§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Churchill (Stretford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is toAmend the Road Traffic Act 1960 so as to require users of motor vehicles to be insured in respect of liability for death or bodily injury to passengers; and for connected purposes.Hon Members will be well aware of the evil at which this Bill is aimed. Tens of thousands of passengers are carried each day on the public highway without the protection of passenger insurance. Many of them do so unsuspecting that in the event of an accident in which their driver is to blame, or in the event of a fatal accident, they or their dependants are unable to obtain compensation. The cases of extreme hardship so caused are many and most hon. Members will have had some knowledge of specific instances either within their own circle of friends or among their constituents.
I venture to think that there must be almost unanimous support in the House for a change in the law. Ever since the hon. Gentleman the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) introduced a similar Bill in 1961, which likewise provided for no exemption, there has been a growing campaign both within this House and outside it to place this Measure of social reform upon the Statute Book.
The right. hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), when she was Minister of Transport, set up a special Committee of the National Road Safety Committee under Sir Harold Kent to investigate the matter. The Kent Committee, as it was called, reported in 1968 and recommended as strongly as it could that the time had come for passenger insurance to be compulsory. It expressed itself firmly opposed to opting out or to categories of exemption because it felt that the exemptions would be abused by a proportion of those involved and that as a result passengers would still be carried on the public highway without insurance cover. 2069 The Committee further stated that it had no reason to believe that there would not be a market for this type of insurance, and indeed, where the risk of passenger carriage was minimal, as in the case of ostensibly single-seat machines, this would be reflected in the premium.
On 10th March, 1969, the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), who is supporting me in this Bill, who was then Minister of Transport, announced the then Government's intention to introduce legislation as soon as possible. However, it was subsequently announced that a date for legislation could not be given because of pressure of Government business. More recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) brought forward a Bill which received its Second Reading in Febuary 1970 and passed unaltered through its Committee stage in April the same year. But it never reached the Statute Book because of the General Election in June. His Bill was similar in concept to the one now before the House, except that it exempted from its provisions mopeds of less than 50 c.c. and motor-cycles not equipped to carry a passenger, provided—a most important proviso—that no passenger was so carried.
I understand from my discussions with those representing the insurance companies that in effect, since the terms of that Bill would have required insurance companies to be responsible in the last resort in the event that a passenger was illegally carried on a vehicle, or in the case that, during the currency of the insurance, the machine was modified to carry a passenger, the exemption would have had little or no effect.
The present Minister of Transport, like his predecessors, has expressed himself in favour of amending the law. However, unfortunately, also like his predecessors, he belongs to a Government with a heavy legislative programme. I therefore venture to feel that the House will think it appropriate, in view of the great delay which has occurred and the unquantifiable human suffering which has been caused by the delay, that the Bill should now be brought forward once again as a Private Member's Bill.
I know that many hon. Members, except those, unlike myself, with preten- 2070 sions to legal knowledge, will share my view that there is as much scope for legal reform in repealing out-dated Statutes or pernicious provisions of previous legislation as there is in adding new laws to the Statute Book. The Bill does no more than repeal that subsection of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which excludes from the provisions of compulsory insurance passengers other than passengers carried for hire or reward, or in pursuance of a contract of employment.
The Kent Committee estimated that approximately 90 per cent. of motorists already had insurance cover in respect of their passengers. This figure would appear to indicate that nevertheless there still remain on the roads about a million cars which are not covered for the carriage of passengers. The substantial majority of the 1.1 million two-wheeled vehicles licensed on the roads do not have passenger insurance, even though, as Ministry of Transport statistics clearly show, their passengers are at a greater risk.
The number of car passenger casualties who go uncompensated each year is impossible to assess, as no statistics are recorded of these and the majority of victims do not bring law suits when the driver is a man of straw and there is no means for them to collect damages awarded to them. In this context, I should like to point out that for many years those connected with the administration of the law have been most concerned at the way in which the judgments of the courts have been frequently set at nought by the inability to enforce on an uninsured driver the awards made to the victims of a road accident.
In 1969, in the case of Cornell versus the Motor Insurance Bureau, Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, ended his judgment in this way:I would only add this: many people think that the statute should be altered so as to provide compulsory insurance for passengers. I think so too. It is very hard on a passenger that he should be injured by the negligence of the driver—and have no recourse for damages. I hope that Parliament will soon remedy the position. Meanwhile, I would suggest that anyone who asks for or accepts a lift should ask the driver: 'Are you insured for passengers or not?': for if he is not, and there is an accident, he may be unable to get compensation.Lord Justice Sachs echoed Lord Denning's hopes when he said: 2071It is now the best part of 40 years since a large measure of compulsory insurance for motorists was brought into force, having regard to the perils to which other road users were put by the motor car drivers incapable of paying damages. That was indeed a great step forward, though even at that time there was a measure of criticism of the plight in which passengers were left. Since then the courts have seen only too often a procession of gravely injured passengers who were bereft of compensation because the drivers were too mean or too careless to take out a more comprehensive form of policy, though well able to afford to pay that much extra for their pleasure or convenience. One can only hope that the instant case will stimulate attention to the ever-increasing need to stop literally thousands of people being in effect licensed tortiously to injure others by negligent driving without being able to compensate them.Though it may not be possible to assess what proportion of motor vehicle passengers who are involved in accidents are not covered by the provisions of insurance, it is possible to get some rough idea of the scale from those accidents involving motor cycle passengers. In the 10 years which have passed since the hon. Member for Loughborough introduced his Bill, more than 35,000 pillion passengers have been killed or severely injured. In those instances when the driver of the motor cycle was to blame, the overwhelming majority of passengers were not covered for insurance.
If the House will allow me, I should like to cite but a few of the more recent cases. In 1969 a 21-year-old man was ordered to pay a girl injured on his motor scooter £4,000. Because he had no passenger cover he will have to pay £1 a week for the next 77 years, that is, until he is 98 years old.
Only two months ago, there was a case of a young woman, aged 29, who was awarded £33,105 damages for being blinded for life in a car crash nearly four years ago. According to reports of the case, she may not get a penny of it because her boy friend who was driving the car was not insured for passenger liability and it is doubtful whether he can pay up.
In another case, last year a young man aged 22 was ordered to pay a friend crippled in a car crash for which he was held responsible £44,280. In this case the insurance company concerned had gone into liquidation and was disputing the claim. However, had the Bill been on the Statute Book at the time, even 2072 though the company concerned were to repudiate the claim or default, the Motor Insurance Bureau would almost certainly have accepted liability in accordance with its agreement with the Department of the Environment whereby it covers all risks which are by law compulsorily insurable. However, as in this case there was no requirement for compulsory passenger insurance, those involved got no compensation whatever.
In June 1969, a girl who had been in a coma for six years after a car crash died without receiving any of the £21,000 damages which she had been awarded. The driver of the car in which she had been travelling was ordered to pay £5 per month, at which rate it would have taken 350 years to clear.
I know that hon. Members will be shocked by such appalling cases, but these are but a very few of those appearing all the time in the law courts. Hon. Members will agree that it is the uninsured driver almost as much as the uninsured passenger who is in need of the protection that would be afforded by the proposed change in the law. I must ask them to consider how it came about that there should be such a loophole in the law relating to the use of motor vehicles on the public highway. I must enjoin any hon. Member who, in representing a sectional interest, may be contemplating proposing categories of exemption to the Bill earnestly to consider what might he the consequences of that exemption should it be abused and should passengers continue to be carried on the public highway without the protection afforded by insurance cover.
I come to the reasons why this Bill contains no provision for opting out or exemptions. The Kent Committee dealt severely with opting out. It declared:A provision which left open to a motor cyclist to 'opt out' of passenger insurance on the basis of a simple statement to his insurance insurer that he did not intend ever to carry a passenger would be unacceptable. … we think that sooner or later the undertaking would be broken in the majority of cases. There would also be a very real risk of deliberate evasion by a substantial number of motor cyclists. It would be impossible adequately to enforce the undertaking because the uninsured machines would not be identifiable and in the great majority of cases the offence would only come to light after the accident.2073 As to categories of exemption, a strong theoretical case can undoubtedly be made out for exempting machines not designed for the carriage of passengers. The Kent Committee considered this point but came to the conclusion that:Our inquiries confirmed that virtually all motor cycles and scooters in current production are of a type which is constructed in such a manner that passengers can be carried. Even if, as a result of demand, the manufacturers produced a sufficient supply of single-seater machines, the ingenuity of a mechnanically minded young man would, we are told, surmount the problem of subsequent adaption. Moreover, there would—conversely—be a problem for owners of existing machines which generally have an elongated seat for both rider and passenger and could not readily be adapted to a true single-seater. So we cannot see that there is any possibility of framing any exemptions around the concept of 'a true single-seater'.The Report continued:With the rapid development in power of quite small machines, mopeds capable of carrying passengers have been produced, and it seems quite possible that more will be. Although statistics show mopeds to be considerably safer than any other two-wheeled vehicle, they still compare unfavourably with four-wheelers and we think it would be better not to provide any exemption for those vehicles, on the basis that if, in practice, the extent of passenger-carrying remains fairly small, insurers would no doubt reflect this in the premium.I have made my own inquiries into the situation with mopeds and it is clear that there are an increasing number of vehicles on the market capable of carrying passengers. There are therefore very strong reasons for not allowing even in this case a category of exemption. First of all not only imported vehicles but also domestically-produced ones are being produced with an elongated seat. Secondly, children are not infrequently carried in baskets attached to the rear mudguard of the moped. I have further ascertained that for the sum of £6 15s. kits are obtainable to convert single-seat mopeds into two seaters. Fourthly the road accident figures for 1969, the latest available, show that 80 casualties were passengers riding pillion on mopeds. This makes clear that many mopeds can and do carry passengers.
In bringing forward this Bill, it is of the utmost importance that the extra cost to road users should be looked at closely. I recognise the concern expressed by several hon. Members about this and 2074 naturally following by discussions on this point with the British Motor-cyclists Federation and other bodies representing the motor cycling fraternity I have made the question of premiums the principal subject of my inquiries. There have been some very wild figures bandied around and I would like to be able to reassure hon. Members on this point. The House will recognise that two-wheeled machines provide the cheapest means of motor transport and nothing should be done to add unnecessarily to the cost. However, it is those who feel that they cannot afford a few pounds or, in the case of mopeds, a few shillings for passenger insurance, who are unfortunately least able to meet a claim for £20,000 or £30,000 damages.
Hitherto the question of additional premium has been a matter of much speculation. Now that passenger insurance is compulsory in Northern Ireland it is possible to see what figures are currently being quoted there. I will give a brief selection of the additional premium required to cover liability for passenger insurance. These are the current prices. For machines up to 50 cc £2 to £3; 50 cc to 200 cc £2 10s. to £3 10s.; 200 cc to 350 cc £4 to £5; over 350 cc £6 15s. to £7 15s. These figures are for drivers over 25 and for those between 18 and 25 years of age a loading depending on the company concerned of 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. is usually added.
I must draw to the attention of the House that Northern Ireland is more highly rated than anywhere else in the United Kingdom with the exception of London and Glasgow. I understand that the premiums in other areas would be up to 30 per cent. less than those and the normal no-claim discounts would apply. The House may consider that these figures are not unreasonable in relation to the capital cost of the machines involved or their annual running costs. In the case of what are ostensibly single-seat machines it is for the insurance companies to recognise the very remote possibility of a passenger being carried and to reflect this in the premium.
