§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the power of the courts in Scotland to award interest on damages. It is a small Measure, but if it is enacted, as I trust it will be, it will remove what I regard as an anomaly in the law and improve the position of those in Scotland who suffer loss or injury as a result of accident. I trust that it is not a contentious matter. The House will observe that it is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) and the hon. Members for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith) and Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). I am deeply grateful to them for their support.
Perhaps I should add, particularly after the events of this week, how deeply grateful I am to the Under-Secretary of State for having stayed behind on this Friday to attend this debate. It is extremely good of him, particularly so since, I suspect, he had other and perhaps more attractive engagements in his constituency of Cathcart. So I am grateful to him for being here.
I referred a moment ago to my attempt to remove an anomaly in the law. This anomaly arises because of differences between English and Scots law. I tread with some diffidence on the marshy ground whether there should be differences between Scots law and English law or not, in view of the comments made earlier by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). I am sure that he would agree 1185 with me, however, that all hon. Members,—from Scotland anyway—would feel that while there may be some merit in bringing English law into line with Scots law there is certainly less merit in bringing Scots law into line with practice in England if the purpose is simply to remove differences. But where there exists an obvious anomaly which can be remedied by removing a difference, then it seems reasonable to me that we should at least consider changing the position so that the state of the law is the same in both countries.
The anomaly in this case is that the pursuer awarded damages in Scotland is less favourably placed in the matter of payment of interest than a plaintiff who is awarded damages in England, and I submit to the House that it is unreasonable that this disadvantage should continue. The position, as I understand it, is that in England Section 3 of the Law-Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1934, enabled the courts to award interest on any debt or damages from the date when the action arose. In the case of damages, therefore, interest could be awarded from the date of the accident which caused loss or injury. As it happened, however, the provisions of this Section of the 1934 Act were little used in England, and the Act was later amended by Section 22 of the Administration of Justice Act 1969, so that in actions of damages for personal injuries the court was obliged to exercise the 1934 Act by awarding interest from the date of the cause of action.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Act, 1958, had resulted from the third report of the Law Reform Committee for Scotland, which was published a year previously. This Act extended the power to award interest on damages in Scotland from the date of the decree back to the date of the beginning of the court action, but not so far back as the date of the accident or other event which caused the action in the first place. The effect of these changes in the law in Scotland and in England was to place the pursuer in Scotland in a less advantageous position than the plaintiff in England.
The disadvantage is twofold. First, because of these differences between Scotland and England, a Scottish pursuer today can claim interest for a shorter 1186 period, that is, from the date of the commencement of the court action, and not from the date of the accident. Secondly, there is no presumption that interest should be payable in the personal injuries case. There is a further difficulty, which is that the Scottish courts have interpreted the 1958 Act in a somewhat restrictive manner. The leading case is that of McRae v. Reed and Mallik Ltd., where it was held that the power to award interest under the 1958 Act must be exercised on a selective and discriminating basis; that interest from a date earlier than the date of decree could be allowed only where the loss had been suffered before the date of decree and could be definitely ascertained; and that interest could never run from a date earlier than that of decree on an award of solatium—the compensation awarded for the pain and suffering caused to the pursuer.
The House will appreciate that these are substantial disadvantages to the pursuer in Scotland. They would be remedied by my Bill, and it is possible that its passage might also have the effect of leading to some actions being completed in less time than at present.
§ Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Is it in order for a stranger to cause to be passed to an hon. Member in this House information on a piece of paper?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
It depends entirely upon one thing. If it is from the official Box of the House it is in order, not otherwise.
§ Mr. MacArthur
Perhaps I may now, for the convenience of the House, make some comment on the content of the Bill. Clause 1 operates by amending the Interest on Damages Act, 1958, and substituting new subsections which have the equivalent effect of the English provisions in Section 3 of the 1954 Act and Section 22 of the 1969 Act.
The substituted section 1(1) is the equivalent of Section 3 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1934. It provides that where a court awards damages it may award interest thereon from the date when the right of action arose. The substituted section (1)(1A)—which is Section 22 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1969 in England—makes it mandatory for the court 1187 to exercise the power to award interest in actions where the damages consist of or include damages for personal injuries, unless there are special reasons why interest should not be charged.
