HC Deb 26 March 1971 vol 814 cc1112-20

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The urgency for this piece of legislation, which will put passengers of motor vehicles on exactly the same footing as any other third party, has been highlighted by the crash of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company and, in particular, by the misfortunes of two Manchester journalists, Mr. Seddon and Mr. Kewley. As hon. Members will have seen, in the Manchester Assize Court last week Mr. Kewley was awarded £44,000 damages against Mr. Seddon, who was a policyholder of Vehicle and General. As a result of the failure of that company, Mr. Seddon found himself having to face, on his own it seemed, this enormous bill.

This is precisely what this piece of legislation is all about. It protects not only the passenger who finds himself awarded substantial damages and is unable to claim them because there is no insurance company standing behind the individual concerned, but the driver from claims which he cannot possibly meet out of his own pocket.

Once this legislation is on the Statute Book this sort of case will not arise in the way that it has because the Motor Insurers' Bureau will require, under the terms of its agreement with the Department of the Environment, to stand as guarantor for all compulsorily insurable liabilities, including passengers. Nevertheless, this recent case has aroused strong feelings in the past week among hon. Members on both sides as to the moral obligation of the British Insurance Association to stand by Mr. Seddon and those in a similar situation as a result of the failure of one of its member companies. I was delighted, as I am sure all hon. Members were, to learn yesterday that the British Insurance Association has recognised its moral obligation in this respect and established a fund of El million to compensate those passengers to whom Vehicle and General had a liability.

I particularly pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner), who has played such a great part in recent days in bringing this problem to the attention of the House and the public as a whole, and also to the Government for bringing their influence to bear. I am glad to think that this Bill may have played some part in influencing the British Insurance Association to reach its decision.

Although there are other similar cases as a result of the Vehicle and General crash, I must point out that these cases involve people who had taken out passenger liability insurance. While I am delighted that the Bill should help those in that situation, what it is primarily aimed at is the far larger number of motorists and motorcylists who are not covered for passenger liability at all. To give the House some idea of the scope of this, I would point out that there are approximately one million motorists and approximately one million motorcyclists who do not today insure themselves for passenger liability.

In consequence, there are more than 4,000 cases each year of passengers killed or severely injured in accidents where, if their own driver was exclusively to blame, they have none of the protection afforded by insurance cover. It can be said that for car passengers it is a 1 to 10 lottery: for motorcycle passengers, it is a 10 to 1 lottery.

It has been a very long battle in this House and the country as a whole to bring about this amendment to the law. I would like to pay tributes to those who have been concerned with it: namely, the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who 10 years ago introduced this Bill; my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington), who introduce a similar Bill a year ago; and the Government, and especially the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who have afforded the Bill very strong support, as have the Opposition.

I should like to thank the supporters of the Bill, who come from all three parties. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam), who drew my attention to the very unsatisfactory situation concerning passenger liability insurance, and to his constituent, Mrs. Morgan, whose 19-year-old son recently died in a crash and, because this legislation was not on the Statute Book, no compensation was payable by the insurance company or by the Motor Insurers' Bureau. Mrs. Morgan has made a great contribution by bringing the matter to the attention of her Member of Parliament and, through him, to others in the House.

Finally, I should like to pay tribute to Mr. Seddon and Mr. Kewley, whose misfortunes have so vividly highlighted the necessity for this legislation. I welcome the support which I have received from many bodies such as the Consumers' Association, the Press and the media generally, and from the public as a whole. I venture to think that the House stands united in its resolve to put an end to the human suffering and misery occasioned to thousands of people in recent years through not having legislation such as this on the Statute Book.

12.52 p.m.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on his Bill. It is 10 years too late, but it is here. The hon. Gentleman has pursued his endeavours with enormous energy.

The results of the Bill not having been on the Statute Book have been painfully obvious in the disasters which have occurred as a result of the crash of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company, not only for Mr. Seddon, but for Mr. Terence Burke, of Leicester. I should like to thank the 125 hon. Members on both sides of the House who signed my Motion calling for a disaster fund, which can be withdrawn.

A disaster fund has been set up voluntarily which means that I need no longer seek leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule to create such a fund. It is marvellous that one can feel as a back bencher that one's campaigns sometimes succeed. I should like to pay tribute to the Press, particularly to the Leicester Mercury and Leicester Chronicle, for the support it has given to my campaign. I hope that the Bill will become law very quickly and will come into effect as soon as possible.

There will inevitably be an interim period between now and the time when the Bill can produce compulsory insurance for passengers, which I presume will commence at the beginning of 1972. I hope and pray that during this period there will be no more disasters in the insurance world but that if there are the British Insurance Association will cover not only passenger liability but all other liability in respect of its members. I am very grateful to the association for having set up the disaster fund.

I hope that in future it will be safer for passengers to travel on the roads, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member for Stretford.

12.54 p.m.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I am grateful for this opportunity of taking part in the debate on the Third Reading of this vitally important Bill.