I very much hope that this will be the case with regard to veteran and vintage machines, which are in a very specialist category. They represent a very small minority of the vehicles covered by the provisions of the Bill and, as I understand it, a great part of their 2075 activities takes place off the public highway, in which case they would not need to be covered in this way, and that any way in most cases they are usually insured only for specific limited periods, and I have no reason to believe, nor did the Kent Committee when it inquired into this matter, that there would be any undue increase in the cost of the cover provided.
I have further had assurances from several leading companies in this country that, for single-seater mopeds, at current prices—and I must emphasise that, because I understand that generally throughout the insurance field there are shortly to be substantial increases in premiums—they will offer the cover required under the terms of the Bill for 10s. or 50p.
Northern Ireland has in its compulsory insurance legislation excluded machines not legally equipped to carry passengers. However, I have been in correspondence with the Home Affairs Minister in Northern Ireland about this matter, and he informs me that they have regretted having made even this exemption, because they feel that it is unworkable, and they intend to change the law at the earliest possible moment so that there will be no exemptions or exclusions.
Perhaps I should mention to the House that there are many countries which already have full passenger cover for all motor vehicles, with no exceptions at all. This situation applies in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Federal Republic of Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, Poland and Sweden, and if the list were to include those countries where the only exception is blood relations of the insured, the following would have to be added: Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Yugoslavia.
In the light of the assurances which have been given about the level of premiums, and above all in the light of the difficulty in framing any workable category of exemptions which would not provide a loophole again in the law to enable passengers to be carried without the benefit of insurance, I venture to feel that the House will agree that the time has come to change the law in this respect and to go all the way in providing no categories of exemption and 2076 putting an end to the endless stream of human misery.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I am glad of the opportunity to participate in this debate because I am, and always have been, particularly interested in this question of passenger insurance. In November, 1968, during the debate on the Queen's Speech, I drew attention to the grave problem of the terrible carnage on our roads and the need for passenger insurance. I then quoted the records available for the five years from 1962 to 1966, which showed that the number of passengers killed during that period was 5,130, and the number seriously injured was 77,335. Those figures did not include those who were slightly injured, nor did they include passengers on motorcycles or motor scooters. No doubt with the increase in the number of motor vehicles on the roads those figures have increased and will, in all probability, go on increasing.
The Road Traffic Act, 1960, was a consolidating Measure. It repealed the exemption from the necessity for third party insurance of passengers, persons in employment, or where there was a contractual liability, and so today, whilst the third party who is injured and can prove negligence is secure in the knowledge that an insurance company will compensate him, the passenger merely has his remedy against the driver. We know that a prudent driver will insure against this risk but, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said, there are many cases where this has not been done. The insured driver as a result of whose negligence the accident occurs may have little or no means. A judgment may be obtained against him by the injured passenger or by the executor or administrator on behalf of the family of the person who is killed, but such a judgment may be of little avail, and there have been some dreadful cases of this happening. The hon. Gentleman has cited a number of cases in which a passenger has suffered severe injury, or perhaps been maimed for life, and has received nothing—or very little—or where the family, deprived of the breadwinner, has been reduced to penury.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) introduced a 2077 Private Member's Bill as long ago as February, 1961 to remedy this state of affairs by making passenger insurance compulsory. The then Parliamentary Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Government, expressed his sympathy with the proposal but said:We are not convinced that there is a sufficient weight of evidence to make out an over-whelming case for an alteration of the existing law, or that a large number of members of the public suffer hardship because the present law is defective. …Our attitude may reasonably be described as one of open-minded neutrality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1961; Vol.634,c.829.]As a result, the Bill was withdrawn.
I hope that the Minister today will make a speech in very different terms from what was said on that occasion, because I should have thought that the case today is even more overwhelming than it was then. If only a small number of people are affected, they ought to be protected. If a large number are affected, the need is greater, but successive Governments appear to have burked the issue. Questions have been addressed to Ministers. There was a special Committee of the National Road Safety Advisory Committee appointed in March, 1966. That committee reported, and in March, 1967 it was stated that the report would be studied and the position considered, but nothing was done.
The hon. Gentleman referred to what he called the willingness of Governments to do something, but apparently because of what is called a lack of time nothing happens. One can be cynical about this if one considers the amount of time spent on, for example, the Industrial Relations Bill which is opposed by hundreds of Members, and yet no time can be found for a necessary reform of this kind. At any rate, nothing has been done, and I am extremely grateful that the hon. Gentleman has seized the opportunity of presenting the Bill before us today.
This Measure will no doubt mean an increase in premiums, and it may be that because of that Governments are reluctant to make the unpopular move of putting an additional burden on people, but a person with a lethal weapon like a car or a motorcycle should be prepared to bear the cost of the extra premium so that others may be protected.
2078 The hon. Gentleman quoted figures. I do not know whether they are accurate or not. They seem to be small in amount but, whatever the amount, surely the amount of premium to be charged is no sufficient reason for preventing this Measure from going through the House. This matter should be one for legislation by the Government. The whole problem of insurance should be tackled in many aspects.
Some time ago, I raised the problem of the hit-and-run driver and the need for an amendment of the agreement with the Motor Insurers' Bureau. I am glad to say that the agreement was amended, but there are still a number of anomalies which should be looked at. There is the problem of the sub-contractor and the persons employed by him, who, although insured, may not be covered by statutory regulations. That is another matter which has been pointed out but which has not received attention to date. There is also the view, often expressed by many people, that there should be insurance cover of accidents, however caused.
It is essential that, at some time, the Government of the day should get down to serious consideration of these matters, with resultant legislation. But if governments will not move, as apparently they will not, in matters of this kind, I am glad that the hon. Member for Stretford has used his luck in the Ballot to seek to remedy this matter. I congratulate him on introducing the Bill to deal with a serious defect in our law.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I have to give voice to very serious doubts, anxieties and reservations about the Bill, but I should like to say straight away that I think it would be wrong for the House to decline to give it a Second Reading. It is not, therefore, to oppose the Motion that I rise, especially as I see that the Bill's purpose is not only to amend the Road Traffic Act in the sense indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) but also "for connected purposes". It is to those possible purposes that I want to draw special attention. But it would obviously be wrong to oppose the Bill's Second Reading because of the agonising experiences of injustice and human suffering 2079 to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.
I think that the House would like to say to my hon. Friend that it is much indebted to him for the very workman-like and thorough way in which he introduced the Bill. His speech was a model for introducing a Bill of this kind. There was only one thing wrong with his speech, and that was his standpoint. He should not have made it from that place at all: he should have been making it from the place in which his grandfather and great-grandfather sat, the corner seat of the Front Bench below the Gangway, as captains of the "awkward squads" of their days. I hope that he will have due regard in future to the proper historical precedent as to where he should sit in this House.
I am interested in the Bill because constituents of mine are very prominent in the motor cycling world. Indeed, a principal officer of the British Motorcyclists Federation is a constituent of mine or resident in the borough of which my constituency is a part, and I am vice-president of the federation. It is from that point of view that I want to ask the House to consider one or two important points.
The Second Reading debate, of course, is concerned with the principle of the Bill, and, as I have said, I do not think that an objection on principle to the Bill is sustainable either in logic or in morality. I think, too, that one must accept the general proposition of the Kent Committee that in considering compulsory passenger insurance it is "not on" to allow opting out on a large voluntary scale.
But there are details which require consideration to meet certain serious doubts and anxieties which have been expressed. The principal one concerns exemptions. Of course, I accept what my hon. Friend said, that any exemptions will be difficult to frame because of the danger of abuse. This is especially true, I suppose, in the case of mopeds, although I do not think that we should give up in that respect for that reason.
But there are classes of vehicle which should not be brushed aside too lightly. There are the trials motor cycles, the vintage motor cycles, vehicles such as tractors, rollers and so on. The House will 2080 be doing less than justice to itself if it does not give very serious and detailed consideration to those classes of vehicle.
There are further doubts and anxieties on a second score, namely, that of the premiums which are likely to be charged by insurance companies in the open market, and, more subtly, the difficulties under which insured persons will labour in respect of the terms and conditions of the kinds of contract of insurance which may be available to them.
However, the Committee stage is the stage at which we should consider these matters, but I hope that it will not be considered out of place if I mention what I hope will be a subject for serious consideration later on. I hope, if I have the opportunity, to table Amendments in Committee designed to meet some of the doubts and anxieties which I am trying to express, and I hope that I may indicate them briefly, so that the Minister, whom we are all glad to see here, may turn them over in his mind in the meantime.
In the matter of exemptions, I should like the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford to consider the possibility of a new Clause procedure that the Minister may, by order, make regulations to provide for exemptions——
§ Mr. Iremonger
In a sense, although I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that in a very friendly spirit, perhaps there is something in what he says. I might commend to him the merits of doing this by regulation. Everything in any exemptions which one may design depends upon detail, and detail has to be established after the most careful consideration by those responsible for framing the regulations and by the interests concerned. I am not sure that a Committee of the House is the best place in which to frame the details of the kind of regulations which should be made.
I should have thought that if my hon. Friend could give an undertaking, or at least accept an option, to try to frame regulations, it would then leave it open to those who want to be exempted to make representations to him and his Department which could be seriously considered, and all the difficulties could 2081 be debated in the kind of atmosphere and at the leisure which we could not have in a Committee. He could then come to the House with such regulations as he could frame and it would be for the House to decide.
So, when the hon. and learned Gentleman says that it is a let-out, in a sense he is right: it is letting the Standing Committee of the House to which the Bill will be committed out of a task which I am not sure it would be capable of fulfilling; but it is not letting the House out of its duty to give the interests concerned the right to protect themselves. So that is an amendment which we might envisage.
As to the anxieties about the premiums, which may resolve themselves into anxieties about the kind of contract which would be available, we have a useful precedent in the proposals in the Industrial Relations Bill for a code of practice. I would propose that we should consider a Clause to introduce a similar code which would put forward a model insurance policy, such that any contravention of the proposals in the code would not itself give grounds for action, but such that the provisions provided for in the code would be presumed to be part of any contract of insurance unless they were specifically excluded from the contract. That might satisfy the anxieties of many people who feel that persons who have to insure, especially for motorcycle passengers, should not be in danger of unwittingly accepting a contract which, though perhaps attractively low priced, would not give them the cover they should have. Many of these people are not highly sophisticated or accustomed to reading small print with close scrutiny.
My suggestion might also be a way to make permanent provision, as an alternative to exemption, for vintage and other vehicles. It may be convenient to have a model insurance policy which makes special provision for this class of vehicle.
As I pointed out, these points can be considered in Committee. In the meantime, I trust that hon. Members will agree that they would be in no way justified in obstructing the progress of the Bill at this stage.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
I wish, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on his luck in the Ballot and on bringing forward this Measure. This is a useful Bill. I want to make it clear at the beginning of my remarks that I have a vested interest in the insurance business. I am still the owner of a large and remunerative insurance book with the Co-operative Insurance Society, for which I receive no remuneration at present.