The House may observe that there is a proviso which excludes interest on damages of £200 or below. The reason is that £200 is the English limit, and it seems a reasonable figure, in that the interest awarded on that sum of damages would be infinitesimal and hardly worth taking into account. These mandatory provisions are without prejudice to the right of the court to award interest from the date of the right of the action, or any part of the damages which are not in respect of personal injuries, such as the loss of a vehicle in a motor car smash. The subsection does no more than to raise a presumption that interest should be awarded in the relevant cases. It allows the court to limit the award of interest to part of the damages and to refuse to award interest if it is satisfied that there are special reasons why no interest should be given. This is similar to the English legislation.
Clause 1(2) inserts into the 1958 Act, as amended by the Bill, definitions of "damages" and "personal" injuries, and declares that damages include solatium, so that the damages awarded in a court would cover not only quantifiable claims, such as loss of wages and so on, but the much less quantifiable assessment of pain and suffering suffered by the pursuer. The definition also makes it clear that power is given to award interest on the solatium element from a date before the date of decree.
Clause 2(1) provides that the 1958 Act and the Bill may be cited together as the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Acts. I believe that is for the general convenience.
Clause 2(2) provides that the Bill will not apply to any action commenced before it becomes law. The purpose of that is to prevent parties making claims for interest under the Bill in actions in which the evidence may have been heard before the passing of the Bill, so that the issues were not brought out in the evidence. It also prevents a party raising the new issues of interest on damages in an appeal where the case was originally heard before the passing of the Bill. The House will agree that it is right that 1188 there should be no retrospective element in the Bill.
I hope that the House will accept that the reason for the Bill has been sufficiently explained and that its background has been sufficiently set out for the purpose of this debate. I shall be most grateful if the House will allow my Bill to receive its Second Reading.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I very rarely intervene in debates, especially Scottish debates. Hon. Members who intervene in Scottish debates lay themselves open to various temptations.
I asked one of my colleagues on the Opposition benches to provide me with a copy of the Bill. He has been to the Vote Office, but I regret to say that he has brought back the wrong Bill.
§ Mr. Galbraith
With a name like his, my hon. Friend need make no apology for intervening in the debate.
§ Sir S. McAdden
It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say that, but my "Mc" is not a Scottish but an Irish "Mc". In the spirit of co-operation that exists between the two Front Benches these days, I did beseech one of my hon. Friends opposite to provide me with a copy of the Bill, but he has brought me back a copy of the Shops (Weekday Trading) Bill. [Interruption.] I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) for handing me the right Bill. The hon. Gentleman is living up to his name, and doing his best to help me in my task.
I would not have intervened in a Scottish debate, but, moved by the oratory and earnestness of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), I felt that perhaps a humble English Member might say a word or two in support of his cause. Of course, there should be interest upon damages. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, will do what he can to see that those who are involved in legal actions are afforded some help in these matters.
Whilst I worry about the people of Scotland and hope that they may have some comfort in their difficulties, this is 1189 not really a matter that excites me very much. As a matter of fact, it does not seem to be a matter which excites the House of Commons very much. When I look around this great assembly, which could contain 630 Members, and I see six Members on this side of the House and six opposite, I wonder what on earth is happening to the state of Scotland. We have six a side. We could play draughts, or chess, or ludo, or whatever it may be, but it does not seem to me that the problems of Scotland are being adequately considered.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
The hon. Gentleman will see that our side now numbers seven.
§ Sir S. McAdden
Yes, I see another hon. Gentleman has joined the Labour benches. I hope that the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Bill will be considered more adequately in another place and that great care will be devoted to this important subject. It must be important since my hon. Friend made out such a good case for it. I must say I did not realise it was so important until I heard him. He has made such a passionate case today that we obviously should devote more attention to this matter and I hope that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will see that it gets detailed consideration.
§ Mr. MacArthur
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He will be aware that, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will go to a Standing Committee which consists exclusively of Scottish Members of Parliament. The Scottish Standing Committee studies every Bill with great care, in great detail and sometimes at considerable length.
