HC Deb 07 July 1986 vol 101 cc133-5

Amendments made: No. 12, in page 6, line 8, after 'above', insert 'sections 1 and 2 of'.

No. 13, in page 6, line II, at end insert— '(3) Section 3 of this Act shall only apply in cases where an interest in damaged property is acquired after this Act comes into force but shall so apply, subject to subsection (4) below, irrespective of whether the original cause of action accrued before or after this Act comes into force. (4) Where—

  1. (a) a person acquires an interest in damaged property in circumstances to which section 3 would apart from this subsection apply; but
  2. (b) the original cause of action accrued more than six years before this Act comes into force;
a cause of action shall not accrue to that person by virtue of subsection (I) of that section unless section 32(I)(b) of the 1980 Act (postponement of limitation period in case of deliberate concealment of relevant facts) would apply to any action founded on the original cause of action.'. — [The Solicitor-General.]

11.25 pm
The Solicitor-General

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

The Bill is a compromise — that has always been acknowledged — and we have been engaged in the difficult task of striking the right balance. The Bill came before us after having been examined carefully in another place, and it has received clear and careful scrutiny in this place from hon. Members on both sides of the House. The House will be especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) for bearing the heat and burden of the day for those with legitimate concerns in construction and other industries. He has been assiduous in drawing our attention to a wide range of problems that is faced by industry and appreciate his concern. I hope that I have dealt sensibly and fairly with it.

The Bill will ensure, as far as possible, that potential defendants may confidently feel that after a definite period they may regard as finally closed incidents which might have led to claims being made against them. It is understandable that in the course of our debates reference has been made to the problems of insurance. I have taken up those references in what I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). These matters are currently under review as part of a separate initiative by the Building Economic Development Committee.

Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) for expressing the Opposition's support for the Bill. That is based, as the hon. Gentleman has made clear, upon their support for the careful consideration and recommendations of the Law Reform Committee.

The Bill will bring about a substantial improvement to our law on the limitation of actions and I commend it to the House.

11.27 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown

The Opposition welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage on to the statute hook. It attempts to strike as fair a balance as can be struck between the interests of plaintiffs and those of defendants. That has been achieved by our efforts and, as I have said, 1 wish the Bill a speedy passage into law.

11.28 pm
Mr. Thurnham

Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will comment on whether the burden that he kindly referred to my carrying through the heat of our proceedings in Committee might have been shared a little earlier with the Government Department which it is intended should lift the burden from business in general.

11.29 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for his unfailing courtesy during our consideration of the Bill, as in all matters with which he deals, and for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that every hon. Member who has contributed to our debates on the Bill has had the interests of the consumer at heart. His acknowledgement of that fact is important, because it is ultimately the consumer who pays the bill. If professional advisers are not forthcoming because they find the burdens too great or because they cannot find adequate insurance, as has happened in certain spheres in the United States over recent years, it is the consumer who suffers. Perhaps on some future occasion it will be necessary to look into whether 15 years or 10 years is the right figure, because I understand that in the European Community there is a figure of 10 years. That is a matter for the future, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues will follow that important aspect most carefully.

Mr. Moate

During these proceedings some of us have made specific criticisms and suggestions in relation to the Bill. However, I hope that we will not lose sight of the fact that 1 and everybody else initially warmly welcomed the Bill in principle and welcome the new precision that is brought into matters that have been somewhat confused by various judgments in past years. Whether it remains precise once the courts nave had yet further bites of the cherry remains to be seen.

I should like to address a specific question to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I am sure that, as usual, he will give me a specific answer. Will one of the implications be that henceforth all persons in commerce and Government should keep full records for a 15-year period? If that is so, can he confirm that Government Departments will, in future, keep all records for 15 years?

The Solicitor-General

In answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), I have already confirmed that all relevant Government Departments were apprised of the provisions of the Bill before its introduction by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in another place and over a substantial period of years, there has been ample opportunity to comment upon matters that were within the purview of the Law Reform Committee.

The keeping of records is a matter of prudence. I am a humble representative of the smallest Department in Government. Therefore, it is not for me to lay down rules of practice for greater Departments of State than any for which I have responsibility. It is obviously a matter of prudence for those who are responsible for work which may be liable to latent defect.

I am not terribly moved by criticism of a provision which, for the first time, brings a long-stop into our law. Under the present law, in theory it is possible for anybody who is responsible for a latent defect in work done for a consumer to be liable indefinitely. The Bill provides a long-stop. After 15 years, red railway signals flash and they prevent the plaintiff's train from leaving the marshalling yard from then on, subject to the one exception concerning concealment which we have already discussed.

This is a benefit to employers and those who are in business. Everything that has been said has tended to suggest that it is some wicked imposition upon them. It is a benefit for which I feel that the Government have had scant credit——

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Not from me.

The Solicitor-General

From Conservative Members then. I am grateful for what has been said and for the care with which is has been expressed. I hope that what I have been able to say in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will satisfy him, at least for the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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