Selling motor insurance was a speciality of mine; in the years after the war I sold hundreds of motor policies. I also filled in hundreds of motor claim forms. I therefore have some knowledge—based on nearly 35 years of selling insurance to the public—of the subject under discussion.
I was glad that the Member for Stretford mentioned that 90 per cent. of passengers carried in motor cars are already covered by a clause in policies assuring them of cover for full legal liability in any accident. This cover is included in the policies issued by nearly all insurers which are connected with the British Insurance Association. In other words, for many years the majority of passengers carried in motor cars have been covered by reputable companies for this sort of risk. I wish to make it abundantly clear that the British Insurance Association has made it possible for virtually all passengers to be covered by the policies issued by companies connected with that association.
The Bill will close a loophole that has existed for a long time. I am not being unfair in saying that this loophole has enabled "bucket" insurance companies to sell policies for £1 or £2 cheaper than what one might call the tariff companies because people have not known that they were not being covered for the most important risk of all.
The closing of this loophole should result in motor insurance becoming really competitive again. I mention this because if there is one branch of insurance which does not make any money, it is motor insurance. One need only examine the premiums and company returns of the big insurance companies which are connected with the B.I.A. to see that year 2083 after year their accounts have been running at a loss. This is because, despite increased premiums, the amounts awarded by the courts, particularly in respect of passenger liability, have been increasing, and now awards of between £10,000 and £40,000 are given for a single accident.
Like the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), I appreciate that in certain branches of insurance it is difficult to give full passenger liability. Indeed, for motorcycle pillion passengers it has not been found possible to devise a scheme with a premium that is both commensurate with the risk and capable of being paid by the passenger or motorcycle owner. This is simply because the whole basis of motor insurance is based on the claims ratio; if there are a lot of expensive claims in a certain sphere of insurance, the premiums in that sphere go up. Unfortunately, the motorcycle pillion passenger is at greater risk, with the result that a scheme to cover him fully would take a premium which would be outside the pocket of the average motorcyclist.
The basis of insurance is trying to assess the risk, and this is why insurance companies sometimes "load" people, place excesses on them or in some other way limit the type of vehicle they may drive. These steps are taken to reduce the number of accidents and so keep premiums down. The British insurance industry, in which I greatly believe, has done its utmost to keep motor premiums at as low a level as possible, and this is to its credit.
The Bill will close a loophole that has been open for many years, and as a result of this loophole the "bucket shop" has been able to sell insurance policies at a slightly cheaper rate, especially to people who are not fully aware of what they are buying.
It is in this connection that I make a "plug" on behalf of full-time insurance brokers and agents who spend the whole of their working lives selling and explaining insurance. I advise anybody who wants to take out a motor insurance policy or who is contemplating buying a motor car to go to those who specialise in this type of business—in other words, consult a full-time agent or broker.
Unfortunately, too many people are today selling insurance on the side. This 2084 includes the garage mechanic and garage owner. Indeed, the owner of a garage will frequently employ a member of staff to sell motor policies over the counter, frequently without explaining the terms and conditions of the contract. It is vital—not only for the protection of passengers—that the terminology of policies, especially clauses relating to passenger liability, are explained to policy-holders.
In many instances a passenger is covered while getting in and out of a vehicle but is not covered while travelling in the vehicle. This is how many "bucket" companies are able to sell insurance for a few £s less than the tariff companies, though in the long run their policies are frequently a lot dearer.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford on bringing forward this Measure, and if I have the privilege of serving on the Committe with him I will try, with other hon. Members, to improve it to ensure that everybody is covered. As I pointed out, the B.I.A. is to be congratulated on the wonderful work that it has done and will go on doing to preserve our insurance principles in this country.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. David Waddington (Nelson & Colne)
I am happy to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), and to congratulate him on the way in which he introduced this very important Bill.
The House should also feel greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) for drawing our attention to two very important matters. The first matter is that the Bill, in essence, affects motor cyclists, because the vast majority of car drivers are already covered for passenger risk. The second is the very large awards of damages which are made these days. We must not lose sight of the fact that nowadays many people survive motoring accidents as a result of the advance in medical knowledge when a very few years ago they would have died. That is why we read of enormous awards of damages being made by the courts.
The hon. Member was too pessimistic when he spoke of premiums, a subject about which I should like to say something in a very few minutes.
My hon. Friend was kind enough to mention that in the last Session of the 2085 last Parliament I introduced a similar Bill. That Bill survived its Committee stage and might well have become law but for the Dissolution. In it I sought to exclude any obligation to insure passengers in the case, first of all, of motor cycles without pillion seats, and, secondly, mopeds. However, I fully appreciate why the present Bill contains no exemptions, and I support my hon. Friend. I hope that he will not feel it necessary to make the sort of concession suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). I have a natural dislike of delegated legislation and more and more motor vehicle regulations. The time has come when the House should take the responsibility of saying that we have here a social evil of substantial proportions which must be dealt with.
The truth of the matter is that if a machine is not capable of carrying passengers that fact will be reflected in only a very small premium being charged. But if we do not impose an overall obligation to insure and some fool uses such a machine for the carriage of a passenger and that passenger is injured, that passenger will, for the reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend, have no redress at all. The driver will no doubt be unable to pay the damages awarded, and no obligation will fall on the Motor Insurers Bureau, because that organisation is there only to meet claims where there has been an obligation to insure and, in contravention of the law, insurance has not been taken out.
The same argument can be advanced against the suggestion that there should be provision for opting out. Before introducing my Bill I became convinced that it was quite impracticable in legislation of this sort to provide for opting out. Such a system would drive a coach and horses through the social purpose of the legislation, because a passenger who, all unwittingly, allowed himself to be carried on an opted-out machine would not get any damages.
Opting out would also lead to some quite ridiculous situations which would serve only to bring the law into disrepute. One example will be sufficient. A man steals a motor cycle from a street corner. He picks up a girl at the next corner. He drives away, and is involved in an accident. What factor would determine 2086 whether the girl received any compensation for her injuries? It would not be whether she had made proper inquiries before getting on the machine. It would not be whether she had had the sense to examine the credentials of the driver. It would not be that she had asked him whether he had a criminal record and a propensity for stealing motor cycles. Her case would depend on the pure matter of chance whether the owner of the machine had opted out, a factor of which she could have no knowledge.
I was also persuaded by the British Insurance Association, with which I had quite lengthy discussions last year, that there was another very powerful argument for not allowing exemptions for opting out. The fact is that the simpler the law, the more the standardisation of policies, the lower the premiums; and the present trend in the insurance business is towards that form of standardisation.
For many years hon. Members have sought to get a Measure of this sort on the Statute Book in order to safeguard the interests of those who travel in vehicles as passengers and who, not being learned in the law, do not realise the risk they run if they allow themselves to be carried when the driver of the vehicle is not insured against passenger risks.
As has already been mentioned, this aspect was dealt with by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) in 1961, but his Bill emerged from the Standing Committee looking like the proverbial dog's breakfast. A most extraordinary thing happened on Report. It is very interesting to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT the proceedings of that day. The hon. Member withdrew his Measure, incurring, in doing so, the wrath and indignation of some of his hon. Friends who had stayed behind on that Friday to support him, and to whom the hon. Gentleman had given no notice at all of his intentions. That was the fate of that Bill.
Then the Kent Committee was set up by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) when she was Minister of Transport. The Kent Committee stated in terms that if it became the law that all drivers had to be insured against passenger risks, there was no real reason to fear that there would not be a market for that type of insurance. 2087 The arguments in favour of compulsory insurance against passenger risks are obvious, and I shall not now rehearse them. I know from my own experience in the law that many accidents occur every year in which serious injuries are suffered by passengers who get no compensation at all for them. As a result, we have to face the fact that the law, which provides that a person who is injured as a result of the negligence of another may receive compensation, is effectively frustrated, and to that extent brought into disrepute, because a person may obtain judgment in a court of law and then find that the defendant is a man of straw and there is no practical method by which he can obtain redress and compensation for his injuries.
On 10th March, 1969, the hon. Member for Loughborough pointed out that between the time when his Bill bit the dust in 1961 and that date in 1969 no fewer than 25,000 pillion passengers on motorcycles and scooters were killed or injured, the vast majority of whom received no compensation for their injuries. In 1969 in one-vehicle accidents—it is obvious that in one-vehicle accidents the accident happens as a result of the fault of the driver—1,491 passengers on scooters and 4,400 passengers on motorcycles were killed or injured. In the face of those figures, no one can pretend that there is not a serious social problem to be tackled.
One is entitled to emphasise not only the hardship which can befall the innocent passenger when an accident occurs but also the hardship which can befall the driver or rider. This is often forgotten. I stress that this legislation is not only for the benefit of passengers but also for the benefit of riders and drivers.
On the one hand, there is the consideration that the driver or rider may have an enormous award of damages made against him and may find himself making weekly payments for the rest of his life. On the other hand, he may be involved in an accident with a car. He may be partly responsible for that accident and the car driver may also be partly responsible for the accident. The driver or rider may suffer serious injuries. His pillion passenger may suffer serious injuries. When the case comes before a court the rider is awarded 2088 substantial damages against the driver of the car, but he is also found guilty of negligence himself and the court orders him to pay contribution towards the damages payable to the pillion passenger. In such a case, he may well come out of court without a penny from his own injuries, although the accident was partly the fault of another driver. I therefore invite the House to remember that this Measure is very much in the interests of the rider and driver as well as in the interests of the passenger.
Much anxiety has been expressed about the level of premiums if compulsory insurance becomes the law of the land. In spite of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, I believe that these fears are largely groundless. Mention has been made of the experience which is now available as the result of this law having been in force in Northern Ireland for some little time. It is difficult to know what the precise level of premiums will be in England because there is no real market at present for passenger insurance in the case of motorcycles and the level of premiums cannot be computed until there is a market. Including the Lloyd's syndicates, 130-plus competing motor insurers are at present in business, and with a market for insurance of passenger liability in respect of motorcycles there will surely be little risk of ridiculous premiums being charged.
§ Mr. Iremonger
We know that it will vary greatly from one extreme end of the scale to the other, but there is some anxiety about what the level of premiums will be at the top end of the scale, which is the young driver of a very powerful machine, who is not necessarily by any means either unskilful or irresponsible. The kind of figures which are being bandied about are that that will cost about £15 a year.
§ Mr. Waddington
In the case of a young driver riding a very powerful machine, the risk must obviously be very much greater than it is in the case of a mature driver riding a lightweight machine. I have made some investigations. Those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford are more up-to-date, but as we probably did not go through identical channels, my evidence is probably worth putting before the House. 2089 As I have said, the Kent Committee did not think that there would be any difficulty about the creation of a market for this type of insurance. Last year it was possible to obtain quotations from six major insurance companies, which quoted premiums of between £2 a year for a lightweight machine driven by a mature driven to £10 10s. a year for an over-500 cc. machine driven by a lad of 16.
§ Mr. Waddington
Those figures are very different from the £15 mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North. I can only tell the House what I was told last year when there were already six companies prepared to quote for this type of business.
