HC Deb 07 July 1986 vol 101 cc119-20 10.26 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I beg to move amendment No. I, in page 2, line 14 leave out `any potential plaintiff first had' and insert 'the plaintiff or any person in whom the cause of action was vested before him first had both the knowledge required for bringing an action for damages in respect of the relevant damage and a right to bring such an action. (5A) in subsection (5) above "the knowledge required for bringing an action for damages in respect of the relevant damage"' means'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 2.

The Solicitor-General

On 24 June, in our debates in Committee, I undertook to give further consideration to subsection (5) of new section 14A of the Limitation Act 1980 following expressions of concern raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) about the references in that subsection to "any potential plantiff". That reflected concern about the drafting of the provision rather than its substance. I explained to the Committee that if the Government considered it necessary to clarify the position we would do so. The two amendments fulfil the undertaking that I gave to the Committee.

Amendment No. 1 is the substantial amendment and the other is consequential. The purpose of subsection (5) is to define the starting date for reckoning the three-year time limit from discoverability or, to put it more strictly, from knowledge of the damage. The amendments are intended to remove the doubts expressed in Committee and in another place. They make it clear that the only person whose knowledge is relevant is any person in whom the plaintiff's cause of action was vested before it came to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff himself. I can now reassure the House that, in cases involving multiple plaintiffs, time will not start to run against any particular plaintiff only because another person has discovered separate damage to himself arising out of the same act of negligence. Thus, in the case of a negligently drawn will, for example, the knowledge of one beneficiary that he has suffered damage will not of itself cause time to start running at large against other beneficiaries. Each has his own separate cause of action against the wrongdoer.

I am pleased to tell the House that the Law Society, whose concern about subsection (5) was reflected in speeches made during debates in another place, now considers that the amendments give exactly what is needed to remove a source of potential uncertainty in the Bill.

I am grateful to all those who have drawn attention to a certain lack of clarity, which has proved to be capable of being remedied. The amendments are purely drafting ones. I commend them to the House.

10.30 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

This issue was raised in Committee. I had the opportunity to discuss it with the Solicitor-General the day before the Committee sat. Our fear, as expressed in Committee, was about the drafting of the clause rather than about the Government's intention. I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for coming back with the amendment that he promised us in Committee. It is not a question of the Government's intention. It is a question of the ambiguity of wording. The new clause meets that to everybody's satisfaction.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I add my thanks to the Solicitor-General. The right hon. and learned Gentleman met with alacrity and, I think, enthusiasm, the reservations which he knew were held throughout the Committee on the wording of the clause. In my view, the new clause gives the Bill a clarity which that area of the law has lacked in the past. It is most important that plantiffs should know not only where they stand but who they are. In my view, the new clause helps to achieve that.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 2, leave out lines 19 to 23.—[The Solicitor-General.]

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