§ Sir S. McAdden
In fact, I have been a member of the Scottish Standing Committee. I have never, of course, attended because I thought it was a joke. I think they must have appointed me a member of that Committee because my name started with "Mc." It is a useful and important Committee and I hope that it will devote great time and deliberation to these proceedings.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) in the House devoting his time to consideration of these great and important problems. I hope the House will 1190 give grave consideration to this important Bill. It must be important, or it would not have all this time devoted to it on a Friday. It also contains an Explanatory Memorandum which nobody has understood.
When I look around the House, I see the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) who has never been nearer to Scotland than Scotland Road. I see the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), and he certainly has been there.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman's arguments may meander or wander about, but I do not think he himself should meander physically.
§ Sir S. McAdden
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I agree that it is wrong that I should meander about the Chamber. I was only trying to make myself as friendly as possible to the limited number of Members here. After all, many of us were here last night, much against our will—I was certainly here against my will. I have not been to bed since the night before last, but I am still here now.
All I want to say is that this Bill, which has been sponsored and introduced with such passionate eloquence by my hon. Friend, must be a very worthy Bill. I hope Scotland is looking forward to it with great anticipation, and I welcome it to this House.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I shall be brief in my remarks. I want first to congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) on bringing forward this Bill, which is important for all sides of the House. Having regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), I would point out that the reason he was put on the Scottish Committee is not because his name starts with "Mc", but because there are far too few Scottish Tories on that Committee unless they co-opt some English Members.
§ Mr. MacArthur
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is bantering. However, he must not mislead the House. The position now is that, under a benevolent Conservative Government, the Scottish Standing Committee consists exclusively of Scottish Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am not sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East understands the clear distinction between Standing Committees and Grand Committees.
§ Mr. Buchan
Because the hon. Member for Southend, East referred to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is no reason for me to give way. I give way not because of that, but because of my natural generosity.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I agree that the hon. Gentleman is generous. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was probably thinking of the days before the Scottish Standing Committee when there was only the Scottish Grand Committee which added English Members among whom he was notable and helpful.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are debating the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Bill. Discussion about the Scottish Grand Committee is not in order.
§ Mr. Buchan
I entirely agree, Mr. Speaker. The point has been amply made that the insufficiency of Scottish Tory Members was part of the historical reason for English Members being co-opted to that Committee.
I welcome both Clauses in the Bill. One problem is always the law's delays. Therefore, we do not want this Bill to be delayed.
I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead puts property before person—he will no doubt remember the quotation—so he will probably give the Bill his enthusiastic support.
Co-operation between the parties has been mentioned. When the party opposite, or individual Members of it, bring in worthwhile Measures in the interests of Scotland, they will find ready co-operation on this side of the House. I welcome the Bill.
§ 3.16 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor)
We have heard three valuable contributions in our consideration of the Bill. I was very pleased to 1192 hear the welcome given to the Bill by one of our English colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), and by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan).
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) said that if the House approves the Bill, it will go to the Scottish Standing Committee. As the hon. Member for Renfrew, West has welcomed the Bill, he will no doubt accept that it is important to make speedy progress on matters already before the Committee. I am glad to have his assurance of co-operation.
§ Mr. Buchan
My point was that, when the Conservative Party brings forward Measures which are in the interests of Scotland, co-operation will be forthcoming. When it brings in the kind of Measure to which the hon. Gentleman was referring, attacking the whole educational structure of Scotland, we shall continue to fight it line by line.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that so long as we have the present Administration, we shall continue to bring Bills before the Scottish Standing Committee which are in the interests of Scotland. However, as you said, Mr. Speaker, it is important that we should get on and consider this very important and interesting Bill.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire, who introduced the Bill so well, refer to it as a small Bill. The House, I am sure, will agree that my hon. Friend was being unduly humble in this respect. It is a Bill of significance which, over the years, could be of real benefit to a substantial number of people who find themselves covered by its provisions.