If we want to tackle a real social problem like this, there is bound to be a price to pay. This is a real social problem and we must pay the price. It is nonsense to suggest—no one in the House has suggested it—that a young girl getting on to the pillion of a motorcycle should be expected to ask the driver, "Are you insured or not?" I say that with the greatest respect to their lordships who gave the opinion in the case which has been quoted. It is nonsense, and one is living in a world of fancy if one imagines that people will ask questions such as that before getting on motorcycles.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry
I am sure that the last thing a young lady getting on to a pillion would be thinking about would be whether the driver had comprehensive cover.
§ Mr. Waddington
I agree. That is not the world in which we live. Such questions are not asked, and it is highly unlikely that we would ever be able to educate young girls anxious to go for a ride with their boy friends into asking such questions. We must ensure that such persons are protected even if they fail to ask that question or even if, having asked the question, they receive an answering negative but still decide to take the ride. Such people obviously do not fully appreciate the risk they are running, and they are entitled to the protection of the law.
Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
I, too, want to express my keen support for this excellent Bill which has been so ably presented by my hon. Friend the Member Stretford (Mr. Churchill) and supported by all five succeeding speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), who spoke from what he termed the "awkward squad" position in the House, although he himself stated he was, in principle, accepting the morality of the case for the Bill.
I have long felt the need for the extension of compulsory insurance to cover all passengers carried on motor vehicles, whether they be motor cars, motor cycles, mopeds or even tractors. Fifteen years ago a close relative of mine was seriously injured in a bad car crash and, since then, I have studied the ever-increasing number of reports of similar uninsured passenger accidents where not only the passenger but also the drivers have found themselves in a horrifyingly insecure financial position.
Shortly after the June election I came face to face with another clear example of this gap in our insurance laws. A constituent of mine in Exeter, a Mrs. Nina Morgan, came to me and presented the sad details of the loss of her 19-year-old son in a car crash which had taken place only a few months previously. Two young men were killed, both of them passengers. No insurance was forthcoming because the policy taken out by the driver had been repudiated by the insurance company on the ground that the engine of the car had been modified—as it is termed, "hotted-up." The Motor Insurances Bureau had no liability as there was no legal requirement then for passenger insurance.
The distress of this bereaved mother turned to anger when she found that not only was there no insurance responsibility or M.I.B. "back-up" cover, but that the insurance company was able to withhold disclosure of the reasons for repudiation until long after the police proceedings against the driver had been initiated. The consequence was that the driver was never prosecuted for driving while uninsured.
The point, therefore, is that if the law had been changed as this Bill proposes, even if that driver's insurance policy had 2091 been repudiated because of engine modifications, the M.I.B. would still have stood behind the claim and would have paid up. I also suggest that the machinery of law with regard to what is a very serious offence of driving whilst uninsured would have been set in motion.
Since that dreadful accident, my constituent has campaigned vigorously and effectively to bring these anomalies to the notice of the Government, and I have been pleased to assist in what I consider to be the most worth while cause that I have supported since coming to this House.
However, it is not just a matter of closing this remaining 10 per cent. gap in motor insurance, although it concerns over one million cars. The more investigations that I have carried out into this social problem, the more I have realised the necessity to effect total passenger cover for all motor vehicles which at some stage or other can conceivably carry a passenger. Accidents to children riding on tractors or on the back of mopeds, or even in a bus, or young girls going for a "burn up" on motor cycles—all of these cases strike at one's heart when reading in the columns of one's local paper or national daily.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford has recounted a few cases to the House. I have others just as horrifying and shocking. A 19-year-old girl cashier, riding pillion on a motor cycle, had to have her leg amputated and suffered facial scars. There was no passenger insurance. Many hon. Members, I am sure, will have knowledge of similar dreadful cases.
Over 70 pillion passengers a week have been killed or seriously injured since the failure of the first Bill in 1961–unsuspecting passengers unaware that they are not insured. This is, indeed, a human lottery. Why then should there be any hesitation at all in passing this desirable measure of social legislation? Like so many other factors in every day life, it comes back to money, of course. The fear is of sharply increased premiums, especially for the lower-income motor cyclists, the majority of whom do not carry passenger insurance, and, indeed, as a general rule, do not carry passengers.
I believe those fears to be completely unfounded. My own examination of three separate insurance companies' rates for a 2092 25-year-old driver of a 350 c.c. motor cycle showed passenger cover available at £4, £5 10s. and £6 respectively—in other words, approximately 2s. a week to remove all that fear and anguish. Turning to moped owners, we can expect cover for an extra 10s. per year. I do not, therefore, favour exempting these special groups. One day they may be single seaters; the next day they may be quickly and cheaply adapted for passengers.
My investigation into the whole question of premiums bears out what has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington). It has confirmed that the wider the spread of insurance, the lower the individual costs. This principle will certainly apply to the new insurers who take out passenger insurance, if, as I hope, the House approves this Bill.
We are not discussing a mere technicality of law. We are discussing the solution to a grave human problem which has distressed many thousands of families in the last 10 years. I speak, therefore, with the greatest sincerity in sponsoring this important Bill.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
It is an extraordinary situation that when we made third party insurance compulsory passengers were left out. It is difficult to understand why. The passer-by is covered but the passenger is not. It appears to be assumed, at any rate since the 1930 Act, that the passenger is a volunteer—that he voluntarily gets into a car. One has only to apply this to one's ordinary social experience to know how ridiculous this is. After a late night sitting, or even an all-night sitting, is one to refuse the courtesies offered at the Members' Entrance with the words, "It is very nice of you to take me to Victoria, but are you insured?" It would exacerbate even more the feelings of hon. Members on those occasions if one asked that sort of question.
How often does one say to the younger members of one's family, perhaps to a girl going out, "Have you asked your boy friend whether he is insured?" When one contemplates those situations, one realises the manifest absurdity of this idea that there is anything voluntary in a person nowadays going into a car as a passenger.
2093 It has been said by almost every speaker today that this affects chiefly motor cyclists. Motor cycles are the most dangerous vehicles on which one can travel per mile of road. There is another category of vehicle, though a much smaller category, which in many cases carries nothing more than third party insurance. That is the second car which is usually driven while the main car is used for business. The second car is employed to carry children to school, and it is constantly used for passenger carrying. The owners of these vehicles are subject to unfairness in the law which can be seen whenever one goes to the courts.
Take the example of the man who is driving with uninsured passengers. I have an example in my chambers of this very case. A driver swept round the corner on the wrong side, running into an oncoming car. Not the slightest blame could be attached to the driver of the oncoming car. One passenger was killed outright and two others were injured to the tune of about £10,000 apiece. They could not recover a penny. There was no money. If the car had at the same time mounted the pavement and killed a passer-by, the unfair situation is that the passer-by would have been able to recover fully for his or her injuries. This is unfair to every other driver on the road.
If any Member of this House leaves this afternoon and, on driving home or to his constituency, is overtaken by a motor cycle with a girl on the back, and the motor cycle cuts in too quickly, with the result that the girl is thrown off and perhaps seriously injured—she may be paraplegic for life—what will be the situation? Her advisers will say, "Your boy friend was not insured, but if we can show just one per cent. of liability against the driver of the car, we can get home as far as you are concerned."
Of course, the court realises why the other driver is being sued. The court understands perfectly well that the driver of the car is the only person who is able to pay. Without in any way straining the law, a judge faced with that situation will, as a human being, wish to help the girl, and there is hardly a counsel worth his salt who cannot in a 2094 motor accident case show the other party one per cent., or just the tiniest amount, to blame. There is unfairness there.
A man who is virtually innocent, against whom only the most technical degree of blame can be found, will find himself thereafter in insurance difficulties because his insurance company has had to carry the £20,000, £10,000, £5,000 or even £500. What is more, he has to bear the loss of his own no claims bonus and, in addition, I am sure that most people, no matter how innocent they may know themselves to be, will inevitably feel the stigma of having had to pay after a motor accident of that kind.
The unfairness is even greater if another person cannot be blamed, for the girl suffers her injuries and has no compensation, and the young man will have an award made against him which will hang round his neck for the rest of his life.
I come now to the position of the motor cyclist, which I regard as the heart of the problem here. The Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) in 1961 went as far as the Report stage. It is apparent to anyone who reads the debates in the House at that time or who reads the Press reports that that Bill was killed primarily because of the motor cyclists' interests, who felt that they would be priced off the road.
The House should be concerned about what happened then. In my view, those interests who killed that Bill should be most disturbed at the history of the past 10 years and what has happened since it was withdrawn in 1961. The argument then used—straining to the limit—was that, if passenger insurance was required, the young man or the person on a motor cycle would drive more recklessly because he would have no worry about what might happen. That shows, I suggest, the measure of what was then being said.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In fairness, I must ask my hon. Friend to recognise that the British Motorcyclists Federation has in the circumstances of the present Bill adopted an extremely proper attitude, not trying to exert any pressure, and the general principle of the Bill is not objected to.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I readily accept that. I am glad that 10 years of experience have brought common sense into the matter, and I am happy to know that the opposition which occurred at that time does not manifest itself now.
There have always been three main objections to this type of comprehensive insurance. I shall deal with two of them briefly because they have already been covered in the debate. First, it is said that it is wrong to require people to undertake insurance in respect of a risk which is voluntarily taken. We need hear no more of that. Nowadays, one does not as a passenger voluntarily undertake the risk in that sense. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) said in his powerful argument, there will be a great saving for the driver as well as for the passenger if the driver is partly to blame and has himself been injured.
The argument on cost has been effectively scotched today as well. The figures put to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) showed that this insurance could be obtained for just under £5 by people over 25 and for just under £12 for those under 25. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) interjected to say that he was concerned to find that the driver of a powerful motor cycle, perhaps a skilled driver though a young man, might have to pay as much as £15 for insurance. I can only say that, if my hon. Friend finds that an excessive sum to pay in these circumstances, he lives in a world very different from mine. I think it perfectly proper that someone who owns a powerful and expensive motor cycle should be required to find £15 if that be necessary to cover insurance for his passengers. He ought easily to be able to do it.
It is said that there should be certain exemptions, and an appeal has been made to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to consider certain categories of exemption. I hope that he will do no such thing. The moment the Government begin to look at exceptions, they will come under the most appalling pressures from all manner of sources to provide for exceptions of one sort and another. There is no advantage to the Government in accepting that position, and in any case to do so 2096 would go a long way to ruin the Bill. Let us take no notice of exceptions. The roller, the trial motor cycle or the vintage motor cycle will carry so little insurance that it does not matter.
The Front Bench is being asked to accept concessions not for those reasons but because people hope to exempt certain categories of motor cycle, and that is a very different question. I hope that nothing of the sort will be contemplated. It would be politically silly, it would open the door to a great deal of pressure, and in any case, as I say, it would go a long way to ruin the Bill.
