HC Deb 11 December 1968 vol 775 cc435-7

3.55 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-west)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the payment of compensation for injury or damage caused by animals straying on the highway. I had hoped that the abundant evidence which is and has been available for many years to prove the necessity of affording compensation to those who are injured by animals straying on the highway would have resulted in legislation being passed on a Government level.

I am indebted, in the first place, to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) who, many years ago—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House decided some time ago to continue the consideration of Ten-Minute Rule applications at this point of time. The House must listen.

Sir B. Janner

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that it is difficult, when introducing a Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure, to command a very large attendance in the House. Nevertheless, I am glad that a number of hon. Members are here, because this is a very important subject.

We have just been discussing another very important matter affecting a comparatively small number of people in the Falkland Islands. I understand that there are about 2,000 inhabitants. I am in no way deprecating the fact that we have spent some time doing that, but I wonder whether the House realises that the subject matter with which I am concerned is one in which, in one county alone, Monmouthshire, there were over 2,370 accidents during a period of five or six years. Throughout the country, tens of thousands of accidents have been caused by animals straying on roads which have been allowed to do so in consequence of the negligence of those who should be responsible to the persons who are injured.

As the House is aware, I have sought to get a Private Member's Bill passed dealing with this subject on a large number of occasions and over a period of years, unfortunately without success. Our learned judges, as well as very many other experienced persons, have indicated the necessity of dealing with this urgent matter. Families have been and are being deprived of their breadwinners by death and injury caused to them in consequence of animals straying on to highways.

Every hon. Member will appreciate that a matter which affects his constituents, even though it may not apply to vast numbers compared with other problems, is of vital significance to the particular individuals concerned. This is apparent from the correspondence and interviews which we have. Speaking from a professional standpoint, every client who seeks advice, whether it is on a matter of small or large dimensions, regards his case as being equal in importance to any other. Almost invariably, a professional man treats this situation with complete understanding. We as Members of Parliament do the same when people come to us with their problems, even though they may be problems which, compared with the vast amount of other important work done by Parliament, might be regarded as being comparatively small.

The common law is still the basis of our legal system. The Law Commission set up under Section 1 of the Law Commissions Act, 1965 for the purpose of promoting the reform of the law submitted a Report on this subject in 1967. It said: To the general liability for negligence there is in the case of animals an important exception under the present law. A school authority may be liable for negligence in allowing a child to wander on to the highway and there cause an accident. But the occupier of land adjoining the highway from which an animal gets on to the highway, there causing injury or damage to a user of the highway, is not liable in negligence even if it is possible to show that in allowing the animal to escape he failed to exercise reasonable care and that the user was guilty of no contributory negligence. This exception to the general rule was confirmed by the House of Lords in Searle v. Wallbank (where the appellant collided on the highway with a horse belonging to the respondent, which had escaped from a field in which the respondent had placed it). However qualified, the exception from negligence liability recognised in Searle v. Wallbank has been the subject of frequent and strong judicial criticism. Thus, in Hughes v. Williams, which was decided before Searle v. Wallbank, Lord Greene, M.R., said: 'In my opinion, this court is banned by a rule of law which I dislike but which has been stated or assumed to exist in several pronouncements of this court… The rule appears to be ill-adapted to modern conditions. A farmer who allows his cow to stray through a gap in his hedge on to his neighbour's land where it consumes a few cauliflowers, is liable in damages to his neighbour, but if through a similar gap in the hedge it strays on to the road and causes the overturning of a motor bus, with death or injury to thirty or forty people, he is under no liability at all. I scarcely think that this is a satisfactory state of affairs in the twentieth century.' When parts of the New Forest were fenced in, the statistics for accidents on one of the lengths of trunk roads so fenced, given by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, showed a fall in the numbers of accidents in which animals were involved. The figures before the fencing was completed on 1st July, 1964 were: 1961, 81 accidents; 1962, 94; 1963; 80. In 1964, the number of accidents was reduced to 35, and in 1965, the first full year of fencing, the number fell to three. In 1966, one accident took place.

The Law Commission has produced a draft Bill, and I am sure that if an hon. Member who was successful in the Ballot had taken up the Bill the Government would have agreed to do something about the matte". If it is desirable and there is no Government objection, I see no reason why a private Member should not be able to carry through a Bill of this nature.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Barnett Janner, Mr. Arthur Probert, Mr. Donald Coleman, Sir Stephen McAdden, Mr. Leo Abse, Sir Myer Galpern, Dr. M. P. Winstanley, Mr. Albert Roberts, Mrs. E. M. Braddock, Mr. Gordon Oakes, Mr. Michael English, and Mr. Graham Page.