We are all conscious that my hon. Friend has a fine record in the House for promoting Private Members' Bills, even though it means attending on Fridays and being here for long hours during the week and at the weekend. I particularly recall the occasion when my hon. Friend brilliantly and successfully brought before and pursued through the House the Law Reform (Damages and Solatium) (Scotland) Bill. That was a very valuable Measure. It dealt with anomalies in the law and the problems facing people in their everyday lives. It has been of real benefit and significance. I certainly 1193 hope that my hon. Friend will continue along this path of promoting useful private Bills which can be of real benefit to Scotland. I commend my hon. Friend for his efforts. I am also glad to say that the Bill is one which the Government welcome, and we hope that it will proceed speedily through all its stages in the House.
I think that my hon. Friend was very generous in the welcome that he gave to those who were present at this Sitting of the House after our long deliberations last night. He was particularly generous in his kind remarks about myself. He will be aware that I have to miss my annual Burns supper in Cathcart to be here today, but we appreciate that this is a very important matter.
Perhaps I may now deal with the Bill, and, in particular, with the question which has been raised about the differences between Scottish and English law in this regard. Perhaps I may briefly recount the position. As regards interest on damages, the general pre-1958 rule in Scotland was that a conclusion for damages included a demand for interest from thedate of the decree to follow hereon.I take that from Walker on Damages, at page 211.
It is interesting that the author quotes an 1850 case, in which it was held to be a question for the discretion of the court in each particular case whether interest should be given on an award of damages for reparation, and from what date. Be that as it may, it was not until 1958 that the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Act was passed. This provided, in particular in Section 1, that in a damages action the court might, if the circumstances warranted such a course, include a decree for payment of interest on the sum or any part thereof at a rate to be specified from a date—and this is the important point—not earlier than the commencement of the action. There has never been any provision in Scotland allowing interest from the date of the cause of the action.
What, on the other hand, was the position in England? In England the first Statutory provision was in terms of Section 3(1) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1934, which per- 1194 mitted interest from the date of the cause of action, at the discretion of the court; but, by Section 22 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1969, it was provided that where judgment is given for over £200 and represents or includes damages for personal injuries or death the courts shall exercise the power given in the 1934 Act so as to include in that sum interest on those damages, or such part as the court considers appropriate—and here again we have the key sentence—unless the court is satisfied that there are special reasons why no interest should be given in respect of those damages. Thus, the onus of proof in England has been reversed in personal injuries actions, and the defendant must now show special reasons why interest should not be given. The provisions of this section had, of course, also been recommended by the Winn Committee.
Here we have the difference between the law in Scotland and that in England. It is not the case, as I am sure all Scottish Members who are aware of our special position in Scotland will agree, that whenever we see a difference, there is a need for change. I think that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes), who takes a special interest in these matters, will accept that sometimes there is a sound case for the difference, and that in respect of some particular matters Scotland has a position which is preferable, or which is related to our own special circumstances.
This, I think, is a case in which it is appropriate perhaps to make a change, and the purpose of the Bill—and it is a complex matter—is to extend the power of the courts in Scotland to award interest on damages. It amends the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Act, 1958, first, by enabling the court to award interest on damages from the date when the right of action—that is the accident causing the loss or the injury—arose, instead of, as it was in the 1958 Act, from the date when the court action for damages was commenced; and, secondly, by making it mandatory for the court to exercise the power to award such interest in all actions except those in which the award was for £200 or less, where the damages consist of or include damages for personal injuries, unless there are special reasons why interest should not be awarded from the earlier date. Damages 1195 may be for delict, negligence or breach of contract.
It is interesting to note that at common law interest could be awarded by a court only on a sum of money which had been liquidated—which was of a certain and ascertained amount. This meant that although the interest could be awarded on a specific debt from the date when the debt became due, no interest could be awarded on damages before the date of the decree of the court which made the damages liquid by determining their amount. That was the position in Scotland until the 1958 Act.