§ Mr. Iremonger
My hon. Friend should recognise that this is not a question of just shillings a year. There is a genuine argument that it will be necessary for the Committee to consider how much, and whether people who do not intend to carry, and genuinely will not carry, passengers should have to insure by law against a risk which they will not incur. I am not sure that there is no objection in principle to that which ought not to be considered.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I understand that argument, and it goes to the whole basis of opting out. My hon. Friend is saying that those who assert that they will not carry passengers and that their vehicle at this moment is not capable of taking passengers should have their word accepted. But that would drive a coach and horses through the Bill. The difficulty of enforcing such undertakings has only to be considered to be recognised at once. How does one see whether a motor cycle is or is not insured to carry a passenger? Do we ask that a special mark be put upon it, or is the driver's licence to be specially endorsed? The trouble with all such opting out provisions is that it is not until after the accident has occurred that one finds out that the motor cyclist was not so insured. But that is after the damage has been done. The police would have no way of knowing, just by looking at a motor cycle, whether it had been opted out or not. Thus, I consider that it would be fatal to the purpose of the Bill to allow any question of opting out.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) has put his name on the back of the Bill as a sponsor, and I am glad to see 2097 that he has now, apparently, changed his mind, being ready to support this comprehensive Bill today. When he was the Minister of Transport, he considered this matter and issued a Press hand-out on 16th March, 1969. In reply to a Parliamentary Question from his hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, he said that he was contemplating legislation on these lines, but in his Press handout he went on to say:But even so, if a motor cyclist is prepared to give an undertaking never to carry a passenger, then I think he must be given the chance to opt out of this insurance. Abuse of this concession will be an offence.I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind and that, in his view, there ought not to be opting out.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, if one opted out and then carried a passenger, one would be liable to criminal penalties.
If opting out is to be allowed and one is then liable to criminal penalties, it may be that the M.I.B. will act as longstop and pay. In those circumstances, those who opt out and do not keep their word ask the rest of us to pay for their misdemeanours. Everybody else who drives and insures pays a proportion of his premium for this purpose and the misdemeanours of others are paid for by the innocent insurers at large.
If the M.I.B. does not come in, the situation will be even worse because the motor cyclist will be using his own insolvency to avoid his liabilities or at least to avoid effective payment of his liabilities. It is not the insurers at large who will have to pay through the M.I.B. but the girl who lies on her back for the rest of her life or whose brain has been damaged who will pay in a lifetime of suffering.
For those reasons, we should allow no exceptions, and for those reasons I support the Bill.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
On 10th February, 1961, the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) introduced a similar Measure to this Measure. I was privileged to serve on the Committee which considered that Bill. For that reason, I should like to make a few points in the debate. This is the third time in ten years that a Bill similar to the one 2098 before us today has been introduced by a private Member and I hope that it will be a case of "third time lucky" for my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill).
Before 1930 there was no vehicle insurance whatsoever. The Statutes passed since that date illustrate a progressive feeling that people who drive motor vehicles should carry an insurance policy which gives compensation to those whom they may injure, whether in or outside a car. This is a social Measure to cover those unfortunate people who have been injured and can get no compensation. I know that the Kent Committee has shown that 90 per cent. of vehicles are insured. We are all delighted at such a high proportion. But it is clear that included in the remaining 10 per cent. is a large number of passengers who have suffered injuries for which there is no compensation.
I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) say that more than a million motorists were not insured. That is a very large number. All these vehicles represent a danger to people who are not familiar with the details of insurance, but take a ride in a vehicle as a result of which they are permanently injured.
During the Committee stage of the 1961 Bill the then Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), said:It was, however, quite clear from the debate on Second Reading that there was a good deal of feeling that certain exemptions should be made, that certain types of vehicles should be excluded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 3rd May, 1961; c. 11–12.]My experience in that Committee was that a great deal of thought was given to the question of how we could exempt certain categories of vehicles and drivers from the Bill. That was one of the weaknesses of that Bill. The second weakness was that there were no statistics available at that time about the cost which would be involved if an individual's insurance liability were extended to passengers.
I have a fear that when this Bill goes to Committee the same thing may be tried again and it is therefore only right that these points should be made. Reference was made to tractors and bulldozers and, in particular, to the lorry taking people to work which had forms which were not 2099 fixed. People travelling in such vehicles expose themselves to a grave degree of liability. Many people who have dual purpose vehicles fit seats in the back. Members of their families whom they take out at weekends sit on those seats. Very few people realise that if those seats are not fixed their passengers are normally not insured. It is the usual practice among insurers to make certain that rear seats fitted to a vehicle are securely fixed to the vehicle.
This is a matter of social legislation. Many motor cycles constructed as single-seat machines can rapidly be adapted to carry passengers. If hon. Members go over Chelsea Bridge, where there is a very good mobile cafe, on any Saturday night they will see many motor cycles with girls on the back which are not adapted for passengers. I would hazard a guess that very few of the drivers are insured to carry passengers.
I differ with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford. He said that if he is lucky enough to get the Bill on the Statute Book a warning should be given to people travelling as uninsured passengers. The point has been made that many people who have insurance policies never read the small print. The girl who is to ride pillion will say "Are you insured?", and the man will say "Yes", not realising that his policy excludes passengers. I know that some of my hon. and learned Friends who are up to date with the law will tell me that in those circumstances the vehicle is completely uninsured because the motor cyclist has acted in breach of his insurance and his insurance policy is void. That is another point which should be borne in mind.
I pay tribute to the Motor Insurance Bureau, but it does not cover every case, and certainly it does not cover the type of person to whom we are referring. The question of exemptions is the crucial point in the Committee stage of a Bill of this nature. If we are lucky enough, as I hope we shall be, to get the Bill to Committee, it will be said, "What about the bulldozer? What about the farm vehicles? What about the vehicle which is not equipped to carry the 101 pieces of machinery used for building work or for farming?" I would say to those people that the amount of money they will be asked to pay to insurance that vehicle for 2100 the possibility of someone getting on to it is very small.
Another important aspect is that, along motorways and major trunk roads, many lorry drivers pick up passengers out of kindness and also because they feel that, if they have a passenger with them, they are less likely to go to sleep. Very few of these passengers realise that, in all probability, the vehicle is insured for the driver only and not for a passenger, irrespective of the fact that it happens to be fitted with a second seat.
Again we are brought back to this difficult question of who we can exclude. I was impressed by the speech of my former neighbour, the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry), who raised an extremely important point. He said virtually that there were many cut-throat insurance companies—he did not use those words but that was the intention—which were prepared in small print to reduce their premiums in order to attract further business. Incidentally, I am sorry, knowing that he runs a book, to hear that his remuneration from his book is very small indeed. I hope that the increase in traffic may help him.
If we were to say that this is a social Measure, some people might say that the numbers involved are small so what does it matter? Others say that if the numbers involved are large, then the Measure is more important than ever. This really does bring us to a point where we have to decide as to why we are trying to make legislation comprehensive and whether it would not be better to include all vehicles, to spread the load over these vehicles which may never or only once a year carry passengers. This would spread the load and to some extent reduce the sort of cases which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) represented—the young man with the very fast motor cycle.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend on this point. I think that any young man with a very powerful motor cycle cannot escape the possibilities of liability, and therefore, if he wishes to choose that particular type of motor cycle, he should have to pay the additional premium. The young man who buys a fast open sports car knows when he buys it that he will be made to pay a high premium for the damage which he might do. Again as the hon. Member for Battersea, South 2101 pointed out, this is a balanced risk and each driver has to take his position according to his age, experience and possibility of a major accident taking place.
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), who moved the Bill so well, will be successful. I think that we have all got to the state now when we have to make sure that there is a prescribed form of policy—in all probability the insurance companies themselves would be willing to do this—in which minimum liabilities are contained and ensuring that, when accidents occur, the passengers are covered. The really difficult one is the motor cycle which is not designed to carry two persons, but is being used to do so. Even if it is covered by the sort of insurance envisaged today by the obvious consensus in the House, the rider is illegally driving a vehicle and it is no help to his passenger that he is committing a serious offence. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be pressured into large scale difficult exemptions. I hope that the Government's advice will be that this is a Measure of social reform which should be given the opportunity to reach the Statute Book. No doubt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be in Committee to advise hon. Members on the dangers and difficulties of exemptions.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I do not want to hold up the proceedings of the Bill by my contribution because I am in complete support of the objectives of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) and all those who have spoken today on this important matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) was quite right to call attention to the fact that all of us have been rather dilatory in dealing with this matter, and it does not reflect credit on us that so many people have suffered illness and death as the consequence of not being covered by insurance in these circumstances. I hope, therefore, that we shall learn the lesson on this occasion. The Opposition will give all the help they can to the hon. Gentleman and the Government in getting the Bill on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. It really is high time that Parliament legislated upon this very important subject.
2102 I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having drawn a place in the ballot and on introducing this important Measure, giving us the opportunity, as it were, to put things right and redeem ourselves with my hon. and learned Friend and others who feel like him. Not only did I enjoy the way in which the hon. Gentleman presented his case, but I congratulate him on the thorough preparation he has obviously undertaken. I am certain that in Committee the Bill will be in good hands. A number of aspects will then need to be looked at with some care and concern.
The history of this matter has not been encouraging. When my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) introduced his Bill in 1961, there was, as has been fairly said today, a degree of agitated concern from a large number of people which almost bordered on hysteria. One feels, like the hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn), in looking at the record, that a measure of the change of public opinion on this matter is the very responsible attitude which now seems to be adopted by everybody, not least by the British Motorcyclists Federation, which has communicated with me and, no doubt, with every other hon. Member. Having read overnight the Motor Cyclist and the views of the federation, I must say that they seem very responsible in their approach and one should pay tribute to them for that.
The Kent Committee set up by my right hon. Friends made an unanswerable case for this Bill or something very much like it. The carnage on the roads, the number of people killed or injured in motor accidents, is unfortunately increasing, and all of us have had some experience, if not at first hand at any rate near enough, to know what devastating results come down on the families of those involved. That must be the main concern of Parliament.
The Kent Committee included statistics in Appendix C of its Report and, if those statistics are anything like as accurate today as they were when they were first published in 1965, it is clear that about 19,000 riders and at least 3,500 passengers on motor cycles, mopeds and similar types of vehicles are being killed or injured each year. These figures alone suggest the great importance of this problem. 2103 In a sense, we are having to legislate for the innocent and the ignorant. I do not think that we are having to legislate for the wilfully negligent. There may be a few of that ilk around, and if there are, they should be dealt with by legislation, but on the whole we are dealing with people who innocently get themselves involved by being passengers in vehicles not knowing that the vehicles are not properly insured.
We are dealing with the motor-cyclist who takes his friend with him for a ride. In considering what should be one's basic approach to the situation, one has only to think of the remorse of that man if as the result of something which happens suddenly he involves his friend not only in serious injury, but perhaps in a lifetime of financial hardship merely by not being insured. If that is the only fundamental starting point to this subject, as I believe it to be, one can well understand the complete unanimity among hon. Members about the way in which to proceed. We have talked much about motorcyclists, but there are other categories which we shall have to consider in Committee, and cars and goods vehicles are two such categories.
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) for giving us the benefit of his personal experience in these matters. I am sorry that he has not got his book. My associations with books are not connected with insurance. I hope that he is as successful as the keeper of books with whom I deal from time to time in my sporting experience.
He was able to tell us that about 90 per cent. of all motor car drivers are covered and that it is not usually the fault of the driver himself that the other 10 per cent. are not covered. He explained that the driver is often "taken for a ride" by an unscrupulous insurance agent. If that is so, the driver should clearly be protected against such antisocial conduct, and that situation, too, should be covered by the Bill. Most legitimate insurance men would welcome such a move.
