertheless I understand that he, like me, has come round to the view that twelve months is a satisfactory time. This gives certain added advantages, perhaps, to potential plaintiffs. Therefore, I commend this Amendment to the House.

Mr. Finch

I thank the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) for agreeing to the Amendment which we moved in Committee. I think it will be of considerable help and that it will remove some of the ambiguities which might arise if this Amendment were not accepted. I therefore hope it will be accepted by the House as a whole.

The Solicitor-General

I, too, am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) has accepted the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) in Committee. It appears to me that there was much force in his argument, though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester pointed out, I did express some reservations in Committee about the period of twelve months. However, I have reconsidered the position.

While I agree that certainty should be effected in this important matter, on reflection I think my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and the hon. Member for Bedwellty are right. I agree with this period of twelve months and, therefore, I withdraw what doubts and reservations I had and, indeed, welcome the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.