In England, by Section 3 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1934, courts were enabled to award interest on any debt or damages from the date when the cause of action arose—for example, in the case of damages, from the date of the accident which caused the loss of injury. The provisions of Section 3 of the 1934 Act were, however, little used in England and, as a result of the recommendation of the Winn Committee on Personal Injuries Litigation, Section 22 of the Administration of Justice Act,1969, was enacted, amending the 1934 Act to provide that in the case of an action for damages for personal injuries the court was obliged to exercise the 1934 Act power by awarding interest from the date of the cause of the action or, at least, on part of the damages for part of the period, unless there were special reasons why no interest should be given.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Third Report of the Law Reform Committee for Scotland, the Interest on Damages (Scotland) Act, 1958, had extended the power to award interest on damages in Scotland from the date of the decree at common law, back to the date of the commencement of the court action but not so far back as the date of the accident or other event constituting the cause or right of action.
I am sorry to have to go into this matter in such detail, but it is so important that we must get the position clear. The position in Scotland prior to the Bill was, therefore that the pursuer was in a less advantageous position than the English plaintiff, in that he could claim interest only for a shorter period. That is the very point on which my hon. Friend requires action to be taken.
1196 There was no presumption that interest should be payable in the personal injuries case. Moreover, the Scottish courts have interpreted the 1958 Act in a somewhat restrictive manner, especially in the case referred to by my hon. Friend—McRae v. Reed and Mallik, Ltd.—by holding that the power to award interest under the 1958 Acts must be exercised on a selective and discriminating basis, that interest from a date earlier than the date of the decree could be allowed only when the loss had been suffered before the date of decree and could be definitely ascertained, and that interest could never run from a date earlier than that of the decree on the award of solatium——
§ Mr. Buchan rose——
I am sorry to take so long, but when we are dealing with a Bill which is concerned with a very important point it is necessary——
§ Mr. Buchan
I am merely pointing out the enormous length of time that is being taken up on an agreed Measure when the position is known to hon. Members of both sides of the House. This leads one to have certain suspicions about the time being taken in explanation in view of forthcoming Private Members' Bills. I have never known a Minister to adopt such a course where Private Members' Bills were involved. We accept the definition that has been given, and there is no necessity for the Minister to continue with his explanation.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I appreciate that my hon. Friend does not want to take up time, but this is an important matter. It may be that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), who has just left the Scottish Office, knows all about this. But it is many years since I was in that fortunate position and my brain has, perhaps, got a little rusty in the meantime. I find what my hon. Friend is saying very vulnerable. The hon. Gentleman's interruption did his own cause harm by making aspersions against my hon. Friend. I wish that he would not do that. These things rebound, and he is no position to make that sort of accusation when one thinks of what is happening in the Scottish Standing Committee at the moment.
I would not wish to respond in the same spirit as that in which my hon. Friend made his comment. I have spoken very briefly. It is right, when a private Member brings in a Bill, that the Government's view should be given. I will make only the point, perhaps in the spirit in which the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) intervened, that although we have been sitting—I know that he has been in the same position, as a very conscientious Member—virtually since 10.30 yesterday morning, when the Scottish Standing Committee began, if a Scottish Bill had been presented today and there had been no one on the Front Bench, he would have been the first to protest that it was scandalous.
He cannot have it both ways. We have been having an amicable discussion on a valuable Measure, but if the hon. Gentleman is being sincere—as I hope he is—I ask him to think what his comments would have been if my hon. Friend, with his long experience and record of introducing Private Members' Bills, had introduced this Bill with the skill he has shown, the hon. Gentleman himself had risen to speak for the Opposition, and this bench had not had a Scottish Minister on it. I resent that kind of interruption. When we are here, he says that we talk too long, and if we are not here, he says that it is a scandal. I hope that, when the time comes, we can look back on a few years of this Administration with a clearer political conscience than could the previous Government.
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has diverted me from what I had hoped would be an entirely non-controversial speech welcoming the Bill and, more important, my hon. Friend's initiative in introducing it.