The main point is concerned with the exemptions and premiums for the man or young person who uses a motorcycle or moped, or something similar, to drive to and from work and who claims that as a matter of principle he will not take 2104 any passengers and should therefore have to pay a lower premium. The Opposition would not rule that out as a matter of principle.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
Would the hon. Gentleman see any difference between the person who says, "I shall not take any passengers and should therefore not pay the extra premiums", and the person who says, "I am not going to knock anybody down and therefore I do not want to pay the premium"?
§ Mr. Howell
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that what I have to say on this subject is unexceptionable, but I do not want to get bogged down in detail on Second Reading. I want to deal with the matter of principle.
I agree with the hon. Member for Stretford that we start from the principle of blanket coverage and we believe, if we proceed from that principle, that it is right, if there is to be any exception, that the onus should be on those who want to make the exemptions to prove that they can be exempted without creating any anti-social difficulties and that they can provide a cast-iron method. The Opposition will approach the Committee stage in that spirit. We shall say that if it can be proved that such a scheme is practicable, we will consider it. Otherwise, we will not consider supporting any such exemption. That seems to be reasonable.
We might have to have penal provisions for those who deliberately flout any such scheme. We have discussed whether such a scheme could be enforced. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) on this subject. It might be possible for the man who says that he intends never to carry passengers to have a road fund licence of a distinctive colour.
§ Mr. Howell
That may be so, but it is now possible to have distinctive colourings which can be illuminated at night. That would help the police, who would have to enforce the Bill, for they would be able to see at a glance from the colour 2105 of the road fund licence whether it was a vehicle which in no circumstances should be carrying passengers. This is a subject which I should like to consider and about which I should like some information.
One important consideration is that of premiums. It is this which bothers the British Motorcyclists Federation more than anything else. It is right that it should do so. While agreeing with the principle of insurance, we have a duty to look after the rights of the consumer. I am not knowledgeable on this subject, but in Committee we shall have to examine the strength of the view that premiums tend to be unreasonably high, or not properly related to the market. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) mentioned the experience in Northern Ireland which seemed to show that my fears would not be borne out and that it is possible to have the sort of scheme which I want at a modest cost.
The hon. Member for Stretford will need much help with the Bill from the Government in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) and the hon. Member for Stretford have all shown remarkable courage in attempting to produce a Private Member's Bill on this subject, and the House should acknowledge the debt which we and the country owe to each of them. But when we discuss the technicalities of possible exemptions and the subject of premiums and what is reason- and unreasonable we shall need considerable help. For example, they will need advice from the police and the Home Office about whether it is practicable to enforce such a scheme. They will need help from the Minister and his right hon. Friends about the other questions of onus which I regard as so important. Our hope is that this Bill will pass swiftly through Committee, with the help of the Government—one might hope that the Government would take it over—and go safely on to the Statute Book. I am certain that the one thing the House is resolved on is that this Bill needs to be on the Statute Book and the sooner the better to protect the lives of innocent people.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I endorse all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Smallheath (Mr. Denis Howell) in support of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). From some experience of initiating private Members' Bills, I know the difficulties of any hon. Member who wishes to persuade the House of the importance of any particular proposition. This is an especially difficult exercise for a new Member and I congratulate the hon. Member upon bringing this Measure before the House.
The principle of the Bill has enjoyed support from both sides of the House for a number of years. But it is not sufficient merely to have the goodwill of one's Front Bench colleagues. An hon. Member needs practical help and I endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the need for the Government now to give practical support. I appreciate that there have been some minor criticisms of the Bill, but the proposition before us is that it should be given a Second Reading. I would commend to the hon. Member for Stretford the thought that he should give very careful consideration to any representations that may be made to him from outside the House. He will have seen recently how even one Member in this House can delay legislation. I know from discussions with him that he will give the most careful and sympathetic consideration to any representations made to him. For his part, he knows that many of my hon. Friends would have liked to have been here today to support this Bill. In particular, many of my hon. Friends from the Greater Manchester area feel strongly that such a measure is long overdue. It is a Bill which seeks to help passengers in motor vehicles. In recent days, I have been learning from the hon. Gentleman of the very high incidence of casualties, including many fatal casualties, affecting people who are uninsured. Thus the Bill seeks to deal with a large area of tragedy.
In former years, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) played a distinguished part, as have hon. Gentlemen on both sides, in commending the principle of the Bill to the House. I hope that the Bill will make rapid progress in Committee. It should protect 2107 over one million owners and their passengers in the country.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry
It will benefit more than one million people; it will benefit all those millions of people who are passengers in cars.
§ Mr. Morris
I have taken advice. We should be modest in the estimate we make. I understand that at least one million owners and their passengers would or could be protected from the provisions of this Measure.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. On the most modest estimate a large number of people stand to benefit from the enactment of this Bill. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) has been in close consultation with the Co-operative Insurance Society and he has informed us of their belief that the Bill should reach the Statute Book as quickly as possible. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and wish him the best of luck in Committee. I hope that the Bill will be enacted at the earliest possible date.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
The House has been in rare harmony this morning. I must begin by congratulating, as others have done, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) both on his success in the Ballot and on his choice of subject. I would like also to congratulate him on the very great care and thoroughness with which he has done his homework. He has, I know, consulted the motorcycle interests, the insurance companies and whenever I have seen him in the Lobby over the last few weeks I have seemed to hear in my ears the sound of motor bikes revving.
I would also congratulate him on his political skill in finding such a wide range of sponsors for the Bill, ranging from a former Minister of Transport from the ranks of the Opposition, the right hon. Member the Leader of the Liberal 2108 Party, who has not been able to grace us with his presence today, to a number of my hon. Friends, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington), who introduced a similar Bill shortly before Dissolution and sadly lost it.
The Bill covers ground which has received the attention of the House twice before as a result of Private Members' Bills. In 1960 such a Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) but failed to complete Report stage. Then there was the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne.
I hope that this will be a case of third time lucky.
The purpose and scope of the Bill have been fully outlined and I will not go over the same ground. It is worthwhile stressing that the essential proposals of the Bill do not involve any party differences. On the contrary, this debate has shown that all hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), applaud the objective with which we are concerned, namely, to ensure that anyone unfortunate enough to be injured in a road accident should be certain of getting damages to which he is entitled under common law.
Although we are concerned with the results rather than the causes of road accidents, it is right to remind the House of the grim statistics which form the background to our debate. In 1969 there were one-third of a million road casualties in Great Britain. One-third of a million of our fellow citizens dead and injured on our roads, and I hope that we are not getting to the point of taking this for granted, or accepting that the number of casualties must grow because traffic is increasing.
A few weeks ago, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) knows, the country was shocked, and rightly, by the terrible tragedy at Ibrox Park, and page after page went into reporting that disaster. And yet I wonder how many appreciate that in the weeks which have since elapsed there have been the statistical equivalent of 11 Ibrox disasters on our British roads? For these road traffic victims there have been few headlines, no national disaster fund, no queues at my door demanding 2109 that something should be done, and I cannot believe that as a nation we are so callous as to regard such a road toll as the inescapable price of personalised transport.
The difference in our attitudes to Ibrox and to road casualties has nothing to do with selfishness or false values. Rather, it is a difference of awareness. The sudden single overwhelming disaster still shocks us into responding, but the dozens, the scores, the thousands of dispersed local tragedies which take place on our roads every day now happen so often that we are in danger of becoming callous. We are in danger of taking them for granted. But there is nothing at all inevitable about these road accidents. There is no unalterable national law which says that more than half the children being born this day, sooner or later will be injured in a road accident, that one in 50 of them will be killed. There is nothing inevitable about it, and yet, on present trends, that is what is going to happen to them.
I now turn to the specific Measure before us. It is concerned with one important aspect of our individual responsibility for others on the roads, and that aspect is our care for those whom we carry as passengers. In 1969, about 113,000 passengers were killed or injured, almost one-third of all road accident casualties. More than 10,000 of those were on two-wheeled vehicles, motor cycles and scooters, and nearly 75,000 were passengers in cars and taxis, and I think it is worth noting against the background of this morning's debate that the passenger accident rate for two-wheelers is more than five times as high as the passenger accident rate for motor cars. Taking the fatal and serious injuries together, the 1969 casualty rate for motor cycles and scooters works out at 107 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. For cars and taxis the equivalent figure is but 20.
That is part of the background, and it is relevant, because it is not enough for us to be concerned about road accidents. We must extend our concern to the effects which these accidents have on the lives of those who become involved in them, and one aspect of this is our legal liability to those who suffer, and often suffer very greatly, when we fail to live up to our legal responsibilities, and it is this question of securing compensation for pas- 2110 sengers injured because of their driver's negligence that the Bill is all about.
Much of the history has already been rehearsed by many of my hon. Friends this morning, and I think that all I need say about it is that ever since a requirement for compulsory motor insurance was first introduced, which was in 1930, liabilities to what can best be described as voluntary passengers have been excluded from the scope of the cover required by law. The principle on which this exclusion was based was expressed by the lawyers in the phrase volenti non fit injuria which, if my pronunciation is acceptable to the House, means roughly passengers who were "consenting to the risk". The issue now is the extent to which that principle of non volenti can, or should, be held to apply when the use of motor vehicles, and particularly the giving and accepting of lifts, is not any longer exceptional, but very common, upon our roads, and much more so than when the law was first framed.
There has, of course, over the years been deep concern about this problem, particularly among lawyers and those who have to deal with the after effects of accidents. It was for this reason that a previous Minister of Transport, then Mr. Tom Fraser, set up the Kent Committee to study the problem. As has been said, that Committee quite clearly recommended that passenger liability insurance should be made compulsory, without exception.
I turn now to the attitude of the Government. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that previous Governments had burked a decision. He quoted one of my predecessors as having an open-minded neutrality, I am always open-minded, but in this case I am not neutral, and I want to quote the reply of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), on 11th November last, when he said:Having carefully considered the views of all interested parties, I have decided that there is a strong case for making passenger liability insurance compulsory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1970; Vo1. 806, c. 185.]There is something open-minded perhaps, but there is nothing neutral, about that. 2111 I come now to the reasons why, and the first of them concerns the victims of accidents. Here we need to know exactly how big the problem really is. Unfortunately, it cannot be quantified exactly. We know how many passengers were accident victims in any one year. For the record, in 1969 about 83,000 passengers were killed or injured whilst travelling in or on private vehicles, but no one can possibly suggest that none of those passengers received any compensation. In many cases their drivers, if negligent, would have been covered by passenger liability insurance which they had voluntarily included in their motor insurance policies, and in other cases some drivers would have been at fault, and the compulsory third party insurance of the driver who caused the accident would have come into play to compensate the victim.
Nevertheless, there most certainly are a number of cases, though I cannot put a figure upon them, in which the passenger was injured by the negligence of his own driver, and where that driver had no insurance cover, and no other funds perhaps, either, to cover his liability. My hon. Friends this morning have quoted a number of distressing cases, and I shall not weary the House by quoting more, but the first reason why the Government support the Bill is that it is concerned with the victims.
The second reason is the value to the motorist himself of having passenger liability insurance because, quite simply, without it the motorist can find himself saddled with a financial burden which will cripple him and his family for the rest of their lives. The third general reason why we support the Bill is that we must ask ourselves whether it can any longer be right for anyone who is injured in a road accident to have to prove negligence on the part of a motorist before he can get damages on the common law scale. I do not think that it is any longer right. The Government's view, therefore, is that there is a strong argument for making passenger insurance compulsory. The case rests on social grounds and on the desirability of ensuring that road accident victims get the compensation to which the common law entitles them.
