HC Deb 07 July 1989 vol 156 cc647-9
Mr. Arbuthnot

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 2, line 41, leave out 'for personal injury arising out of a road accident' and insert `to which this section applies'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 32, in page 2, line 42, leave out 'arising out of a road accident'. No. 20, in page 2, line 42, leave out 'a road accident' and insert 'an accident which has occurred owing to the presence of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road'. No. 21, in page 2, line 43, leave out 'shall be compensated' and insert 'the user of the vehicle shall be liable to make compensation'. No. 31, in page 2, line 45, leave out subsection (2).

No. 22, in page 2, line 45, leave out 'exceeds a level which' and insert 'is for a sum greater than £1,000 or such higher sum as'. No. 23, in page 2, line 46, after 'or', insert 'is in respect of a type of accident'. No. 24, in page 3, line 2, leave out from 'secure' to 'subsection (1) above' and insert 'that the user shall not he liable under subsection (1) unless there is in force in relation to the use of the vehicle a policy of insurance in respect of third party risks.'.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Amendment No. 29 deals with the definition of a road accident, among other matters. Clause 4 introduces the concept of no-fault compensation. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Leigh, (Mr. Cunliffe) who suggested that the Bill has been hijacked. Whether or not one likes the concept of no-fault compensation, and I do not, one must accept that the wording of the clause should be clear. It suggests that there should be no-fault compensation in the case of minor road accidents. In Committee the hon. Member for Leigh said some very telling and critical things about it, with which I entirely agree.

Mr. Cunliffe

The hon. Gentleman says that I said some very critical and telling things about it. In what context does he suggest that I made those comments?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I was just about to repeat one of his remarks—that the clause contained no definition of a road accident. That is a crucial criticism of it. The Bill provides that injury in a road accident will be compensated for differently from all other injuries, regardless of whether the person injured was entirely or partly to blame for his or her injuries. The whole point of the clause is that fault should not be involved. It may sound bizarre when set out in that way, but that is the aim of the clause.

The Bill contains no definition of the phrase "road accident". If road accidents are to be treated entirely differently from other accidents, it is important for us to be sure which accidents are involved. It is important for us to know whether an air crash becomes a road accident if the aeroplane lands on a road. If a tree falls on a road and injures a pedestrian, is that a road accident? Presumably it might be if the tree fell on to a road, but not if it did not. Presumably, if the pedestrian is in the road it is a road accident, otherwise it is not. If a falling tree causes a car to crash, presumably that is a road accident, but if it has a similar effect on a tractor in a nearby field it is not a road accident. Those examples illustrate how important it is that the phrase "road accident" should be defined, and how absurd the whole concept of trying to differentiate is.

I am sorry that my amendments do not go further towards clarifying the clause. I do not think that they achieve a workable or suitable balance, but they are better than nothing. One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. My own preference would be to have no-fault compensation, but I have said enough and I know that the hon. Member for Leigh would like to express his views.

Mr. Cunliffe

I hope that the speech by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) was not motivated by the fact that he is a member of Lloyd's. The insurers are very much involved in the legislation that we have discussed and which might be forthcoming. I would ask him in the best possible way whether he has a direct interest in the matter.

Mr. Arbuthnot

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that I am a member of Lloyd's. I have said throughout the proceedings on the Bill that the insurers will not suffer from such a measure. The insurers will do very well out of the measure as they will simply get more business. In a sense I am speaking against myself in suggesting that the clause is not a good idea. The clause is not directly related to the insurance industry, so there is no direct need for me to declare an interest. Although I am a member of Lloyd's, I do not think that it affects my judgment.

Mr. Cunliffe

I have pointed out that in any new scheme that was introduced and inaugurated by the House, considerable time would be given for such companies to assess values, increase premiums and so on. We have discussed the matter. It was part of my Bill that the compensation advisory board would not administer any decision for about two years. That would have provided the various organisations involved with a breathing space.

It is important to understand the principles of a no-fault compensation scheme. To some extent I would welcome such a principle being established, as it would set a precedent in parliamentary history and legislation if no-fault compensation were to get a toe in the door. Many organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal Society of Medicine would welcome some form of no-fault compensation scheme. I take some small credit for the fact that my Bill has prompted the Government to initiate a feasibility study which I believe is to be forthcoming and to accept that there is a case for considering no-fault compensation.

No-fault compensation schemes abandon the rule that an injured person has to show that someone was negligent in order to maintain compensation. It is simple and straightforward.

Mr. Alfred Morris

My hon. Friend referred to a feasibility study on no-fault liability. He has studied the New Zealand scheme and others across the world. Does he agree that this moment is not for feasiblity studies but for action to relieve palpable suffering on the part of bereaved and disabled people?

Mr. Cunliffe

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has mentioned the New Zealand scheme. It is a similar scheme. It provides compensation for personal accident victims, regardless of fault. The scheme came into force on 1 April 1974. It is working. It abolishes claims for personal injuries arising directly or indirectly out of accidents and substitutes a right to compensation from a statutory corporation known as the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a man in New Zealand, who was trying to escape from prison and fell off the perimeter fence and broke a leg, was given compensation from the Accident Compensation Corporation?

Mr. Cunliffe

I was not aware of that. The Chamber is a fount of knowledge. The purpose of our dialogue in this place is to acquaint hon. Members with knowledge and facts. The hon. Gentleman referred to an extreme case. We are talking about a principle that, in the main, has assisted hundreds of thousands of people with their legitimate rights to compensation. One can always quote the one-off selective case. Other schemes have different methods of calculation. We might have discussed that this morning when a point of order was raised about actuarial assessments. It is clear that the New Zealand scheme provides compensation benefits based on low earnings. The aim is to cushion losses and to encourage people to return to work or to be able to achieve at their highest possible level.

The source of funding is always debated in no-fault compensation schemes. It is a bone of contention in the House. There is a genuine attempt by the majority of hon. Members to try to get recognition of the principle of "no fault" embodied in our legislation. Funding is the most controversial aspect of the matter. In New Zealand there is a compulsory payroll levy on employers and the self-employed, a compulsory levy on motor vehicle owners, and general taxation which goes into a fund for non-earners, apart from those who are injured on the roads.

The House will obviously need to examine various elements. The first is minor road accidents. We could reduce the timetable in our courts by ensuring that speedy decisions and awards are made in disputed cases.

I know that the average time for bringing a personal injury case to court if it is contested is between three and five years, especially for children aged between seven and 11. If one were to take several thousand, or possibly 100,000 people out of that category, some benefit would follow. I should welcome that. Indeed, it was a point that I made strongly in Committee. It is premature if all the organisations involved have not been consulted. That was not the case put forward in Committee. We have a clear responsibility—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday next

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