Having been instrumental in bringing the question of passenger liability insurance before my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), may I pay tribute to the way in which he has presented the Bill and the balanced arguments he has deployed at all stages during its passage. The achievement of general unanimity of view towards the objects set out in the Bill is largely due to the care and attention paid by my hon. Friend to the need for the fullest consultation with all those likely to be affected by the repeal of the Section of the Act dealing with passenger liability insurance.

I do not need to go again over the overwhelming arguments in favour of having a no-exclusion insurance responsibility for passengers on motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Day after day, week after week, further human tragedies have been brought to our notice. Throughout each stage of the Bill's passage—on Second Reading, in Committee and today—more and more conclusive evidence has been forthcoming. I am especially pleased that the Government have thrown their full weight behind this Private Member's Bill. This general team work and co-operation has meant that most of the fears and reservations expressed by people who felt that they would be penalised by the Bill have been dispelled. Any fears which remained were generally directed towards the degree of insurance responsibility of the companies selling insurance.

During the discussions between the promoters of the Bill and the British Insurance Association, repeated assurances were given that more companies would fulfil their responsibilities to insurers. It therefore came as a great shock not only to me but to many other hon. Members when, after the dust of the collapse of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company had settled, it became horrifyingly apparent that many bona fide fully comprehensive insurers would be left unable to meet claims levied on them by passengers or their dependants killed or injured in accidents where there was no third party liability. In the case of the journalist, Mr. Seddon, the accident in which the passenger was seriously injured took place two years ago. But litigation following the accident took two years before the award of damages of £44.000 was made.

In my speech on Second Reading, I referred to passenger insurance as a human lottery. I was referring to the dangers of riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle not knowing whether passenger liability insurance existed for the car or motor cycle. The crash of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company added another dimension to that risk—that of the failure of an insurance company itself.

The campaign mounted a week ago by back benchers to bring pressure to bear on the British Insurance Association to set up a fund to pay the claims of drivers without passenger liability has, I am relieved to say, brought an early decision by the association to set up such a fund. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) can feel justly proud that his tireless efforts, assisted by Members on both sides of the House and by representatives of the Press and other public media, have produced this very welcome and speedy decision by the association. I express my wholehearted support for the Bill and appreciation of the work of many hon. Members in achieving the setting up of the fund by the association.

I express my warm thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford for all the work and endeavour he has put in on the Bill and hope that all hon. Members will assist its safe passage through Parliament.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) not only on presenting the Bill but on the admirable way in which he did it. He touched, in a very short but exceptionally well versed speech, on some of the tragedies which have happened over many years. The fact that more people have been killed and hurt on our roads than were killed or injured by Hitler's Luftwaffe illustrates the great need for the Bill and helps to put its importance into perspective.

It was courageous and correct of the hon. Member for Stretford to mention the tragedy of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company and its repercussions for many thousands of people. Whilst I certainly support and most earnestly congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford in introducing this Measure, I believe that at some future time this House must have a very hard look at the whole question of insurance of this calibre, because we cannot allow anguish such as has been caused by the collapse of that insurance company. We all know that, as the hon. Member mentioned, at times of tragic accident when people are hurt or maimed their first thoughts are not immediately of finance, but ultimately they have to think of it. Before this Bill becomes law there may yet be many accidents to people who have no resources whatever and the tragedies may be added to.

The hon. Member will have made a remarkable contribution towards relieving people from this sort of anguish when the Bill becomes law, but I think that it will be necessary for this House in the not too distant future to have a further examination of this whole question to ensure that the sort of tragedy which has occurred in recent weeks shall never happen again.

1.1 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)

I shall not take very long but I should like to add a word of congratulation to those given by other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on bringing forward this Bill and on its success. We know that the Bill is overdue but we welcome it. I should just like to add a personal tribute to my hon. Friend, for it is his care and attention and his consultations with so many bodies which have facilitated the passage of the Bill.

I should like to issue two warnings. The House and the country ought to know that there will be a transitional period during which passengers will still remain uninsured, and it must be understood in the country that during this time passengers should take additional care.

The second point I would like to men-ton is that not every passenger is covered. There are agricultural vehicles which are not licensed. Someone may drive such a vehicle on to the road and take children on it. This happens, just as children may be carried on a vehicle on a fairground, or, in any case, when the vehicle is in the fairground a child may climb on to it. One appreciates that that sort of case may be an exception but it can happen, and so while congratulating my hon. Friend on bringing forward this Bill, which is long overdue, I would utter these two warnings, since there are some classes of passenger which will remain uninsured both in the transitional period and after.

1.2 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I join with other Members in the House who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on the care with which he prepared his Bill and the admirable and moderate way in which he presented it in Committee and now on Third Reading. I say at once that the Government are entirely in agreement with his objective, namely, to see that all insured passengers have open to them sources of compensation afforded by passenger liability insurance. This gap in the protection afforded to road accident victims has existed for far too long and needs now to be closed. With the exception of Italy, where there is no compulsory motor insurance law in force as yet, we are the only Western European country where passenger liability insurance is not compulsory, and with my hon. Friend's Bill this gap now will be closed.

I congratulate him upon it. I think the House has done good service to the motorist, who will be helped, to the passengers, who will be helped; and the Bill will be a help to the cause of motor insurance in this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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