But of course, nothing can compensate for serious injury or for the loss of a close 2112 relative; this Measure would not of itself directly prevent accidents, and it is in no sense a substitute for road safety action, which successive Governments have taken and which we intend to continue to take. But the Bill, if passed, will, I think, mitigate the effects of at least some road accidents. This is an objective which I am sure the House as a whole should and will welcome today.
I have so far spoken almost entirely about the position of those who are injured in road accidents, but we must also consider the effects of the Bill on the motorists and the vehicle owners to whom it would bring the added requirement for passenger liability insurance. It will cost them more money. For many people, the Bill will make very little practical difference. The vast majority of car owners, as has been said, and a substantial proportion of commercial vehicle owners too, already have passenger liability cover. For them, there is no significant problem here. Cover is readily available, the British insurance world does its job, and the cost is a perfectly acceptable element in the normal third party or comprehensive policies.
But, as discussions on previous Bills have shown, and as a number of my hon. Friends have underlined today, there is and there should be concern about the position of the solo motor cyclist. There is the question in many motor cyclists' minds of whether this legislation would, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) said, price them off the roads.
Until very recently, the insurance market has not considered it worthwhile or economic to offer passenger liability insurance to solo motor cyclists on a voluntary basis. The risk was considered to be very high, and on a voluntary basis, there would have been insufficient spread of the risk. In this situation, the premiums which would have had to be charged would certainly have been considered very high by most motor cyclists.
However, over the last year or so, I am advised that this position has changed, to the extent that some insurers at least are now offering passenger insurance in policies for solo motor cyclists, but it is still this aspect of cost which causes concern to those involved in motor cycling. The prospect of this higher cost has been and is of concern to the Government. 2113 We have been mindful of the fact that many people who use motor cycles, particularly the smaller ones, do not do so just to make an irritating noise or to "do a ton" or to take their girl friends for a whirl. They use them simply as a comparatively cheap form of necessary personal transport. I am thinking here of many men going to work in offices, for instance, who rarely, if ever, carry passengers and who have little need and in some cases no wish ever to do so.
There are also, as we have been reminded, the particular cases of the riders of sports and trial machines, which almost by definition are simply not equipped to carry passengers. Their owners may feel it a little hard that they should be compelled by law to insure against danger to passengers whom they cannot carry.
It is because of our concern about the position of motor cyclists that I have had meetings with representatives both of the motor insurance market and of the motor cycling interests. I am very grateful to them for their co-operation. As a Government, we have gone into this question of exemptions and premiums very carefully indeed.
We needed to consider, for instance, what, if any, exemptions for the motor cyclists might be desirable and possible, what the effects of such exemptions might be, for example, on enforcement, and, alternatively, what the costs might be if there were to be no exemptions at all.
I do not think that the House would consider that a Bill on this subject which completely exempted motor cycles would be acceptable; I believe it would reject that proposition out of hand. It is the motor cycle passenger who proportionately is most at risk, at least financially, if only because it is here that there is at present an almost complete absence of coverage for passengers. It would therefore be generally agreed, I think, that a passenger insurance Bill containing such an exemption would be largely ineffective and therefore unacceptable to the House.
The greater risk of injury, and of serious injury, to passengers on motor cycles does point, however, to the concern about premiums. Motor cyclists, not unnaturally—I have seen them myself—are concerned lest they should be charged pre- 2114 miums out of proportion to the risks which they incur. For our part, we have been equally concerned that the best possible information about the likely premium levels should be available to the House and later to the Committee when it considers this matter.
We are rather more fortunate in this respect than some of our predecessors who have had to consider these Bills, because then, it was difficult for the insurance market to make any accurate forecasts, simply because there was no experience on which to base their judgment. But now, the market has, I am glad to say, had some experience. It has had experience of Northern Ireland, where many of the same companies which will be asked to insure in this country have been providing and writing passenger insurance policies for some time— indeed, from 1st January this year. Passenger insurance in Northern Ireland has in practice become compulsory, without any exemptions in practice at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford has given us some idea of the premium levels which might be expected for this additional passenger liability insurance for motor cyclists. There is no need for me to repeat his points. I would say only two things—first, that, even in the high risk areas, for the smallest two-wheelers, it seems likely that passenger cover would be available for good risk riders at no more than 10s. a year from some of our biggest insurance companies. The general range of estimated premiums would be somewhere, I am advised, between £1 and 30s. for this type of vehicle. I cannot think that that is an extravagant figure for the insurance which is purchased.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, and I will come to that point in a moment. But I must emphasise that no-one can maintain that the figures which I have given, somewhere between £1 and 30s. generally for this type of vehicle, are an extravagant 2115 and extortionate price for the insurance which is being purchased.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry
If the man concerned is a good rider and has a 25 per cent. no claims bonus, that will reduce the amount by 25 per cent.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, this is true; I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks with much experience.
Secondly, as premiums over the whole range of motor cycles clearly show, the ordinary principles of the competitive insurance market will apply; that is, equating the premiums with the degree of risk. This must inevitably be a matter of commercial judgment, and the premiums will reflect experience.
However, I do not think it could reasonably be said that premiums at the levels I have quoted would represent an undue burden on this section of society, relative to the risk and the financial protection which would be afforded to the motor cyclists themselves, not to mention in proportion to the general running costs of what can be, in the case of the bigger machines, quite substantial outlays.
In coming to the thorny question of exemptions, I must remind the House that the estimated premiums to which I have referred presuppose no exemptions being included in the Bill. Were there to be exemptions, the overall risk would be less widely spread. The market would be thinner and, as a result, the premiums for those vehicle owners who were not exempted would, of course, be that much higher, a point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn).
This is, therefore, a convenient point for me to deal with our approach generally to exemptions. It is understandable that those vehicle owners who claim never to carry passengers—I am thinking particularly of many motor cyclists—should think it unreasonable that they should be required to insure against a liability which they say they would not and could not incur.
I have heard, and we have carefully examined, many suggestions about how some sort of exemption should be provided, particularly for motor cycles which are designed in such a way as not to be able to carry passengers, or else on the basis of motor cyclists giving an under- 2116 taking never to carry passengers. As I say, those proposals have been put and we have looked carefully at them.
We have also looked into the question of whether vehicles could be marked in such a way to show that there is no passenger insurance cover and that the carriage of passengers is not allowed, perhaps with a coloured disc or a light, so that the police and anybody else would not be in any doubt about whether passengers were being carried unlawfully.
As hon. Members who have studied the Kent Report will know, that Committee considered these suggestions with very great care indeed. My right hon. Friend and I studied them all over again and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne that no form of opting out could be or would be workable; and, therefore, I must say clearly that opting out is unacceptable to the Government.
The reasons are simple. With or without a marking system, it would not be practicable to manage this business. Motorcycles change hands frequently, especially among the young. There is also a great deal of casual lending of motor bikes. There would, therefore, be tremendous difficulty to ensure that any marking of a particular machine remained as a fixed marking, simply because it could be easily removed.
It would be difficult to decide whether the marking on a particular motorcycle reflected the insurance cover held by the person actually riding the machine or whether it was held by somebody else. This would place the police in the greatest difficulties and I do not believe that it would be acceptable.
The British Motorcyclists' Federation, with which among others I am glad to have had the benefit of talking and which has shown a very responsible approach to this matter has also reached the conclusion that opting out is not acceptable.
As for exemptions based on the design of the vehicle—for example, a motorcycle which could not carry a passenger, anyway—there is here a great problem of definition because however the seat is constructed, one will always have the risk of the girl friend being carried on the mudguard. Thus, to do it by physically designing the vehicle in some way would be extremely difficult. 2117 Moreover, even if we could get over the problem of definition—with the exception of certain specialist motorcycles such as trials machines—the great majority of motorcycles now in production have integrated dual seats built into them. The case for an exemption for motorcycles based on a single seat criterion could logically be extended to all sorts of other vehicles which are not specifically designed to carry passengers, but many of which do, and this would get us on to very dangerous ground indeed.
I referred earlier to an Answer given by my right hon. Friend in which he defined the Government's position and said that we accepted the case in principle for compulsory passenger liability.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In connection with exemptions, may I remind my hon. Friend that there is the question of invalid tricycles?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that that sort of point is best dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. Iremonger indicated assent.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Having said that the Government accepted in principle the case for compulsory passenger liability insurance, my right hon. Friend went on to say in that Answer that, in principle, there seemed a good case for exempting mopeds. This view rested on two considerations. The first, which I have already mentioned, was our concern that people who, perhaps necessarily, use these small two-wheelers as a cheap form of personal transport should not be put to the unnecessary expense of paying for an insurance cover which they do not need.
The second consideration was that, at the time when my right hon. Friend made that statement, virtually all mopeds were single seaters with no passenger-carrying liability. Now, however, at least the second of those considerations has been overtaken by events. I find that mopeds designed with passenger seats are now on sale and, further, that conversion sets, consisting of a detachable passenger seat—a sort of tie-on pillion—are available and can be attached to single-seat mopeds. These are on sale, and this changes the circumstances to such an ex- 2118 tent that hon. Members will, I am sure, agree that an unqualified exemption for mopeds would not be appropriate.
I do not think I need at this stage go further into the arguments for or against exemptions, whether for motor cycles or any other vehicles. We are on Second Reading and any detailed discussion about the need for exemptions in any form and the implications of them for potential passengers, insurers and enforcement authorities can, if necessary, be taken in Committee in the context of any Amendments which may be tabled.
The Government's objective is to see that all injured passengers have open to them the source of compensation afforded by passenger liability insurance, and I think that the House broadly agrees with that view. This gap in the protection that is at present afforded to road accident victims has existed for far too long and we should now close it. With the exception of Italy, where there is as yet no compulsory motor insurance in force, we are the only Western European country where passenger liability insurance is not compulsory. That is not a situation which we should allow to continue.
I repeat that the Government are concerned to see that any new law would operate fairly and would not impose unreasonable financial burdens on those whose contingent liability for injuries to passengers is small or potentially nonexistent. The premium levels which have been quoted in this debate are significant in this context and the danger of the motor cyclist being priced off the road seems to me to have been exaggerated. The no-exemption basis proposed by my hon. Friend certainly has the important merit of simplicity.
If, as I expect, the House wishes to give the Bill a Second Reading, I can undertake that we shall take careful note of the views which have been expressed, particularly on the subject of exemptions, and of any other views which may be expressed to us from elsewhere as a result of the debate. In the light of those views, we shall consider whether or not the Government ought to table Amendments in Committee, and we shall very carefully consider any Amendments that may be tabled there by hon. Members.