This is certainly an interesting Bill. It will not only interest legal opinion in Scotland but will be of real value. I hope that, with co-operation and understanding on both sides, the Bill will make speedy progress through all its stages. I commend my hon. Friend's initiative arid the Bill. It has been a real pleasure to be here on a Friday to hear my hon. Friend and to take part in the debate.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I deprecate the interruption and 1198 the whole tone of the speeches made by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). It is clear that he has been overdoing things, and we do not entirely hold that against him. He said that I talk with passion only about property. I talk about everything with passion, and when I find myself and my hon. Friend unjustly attacked by the hon. Gentleman I speak with great passion.
He said that what was wanted was a golden mean. Would he describe a golden mean? It is what he likes, and anything that anyone else stands for is excess or passion. I will not waste any more of the time of the House on the hon. Gentleman, because it is clear that what he wants to do is go back home to bed. He may as well do so now, instead of interrupting our amicable discussions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) on his good fortune and on introducing this Bill. My hon. Friend is an extremely hardworking and perspicacious person with special knowledge of the Home Office, the affairs of which he shadowed with great skill and assiduity in the last Parliament. He has chosen well in introducing this Measure and I congratulate him on his good fortune in the Ballot.
As my hon. Friend said, the purpose of the Bill is to extend the power of the courts in Scotland to award interest on damages. In doing so, it proposes to amend the Interest on Damage (Scotland) Act, 1958. As a layman, this seems to make good sense and it is only right that interest on damages should run from the date when the right of action—that is, the time of the accident or injury—occurred instead of from the date when the court action began.
There is frequently a long delay between the time of an accident and the time of the action concerning that accident coming before the court. This is inevitable in many cases. For example, it happens when a bridge collapses, which is happening all over the world these days. We have had the incident at Milford Haven and that in Melbourne. I trust that the bridge which the Department is constructing over the Clyde will not suffer the same fate. When cases of this kind come before the courts enormous sums are involved and it is only right that interest should run from the date when the 1199 incident occurred and not from the date of the beginning of the court action.
I have an example of this, a humdrum incident, in my area. A constituent of mine was driving along the road from Lanark to Glasgow recently—the Under-Secretary may be aware of this case; I have sent his Department the details—and, owing to some pot-holes in the road, his car came to grief. Naturally he did not want to take the matter to law immediately, especially because of the great expenditure involved in doing so. He therefore began negotiating with the Scottish Office. He did this on his own and received what can only be politely described as the brush-off. My constituent then approached me, and so far I have been receiving the brush-off. I hope that this state of affairs will not continue for ever.
If my constituent does not get satisfaction, he will no doubt eventually take the matter to court. If successful, he will get interest on the damages, but fortunately, if this Measure is passed, they will be awarded not from the date of the start of the action, which he has endeavoured to avoid starting by doing everything possible to reach agreement with the Scottish Office, hence these protracted proceedings, but from the date of the incident.
I am glad that this welcome reform has the support of the Government. It is a complicated matter and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the clarity with which he explained it. His remarks were indeed helpful.
I do not understand why my hon. Friend feels that there should be this limit of £200. Surely if it is right to have interest on any figure above £200, why not below £200? We all know that the English are richer than the Scots. The interest on £200 may mean nothing to an Englishman but it could mean quite a lot to a Scotsman.
§ Mr. MacArthur
The figure of £200 is not entirely arbitrary. I accept that it is a figure which could be reviewed. I hope that my hon. Friend will raise the matter in Committee. I am grateful to him for calling attention to it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
If I have the good fortune to be on the Committee, which is almost inevitable as I am speaking on 1200 the Bill, that is certainly an Amendment on which I shall endeavour to obtain the Committee's agreement. I am glad to have my hon. Friend's benevolent interest in it.
It has been said that the court has to have the power mandatorily to do this unless there are special reasons why interest should not be awarded. I may have missed the point, but I do not think that either of my hon. Friends dealt with it. I cannot see what reasons there could be fog courts withholding the award of interest. One of the reasons behind the Bill is not only common sense but also that it brings the law of Scotland into line with that of England. Curiously enough, this is a theme which has been running through every Bill which we have debated today, the tendency to harmonise the law of the two countries. Up till now it has always been the Scottish law being harmonised with the English law. That is agreeable to the English. From past history we know what empire-builders they are.
