HL Deb 26 July 1915 vol 19 cc704-7

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can state on what statistics and facts the rate of premiums chargeable to a farmer who desires to insure against the risk of damage from aircraft or bombardment has been fixed in the Government insurance scheme. I ask the question for this reason. There is a very exaggerated view as to possible damage from bombardments or aircraft raids as regards farmers' stock, and I think it is a pity that this view should not be corrected.

What has been the experience up to date? I think the House will not wonder at my Question when I say that up to date in both bombardment and aircraft raids one lamb, one pony, and one pig represent the entire injury done to live-stock in this country. As regards damage to crops, there has been none at all. No doubt holes have been caused in the ground where the shell has fallen, and in respect of those compensation has been paid, amounting to something like £20 in the aggregate. According to the statistics I have given the damage is practically negligible. Will the noble Duke tell me, in these circumstances, why sums of 3s. and 4s. 6d. respectively are to be charged as insurance premiums to farmers, whereas, as I said the other night, a nominal sum of 1d. or 2d. would cover the risks according to the experience gained by the Committee over which I presided.

There have been seventeen of these raids altogether, which have been inquired into. But I will give an illustration of what happened in one case. A Zeppelin went over sixty-four miles through country districts and dropped ten explosive shells and sixty-six incendiary shells. No damage of any kind was done to the crops or to the live or dead stock. A certain number of holes were made in the ground, which were filled in at a nominal price. Of course it is true, although it has not happened up to this time, that a particular shell might do a lot of damage if it were dropped into, say, a flock of ewes. Therefore it is not right that the farmer should have nothing in the shape of insurance. Yet these figures of 3s. and 4s. 6d. are absurd charges. I ask the noble Duke on what experience and facts these rates have been fixed. It has been said that they have something to do with fire premiums, but there is no analogy between a fire premium and a question of this character.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot give my noble friend much more information than I have already supplied. The Question is one which could only be answered fully by the Committee which formulated the Government scheme, and there has been no time to consult the members of that Committee as the Question only appeared on the Paper on Saturday morning. However, the lines on which the Committee proceeded are clearly shown in their published Report, and there is no doubt that all the martial facts relating to the raids that have taken place were in the possession of the members of the Committee. The question of principle having been decided—that the scheme was to be one of insurance and not of indemnity—the task of formulating the scheme and fixing the rates to be charged was entrusted to insurance experts whose training and experience specially fitted them for the work of estimating the risks. The Committee, as the House is probably aware, consisted of Mr. Huth Jackson, the chairman, who was also chairman of the Committee which framed the marine insurance scheme; Sir Raymond Beck, the chairman of Lloyd's; Mr. Cuthbert; Heath, a Lloyd's underwriter who has special experience in aircraft insurance and is also a director of the Fine Arts Insurance Company, one of the largest non-tariff companies; Mr. Roger Owen, general manager of the Commercial Union; and Sir Gerald Ryan, general manager of the Phœnix Company. These gentlemen had no interest to serve bus to formulate a scheme which would be fair both to the Government and to the insured, and I think it will be agreed that they were competent judges in a matter of this kind and that their judgment can safely be trusted.


Might I point out that the period so far as the farmer is concerned is a very limited one. It is not green crops that are in danger from incendiary bombs; it is dry corn, which means corn that has just been cut or is in the sheaf, and that is for a period of about a fortnight. Therefore the charge under this scheme is to be 3s. and 4s. 6d. respectively for a fortnight, and not 3s. and 4s. 6d. per annum.


My Lords, I do not know whether it is within the power of the noble Duke to give this matter reconsideration, but the proposed charge is an absurdity, as any one knows who is acquainted with the risk to farmers' crops. I am not very much impressed with the names which the noble Duke read out. I remember once that I wanted to insure a watermill, and I was charged by the insurance people just the same as for a mill containing steam machinery throughout.


May I say, in answer to the noble Duke, that the only information in existence upon this particular matter could not have been before this Committee. It was proffered by the East Coast Raid Committee, who had the statistics, but so far from being accepted it was thought that a theoretical scheme could be made by these gentlemen. Surely the noble Duke must see that if you want to have a fair scheme or anything like a fair scheme you cannot get that from the intuition of gentlemen, however skilled they are, if they neglect the whole substratum of fact which they could have ascertained had they cared to have the information. My desire is that there should not be an exaggerated view of possible damage, and that the farmer should be fairly treated. I hope that the attention of the noble Earl who presides over the Board of Agriculture will be called to this matter, because I cannot imagine anything more injurious to farmers than that there should be this false impression.


Under Clause 2 of Schedule III of this scheme the Government have the power of varying the rates. I shall certainly take the opportunity of bringing what has been said to-night to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, and I have no doubt that it will meet with his consideration and close attention.


Might I appeal to the noble Duke also to ask the President of the Board of Trade to take into consideration the suggestions which were made by the London Chamber of Commerce. They have made many suggestions, but no reply has been received. When these matters about agriculture are being dealt with, perhaps the other points may also be considered. This insurance scheme, as I said the other day, was put into operation before time had been given to consider the suggestions made by the London Chamber of Commerce.


I do not know whether any assurance is necessary from me, but the noble Lord can take it that anything coming from the London Chamber of Commerce will receive every attention from the President of the Board of Trade.