Meanwhile, the House will share my feeling, I am sure, that this has been a 2119 very useful debate on a Bill which, in principle, has a strong foundation of social need, and on the introduction of which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford is most certainly to be congratulated. I think that the House will wish to pass the Bill on for detailed consideration in Committee.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am sorry that I was not able to hear the beginning of the debate, but pleased to have heard the Minister's speech just now as it is that which has decided me to take part in the discussion.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of the principle of the Bill and accept all that has been said by those who have supported it. My doubts are whether enforcement will be made, or can be made. I am told that there are already some 2,000 rules, regulations and orders dealing with vehicles on the roads, and I challenge contradiction from any hon. Member when I say that 90 per cent. of those rules and regulations are never enforced. The reason for that may be good or may be not so good. We are told that the police are so overworked—that, I agree: that they are so short-staffed—that, I agree: that they are so underpaid—that, I agree: that they cannot carry out the law, though it is their duty to do so.
I have met many of those in the top ranks of the police force and many a man on the beat. The chappie on the beat has told me, "If we were even to start trying to enforce the existing regulations, we would be doing nothing else, by day and by night, all the week". Probably every hon. Member drives a vehicle of some sort: with the exception of his being involved in an accident or breaking one of the obvious regulations, such as those connected with speeding or evading a traffic light—by accident or design—on how many occasions has he been stopped by a policeman or an enforcement officer and asked to produce his certificate of insurance, or his certificate of roadworthiness if the vehicle is of an age to need one?
I myself, not illegally but in order to make a test with a my own vehicle, turned my road fund licence back to front, so that technically I was within the law. On the other side of the licence, I wrote "Road fund licence applied for". I ran around in my car for nine months——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier he would have learned that this discussion is on an aspect rather different from that which he is now taking up.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am giving my reasons for doubting whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading. I am seeking to explain my belief that there is a possibility that even if it were passed it could not be enforced. If the Bill is eventually enacted, its insurance provisions will have to be enforced, and I am pointing out that even now there are grave difficulties in the way of enforcing the existing law.
I shall give a number of illustrations of the existing legislation not being enforced. I submit lack of present enforcement as a good reason for seriously considering whether the Bill should not pass the present stage, or, if it does pass it, why the Government should note some of the points that have been made so that they may, in Committee, introduce certain necessary Amendments.
As I was saying, I ran around in my car for nine months without its carrying a road fund licence. I have deliberately stopped policemen and asked the way to the House of Commons, and they have told me how to get there, but never once have I been challenged about my road fund licence. That being so, I asked the police, on quite another occasion, what happens in such cases. They have told me, "There are thousands and thousands of vehicles on the roads without road fund licences. We send in thousands of reports, but no action is taken."
If we are to have yet another regulation, how will the police be able to enforce it? Many drivers who do not have road fund licences do not have the certificates of insurance, yet the two go hand in glove and one, supposedly, cannot get the one without having the other. What happens now is that those who deliberately dodge just say, "We now find that we can get away without a road fund licence, because no one checks us. We do not need a roadworthiness certificate, for the same reason, or passenger insurance or any other type of insurance."
That is happening now. Coming to the House this morning, I saw a vehicle 2121 which is one of a fleet of vehicles owned by a public company. I have already previously reported the same vehicle to the police, to the G.L.C. enforcement officer and to the local borough council——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he is straying very far from the terms of the Bill. He must either come back strictly to the terms of the Bill or conclude his remarks.
§ Mr. Lewis
I agree, but I am saying that the Minister has said that there will be the question of the enforcement of the Bill, and I am adducing reasons why the Bill may not be worth being accorded a Second Reading unless I can be assured that it is possible and practicable to enforce it. Unless I can be assured either that the police force or the enforcement department will be increased or that the existing regulations are being enforced, I have grave doubts whether, much as I accept the principle of the Bill and its logic, I shall be able to support it on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is no question of difficulty of enforcement with the Bill as it stands. Therefore, on Second Reading the question of enforcement is irrelevant. The question of enforcement could arise only if in Committee an Amendment were to be accepted.
§ Mr. Lewis
We are now told that the Bill will prescribe that there shall be liability to take out passenger insurance, but the Minister has said that there will be no question of difficulty about enforcement. If the Bill is passed without Amendment in Committee and it becomes a legal liability, what happens if Mr. X refuses to take out passenger insurance cover? If he refuses to take out insurance cover for his vehicle and to take out his road fund licence—because one goes 2122 with the other—what happens? If he does not refuse to take out his road fund licence but does not have the insurance certificate, he cannot obtain his road fund licence. He must have a valid third party certificate of insurance before he can get a road fund licence. If the Bill were enacted, he would also have to have on the certificate some reference to the fact that he had taken out passenger insurance cover. If he did not have that, he could not obtain his road fund licence.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
All insurance policies henceforth would include compulsory passenger liability. There would be no difference and no new enforcement problems.
§ Mr. Lewis
I agree. As the Minister has come that far with me, perhaps he will come a little further. The man who deliberately dodges, whether at the moment or under the new scheme, will say, "I will not seek to obtain my road fund licence, because I have not taken out an insurance policy, and I do not intend to do so because I do not want to pay the fee for my road fund licence." It may be a vehicle that is the requisite number of years old and he will say, "Nor will I pay the fee for the test to obtain my certificate of roadworthiness." What happens about the man who now says, "I will refuse to take this out"? The Minister says that there is no question of enforcement.
I now tell all those who are now dodging that they will be joined by all the others who will refuse to implement the Act. If the Minister says that there will be nothing in the Bill about enforcement, will he consider moving an Amendment in Committee to ensure that enforcement is possible? If this provision is not to be enforced, it will be a farce: we shall be relying upon those who have no intention of implementing the Act to do it voluntarily; and it will not be against the law if they do not.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
The importance of a policy of insurance comes into effect when there is an accident. Is not the most effective form of enforcement of third party insurance the fact that at the moment an accident has to be and almost always is reported to the police and a policy of insurance must be produced? If it is not produced, will the hon. Gentleman agree that the courts 2123 are taking what in terms of 10 years ago are now draconian measures and are imposing sentences of disqualification on drivers who do not have the requisite policy of insurance? The same could apply under the Bill.
§ Mr. Lewis
Up to a point I agree with the first part. The hon. Gentleman will agree, however, that cases of those who are eventually caught by virtue of an accident are few and far between in comparison with the thousands that are evading the law. Many of those who evade the law and who are eventually caught are not very worried, because they have no respect for the law and invariably have no intention of paying, so the Motor Insurers' Bureau ultimately finds that it must settle any compensation that may be awarded. The evaders go bankrupt, or have no assets anyway. Eventually a fine is imposed. There is over £5 million of fines still outstanding. The evaders refuse to pay the fine. Nothing happens. They are again asked to pay. Again they refuse. Ultimately, years later, they may get a suspended sentence. The police say that there is so much of this going on that they do not trouble any more. The man who accidentally forgets to insure or who does it without intent or without often gets caught and pays his fine, but the man who does it deliberately gets away with it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot go into the detail of fines at this stage and on this Bill. The hon. Gentleman must restrict himself to the terms of the Bill.
§ Mr. John Hannam
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned with evasion, will he agree that the whole point of the Bill is to enable passengers in vehicles to be covered by insurance which has been taken out or, in effect, as it will be a legal obligation, by the back-up of the Motor Insurers' Bureau?
§ Mr. Lewis
Yes, I agree that this is in the Bill, but Mr. Deputy Speaker keeps telling me that it is not in the Bill. However, the Bill speaks about passenger liability insurance. I am told that I cannot explain, as I am trying to do, that unless there is some method of enforcement and insistence to cover that question, those who are deliberately dodging now will still deliberately dodge. I do 2124 not think the hon. Gentleman understands that if they now refuse to take out third party insurance they will surely also refuse to take out the added liability of passenger insurance. If they refuse to pay £10 a year now, as they do, they will surely refuse to pay £12 a year, because they say that £10 a year is too much and then say, "We will not pay it", and they do not pay it. I do not believe that someone who refuses to pay £10 a year now will suddenly say, "For years I have been dodging this and have not paid it. Now that it has risen from £10 to £12 a year I will pay it." I cannot see that happening unless there is some method of enforcement. The decent chap who already pays will continue to do so.
That leads me to the next point. We shall penalise those who already pay and we shall allow those who dodge the law to get away with it.
§ Mr. Money
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He has dealt with that part of my intervention concerning fines, but he has not dealt with the part of my intervention which related to the question of suspension or endorsement. Perhaps he will consider it on the basis that courts now invariably endorse and very often suspend. This, he may think, is an effective form of enforcement.
§ Mr. Lewis
I must be careful because Mr. Deputy Speaker evidently feels that this is not covered by the Bill. I think that I can deal with this point simply by saying that the people I have in mind—and there are thousands of them—are very often not traceable. Their vehicles are not registered; they have no road fund licence; they pay no tax or insurance. Indeed, if and when they are caught, an automatic suspension is not usually for a first or second offence. The totting up principle involves three offences, and usually the suspension does not follow until the third offence. Nevertheless, even if suspension were to follow the first offence, I still think that this proposal is wrong. Only this week a man came to see me in the House and produced chapter and verse, which has been submitted to the Minister and to the police, showing that fleets of lorries are running around, and have been doing so for years, with no insurance or tax having been paid. 2125 How is it intended to ensure that the law is enforced? Will it be by the G.L.C. enforcement officer or by the police? Will it occur when the man meets with an accident? There are about 2,000 regulations in force, dealing with all manner of things. Car lights, for instance, are supposed to be a certain height from the ground. The beam is supposed to be visible at a certain distance. I should like to know when was the last time that an hon. Member was stopped by the police to have his lights checked, or his brakes——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman yet once more that this Bill is about something quite different.
§ Mr. Lewis
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I was in order in saying that I am in favour of the principle of the Bill but that I would like to be shown how the principle, with which I agree, will be implemented. I have been in the House long enough to know that in a Second Reading debate one is entitled to discuss not only what is in the Bill but what one would like to see in the Bill in order to implement the principle of the Bill. It is on Third Reading that one cannot raise matters which are not in the Bill but which one would like to see in the Bill. Therefore, with respect, I submit that on Second Reading I am entitled to ask for anything to be put into the Bill which would improve it, provided that it is within the Long Title of the Bill.
If I want to suggest that the Bill should be so extended as to provide for a whole revision of the basis of insurance, including third party and a whole host of other things, I submit that I am entitled so to do. It is quite true that the promoter of the Bill or the Minister may not want those things, but, nevertheless, I am entitled on Second Reading to put forward any suggestion which is within the scope of the Bill and which I wish to be included. On the evidence available, I am not sure that the existing insurance schemes are working properly and, therefore, I am not sure that an additional scheme would necessarily be an improvement. Therefore, I suggest that in Committee the Minister or the sponsor of the Bill should ensure that the whole basis of the insurance scheme as envisaged in 2126 the Bill is improved upon and tightened up.
I should like the Bill to be extended and made much more obligatory and enforceable than would appear to be the case at the moment. I should like to see a system whereby the insurance certificate must be produced periodically—perhaps every six or 12 months. I am concerned with assisting the police, not causing any difficulties. My suggestion would give the police a chance to keep a check on these pirates to whom I have referred. If every six or 12 months the holder of an insurance certificate had to go to a police station and have it stamped, this would indicate that the insurance was in order and valid.
While I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, I hope that when it goes into Committee action will be taken to see that whatever is agreed upon is capable of being implemented in toto, instead of allowing a continuation of the present situation in which the law-abiding citizen pays while others deliberately dodge and get away with it with impunity.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).