But if this principle is to be accepted, have the English ever considered what will happen to them when this nation enters the Common Market? The law there is not an English-Teutonic law but a Roman-Dutch law, very much akin to the Scottish law. This aspect of the matter should, perhaps, receive greater attention than it has received up till now.
My hon. Friend explained the Bill extremely well. We were grateful for the short intervention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. The Bill has my support. I shall endeavour to try to improve it with one or two Amendments if I am fortunate enough to be selected for the Scottish Committee.
Mr. Iain Sprout (Aberdeen, South)
I am glad to rise to support my hon. Friend in a somewhat calmer and, perhaps, less controversial atmosphere than we have had recently. It is a comfort to me, or perhaps I should say in the context of this Bill, a solatium to see my former pair also present, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes), in that, he having sent me trooping through the Lobbies last night, he is present after having suffered the same fate.
I rise to support the Bill. I do not regard it as the modest proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) 1201 said it was. I agree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that it is a most important matter for Scotland. I am glad that so many Scottish Members are here in support. I support the Bill not as a lawyer but as a layman. Perhaps that is just as well for me, because at the moment in this House it almost seems as though "lawyer" is a term of abuse, certainly from the Opposition. I have felt glad to have been saved from that term on the Industrial Relations Bill, even if from no other epithet from hon. Members opposite.
This Bill seems to me to be a Measure of common sense and of fairly elementary justice to remedy a basic unfairness in the law in so far as it discriminates between what can happen in England and what can happen in Scotland. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) that we should not bring the law into line between England and Scotland merely in order to bring it into line, and I know that that is far from the view of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North in introducing his Divorce (Scotland) Bill. I know that he did not introduce that Measure merely to bring the two laws into line. He had more cogent reasons than that. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire also has more cogent reasons The Bill would bring the law into line, but in certain circumstances certain beneficial effects result from doing just that, as we all accept.
We have had an excellent and succinct discussion of what the Bill proposes and there is really no controversy about it on either side, although perhaps a wee bit of acrimony was introduced by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan)—perhaps an overlap from the rather heated discussions we have had recently on the Education (Scotland) Bill in Committee. I hope that the House will accept the Bill without a Division because I believe that it is non-controversial.
Although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire have given in general terms what the Bill sets out to do, I think that a number of hon. Members, and many people outside, are not as clear as they might be about what the Bill might mean 1202 in practice, and it is important to bring home to our constituents what it will mean in practice. I shall give an example of how it will affect the lives of ordinary people.
I represent part of the great City of Aberdeen. My example has a certain aptness because the citizens of Aberdeen are known throughout the world for certain qualities—their shrewdness and good humour. Perhaps there is one other quality which makes the Aberdonian possibly the quintessence, the apotheosis, of what the world thinks of Scotsmen—the quality of thriftiness. It is that quality which I want to deal with as it is affected by the Bill.
Let us take the example of a driver, a rather careless driver, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), who has been following our debates closely—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wake him up."] Incidentally, Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you allowed an English Member to intervene in this debate. If I remember rightly, it was the practice of Mr. Speaker King not to encourage English Members to intervene in Scottish debates. I think it is a good thing to have as wide a contribution to Scottish legislation as possible and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East intervened.
My example concerns transport—and although perhaps it has an oblique, it has not totally illusory, aptness for to my hon. Friend, as he has concerned himself with transport in thepast and is respected in the House for his knowledge of it. Let us imagine that one of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East is driving down the main street of that constituency—in the town of Southend, I imagine, although, I hesitate to say, I do not know it—and he has a car accident. Suppose that the person involved in the accident sues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Do not wake him."] I thought that perhaps the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was to be drawn rather more acutely to what I was saying than it has been for the last few minutes.
An accident occurs in Southend, the case goes to court and, let us say, the person involved in the accident is 1203 awarded £5,000 damages. As I understand the English law, the court has the right to specify the rate at which interest will be paid on that sum. It might be fixed at 7½ per cent. If my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General had not, unfortunately, had to leave after the conclusion of the last debate, he could have confirmed that I am giving a fair example of the rate of interest.
