HC Deb 02 July 1965 vol 715 cc1061-4

3.26 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, to leave out from beginning to "a" in line 5 on page 2.

Time is passing and I hope that I shall be forgiven if I move my Amendments somewhat shortly so as to make progress.

The effect of this Amendment would be to strike out the first of the powers conferred on the court by Clause 3 over cases where a claim was made in respect of loss to which Article 23 of the Convention applies. That Article limits the amount which can be recovered to 25 francs per kilogram of gross weight short. Therefore, it is right for the Bill to take account of the position which might arise if the claimant had on foot more than one action which might result in his recovery an amount greater than the maximum provided for by Article 23.

I am being extremely careful only to put forward any Amendment which is outside the Convention and which could not, if accepted, destroy the Bill as a vehicle for carrying the Convention into effect in this country. They are what one might call optional or consequential provisions. I suggest that subsection (1) of Clause 3 confers an unnecessarily wide power on the court for it says: A court before which proceedings are brought to enforce a liability which is limited by article 23 … may at any stage of the proceedings make any such order as appears to the court to be just and equitable in view of the provisions of the said article 23, and of any other proceedings which have been, or are likely to be, commenced in the United Kingdom or elsewhere to enforce the liability in whole or in part. It seems to me that the only necessary provision in this matter is made already, in subsection (2), which says: a court before which proceedings are brought to enforce a liability which is limited by the said article 23 shall where the liability is, or may be, partly enforceable in other proceedings in the United Kingdom or elsewhere be able to make an award which takes into account the amount which may be awarded in the other proceedings or make its award conditional on the result of the other proceedings.

With that power, subsection (2) should be enough to deal with the situation. The court may take into account other proceedings in its award, and make its award conditional on the results of other proceedings. That being so, why is it necessary to provide, in subsection (1), that the court should have this really limitless discretion, which is not exactly consonant with the general principles on which our courts operate, which is to apply the law rather than some wisdom of Solomon to the disputes which come before them?

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

The rubric of the Clause is: Power of court to take account of other proceedings The Clause contains two subsections, the first of which is general in effect and the second more specific, providing for jurisdiction to award a lesser amount in view of concurrent proceedings elsewhere. My hon. Friend seeks to delete the first subsection. I suggest that that would destroy the symmetry of the whole Clause. The first subsection confers wider powers than those which are specifically set out in the second.

I should like to give examples of the kind of things which would be covered by the first subsection, but would not be covered if we retained only the second subsection. First, a court may adjourn pending the determination of the foreign proceedings; secondly, the execution of a judgment may be declared by the court to be conditional upon an undertaking being given by the plaintiff that he will not bring proceedings elsewhere.

I shall follow my hon. Friend's example and try to deal with this and his other Amendments shortly, because there is not a great deal of time left. I hope that he will not press the Amendment, but will accept the view that subsection (1) ought to be retained, in order to give rather wider powers to the court. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has worked out the grammatical effect of the Amendment. He has left himself with the words, "the said article 23", in subsection (2), when there is nothing for the word "said" to refer to.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

The Government support the Bill and in particular this subsection. I support the words just spoken by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren), who is sponsoring the Bill. This Clause and this Amendment deal, on similar lines, with a subject dealt with in Section 4 of the Carriage by Air Act. I refer to HANSARD of 24th February, 1961, on that subject, where I find the quotation: Clause 4 … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 1145.] Those words were spoken by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who was the sponsor of the Bill. As he was then proposing a Clause on exactly similar lines to this in the Bill—successfully proposed, we are very glad to say—also in support of a European Convention, I hope that he will on reflection, think that his first thoughts in this case were correct and that we ought to leave—

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

While I appreciate the lucidity and clarity with which my hon. Friend is expounding the consequential effects of the Amendment, we are dealing with an Article of the Convention which says: Compensation shall not, however, exceed 25 franc per kilogram of gross weight short. 'Franc' means the gold franc weighing 10/31 of a gramme and being of millesimal fineness 900. I wonder whether he could make equally clear and lucid precisely how the Amendment will affect that computation.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I hope that I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I was not persuaded by the arguments so skilfully addressed to me by my hon. Friend, nor by those of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I have been persuaded by the quotation—

Mr. Hale

On a point of order. I wonder whether I could ask the hon. Gentleman to speak a little more audibly. I appreciate that he has been speaking on so many subjects today and, having cast his net rather wide, is a little tired, but this is a matter about which one wants to be informed.

Mr. Bell

I am happy to assist the hon. Gentleman. I thought that I was speaking too loudly, because I have heard the microphones booming. I shall try to boom more effectively.

I was saying that I was convinced and persuaded by the quotation from my own speech on the Carriage by Air Act which I piloted through the House. As this Clause is the same as that, it must be a good Clause. As to the millesimal fineness, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is the same millesimal fineness as in the earlier Bill, and, therefore, that too, must be right.

Mr. Hale

That may be, but we are dealing with a Convention made at Geneva in 1956. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that we are taking too much time, when he has used several hours and I have used only a few seconds. At that Convention, millesimal fineness had a quite different meaning. To refer us to the Carriage by Air Act as an explanation when we are now—suddenly, on Friday, rather late—attempting to implement a Geneva Convention of 1956, is a question on which we are entitled to ask for a little more information.

Mr. Bell

The hon. Gentleman will realise that I was trying to deal with his intervention not entirely seriously. I am not the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, but am simply talking on my own Amendment.

I do not think that I would be far wrong, however, if I said that the reason the Bill is being introduced to implement the Convention of 1956 is that, like the Carriage by Air Bill, it is one of those things which sits around in Government Departments for a long time until a private Member is willing to take it up and do the hard work which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) has done in taking it through the House.

In view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.