I apologise for not being a lawyer and, therefore, I do not use legal terms. Suppose, however, that a decision is given exactly 12 months after the accident. Under English law, interest can be given for that whole period. If my arithmetic is correct, if the damages were £5,000 and interest was at 7½ per cent., the persons to whom damages were awarded would be given an additional £375. I am sure that we all agree that this is right and that we would commend whoever was responsible for the English law which introduced that provision.
Unfortunately, however, until now, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire has shown, the same situation does not prevail in Scotland. To somebody like an Aberdonian, but, perhaps, to all Scotsmen, it is particularly galling that whereas, if an accident occurs in Southend, the person to whom damages are awarded gets an extra—does the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I was merely remarking to one of my hon. Friends that an accident has occurred in Southend.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing my attention to that.
If the accident occurred in Southend, an extra £375 could be awarded which would not be awarded in total to one of my constituents or to a constituent of my former pair, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, if the accident occurred in his constituency or mine. We both know, coming from a great city like Aberdeen, where everything is extremely well run—in spite, perhaps, of the unfortunate colour of the present local council—that accidents will nevertheless happen in a busy thoroughfare like Union Street. If an accident were to happen there, I am sure that the hon. Member for Aber- 1204 deen, North would agree that all our constituents would be extremely displeased if they felt that they were being done out of £375, or whatever, which would have been awarded in exactly similar circumstances had they occurred in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Might I mention that, on this occasion, silence on my part indicates assent?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that remark. I could wish that some of his hon. Friends on the Front Bench had been rather more silent last night instead of shouting "No" on quite so many occasions throughout the night, although we respect their convictions in those matters. I was happy to troop through the Division Lobby on so excellent a Bill as that put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I am sorry that I allowed myself to be carried away by that interruption.
I was making an important point by specifying an example, that the difference in the sum of money which could be awarded to one of my constituents because of an accident exactly similar to one which happened to a constituent of an English Member of Parliament—a difference of £375—is very considerable indeed. Therefore I am very glad that this Bill will remedy what I think is a rather unfair situation.
In this circumstance I should like to ask a specific question of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I preface it by saying that I would have asked the Solicitor-General had he still been here. Is the money which in England is awarded in this sort of situation tax free or not? Because, under the present penal tax rates this makes a very important difference. I should be interested to know. Perhaps my hon. Friend can inform me—it is, perhaps, rather unfair to spring this question on him—whether the sum would be tax free or not if awarded in Scotland if this Bill became an Act.
Mr. Edward Taylor
It is a rather complex matter, and perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend about it.
§ Mr. Sproat
I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for that helpful reply. I am sorry that it was, perhaps, a rather complicated question, and asked when we are pressed for time. I will pass on now with that assurance he has given me.
§ Mr. MacArthur
I think that when my hon. Friend writes that letter he may say in it that interest on damages would be subject to tax. Damages, of course, are not, but interest would rank as income.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am only sorry, in this case, that the law of Scotland cannot be different or applied in a different way from that in England, on tax as well as on this whole question of interest on damages.
I should like to pass on to one last point briefly. It is very important. It is often and repeatedly said in this House, even since I have been a Member, that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Indeed, it is said so often that whenever anybody begins to utter the word "justice" one sees irritable nods and shakes of heads not only from hon. Members opposite but from one's own hon. Friends. However, I would add to it. It is not only important that it should be done and seen to be done, but that it should be done quickly.
We are all aware that at the moment justice delayed is very often not justice. Of course, in saying this I lay no blame whatsoever on those who administer the law in Scotland, or, indeed, in any part of the United Kingdom, but the fact is that at the moment in far too many cases, due to very heavy pressure of work—alas, increasing in so many areas of the law—the courts cannot get through their business as quickly as they would like. Perhaps some might draw a parallel between that and this House.
One serious advantage of this Bill is that though it cannot help where the pressure or number of cases slows down justice, it will at least encourage the swifter carrying out of the law. Nobody will want to pay interest over a longer period than necessary. This is an important help in speeding up justice in these cases where delay so often results 1206 in mitigating the effect of justice. Therefore, I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend.
§ 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).