HL Deb 26 June 1934 vol 93 cc144-65

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read the third time. The Bill was discussed at considerable length on the Motion for the Second Reading on June 7 last, and after a Division the Motion for the Second Reading was carried. It has since passed through both the Committee and the Report stages completely unaltered, so it comes before your Lordships to-day as the same Bill as that to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading on June 7. My noble friend Lord Darling has put down a Motion for the rejection of the Bill on Third Reading, which appears on the Order Paper for the first time this morning. I am unable to discover that my noble friend took any part, in any of the numerous debates and Divisions which took place on this Bill during last Session. He is, of course, entirely within his strict right in putting down this Motion for rejection, but as I understand the practice of your Lordships' House, when a Bill has received a Second Reading in your Lordships' House and comes before your Lordships for Third Reading in precisely the same form as that in which it was carried on Second Reading, it is extremely unusual to move its rejection. I venture to think that it would be a very unfortunate precedent if your Lordships were to act on the suggestion of my noble friend and in such circumstances as these to reject a Bill on Third Reading.

If it were not for my noble friend's opposition I should have contented myself practically with formally moving the Third Reading. I certainly do not intend to recapitulate any of the numerous arguments which have been offered on both sides during the last few years, but there are certain facts which perhaps your Lordships would kindly allow me to recall to your minds. The Bill is in entire accordance with the unanimous recommendations which were made by a strong Select Committee of seven members to which your Lordships, at the desire of the Government, referred the Bill last Session. The Bill was amended in accordance with those recommendations, and, so amended, it received the approval of the House. The Bill passed through almost all its stages last Session. The necessity for the Bill is as great today as it was, and I venture to think greater than it was, last year. I gave some reasons in moving the Second Reading for saying that the necessity is at least as great as, and perhaps greater than, it was last year. The number of accidents has gone up, the compensation paid to the sufferers is as miserable as it ever was, and more than that, the arguments which were used in favour of the Bill of last year on the Motion for its Second Reading are precisely the same as the arguments which could be used, and ought to be used, to-day.

For the benefit of those who were not present on the Motion for the Second Reading, may I very shortly refer to some of the main points? The evidence which was given before the Select Committee was absolutely conclusive, that in the present state of the law there is grave hardship and injustice done in the case of pedestrians, often poor folk, trying to get compensation. I would quote only two or three words which were spoken by the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, after the Select Committee had made its Report in July last. He was referring to the position under the existing law of pedestrians who had suffered injuries, and he said: "We"—that is, the Select Committee— had overwhelming evidence of great hardship, in many cases amounting to injustice in the ordinary meaning of that word. If the evidence to that effect was overwhelming, surely it is equally necessary now to bring in a Bill to remove that hardship and injustice; and I venture to think that this Bill does it.

The principle upon which this Bill is founded has been affirmed in this House time after time in the course of the last year. It is a fundamental point, and it is this: that an injured person is not bound before launching his claim to prove negligence on the part of the motorist. That is what has been rather roughly, and perhaps not wholly accurately, described as shifting the onus of proof. In the course of the debate we had high legal authority to the effect that, although this is an innovation in the Common Law of the country, there are precedents for it and it ought to be adopted by your Lordships. On the Motion for the Second Reading I quoted extracts from the speeches of various persons, and I do not think it would be right to weary your Lordships by quoting them again, but may I recall to your minds the fact that on no less than two occasions the Lord Chancellor made strong speeches in favour of that principle, and giving his reasons? The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, whose absence to-day we all deeply deplore, an eminent legal authority and an ex-Lord Chancellor, spoke to the same effect. On this principle all the members of the Select Committee were unanimous, and the Government themselves, from the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, which I quoted on the last occasion and which I will not quote to-day, appeared to me to adopt that fundamental principle, but my noble friend Lord Plymouth said in the course of the debate that he would not pledge himself to all the details.

I think it will shorten matters if your Lordships will allow me to read certain passages from the very important Report of the Select Committee of which I spoke, which was ordered to be printed on July 6 last year. If your Lordships have that Report before you you will find that these points were carefully discussed in it. In paragraph 8 on page vi of the Report the Committee say: … the Bill referred to the Committee constitutes a departure from the Common Law of England, and strong exception has been taken to it on this ground.… The Committee think it right, however,"— my noble friend, Lord Darling, I see, is taking a note and he will be able to reply, if he can, to the views which were put forward by the Select Committee— to point out that the general principle of the Common Law in this respect has already been subject to frequent and important invasions; for instance:— (a) It has been held in the leading case of Rylands versus Fletcher … that where a person 'brings upon his land anything which would not naturally come upon it and which is in itself dangerous and may become mischievous if not kept in control, though in doing so he may act without personal wilfulness or negligence, he will be liable in damage for any mischief thereby occasioned.' They go on to say: (b) Under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, where a workman suffers loss of life or personal injury arising out of or in the course of his employment, he is entitled to compensation from his employer without any regard to the fault of his employer … Then they point out that under the Air Navigation Act, 1920, where material damage or loss is caused by an aircraft damages are recoverable from the owner of the aircraft without proof of negligence or intention or other cause of action as though the same had been caused by his wilful act, neglect, or default, except where the damage or loss"— and this is the exception mainly embodied in my Bill— is caused by or contributed to by the negligence of the person by whom the same was suffered. My Bill provides that where the loss is caused solely by the act of the victim the motorist is not bound to pay, and where there is contributory negligence the Bill, following other precedents, reduces the damages. The Select Committee point out that the principle I have just referred to has been followed in the case of collision between two ships where both are negligent. It is pointed out that in eleven out of thirteen foreign countries about which the Ministry of Transport have obtained information negligence is assumed on the part of the motorist, unless the contrary is proved, and I am glad to say that the same principle has been adopted in several of the Canadian Provincial Legislatures.

The Committee go on to say in paragraph 10—perhaps your Lordships will pardon my reading this paragraph, because it really summarises far better than I can do the principle of the Bill: By reason of the precedents referred to above the Committee have regarded themselves as free to consider, entirely on its merits, the question as to whether, in the cases with which the Bill deals, good reason was shown for making a further departure from the general principles of the law of negligence. The Committee have come to the conclusion that some such departure is justified. They think, on the one hand, that a motor car upon the road, especially in view of the vast and constantly increasing volume of motor traffic, may be regarded to some extent as coming within the principle of liability defined in Rylands versus Fletcher. From the point of view of the pedestrian, on the other hand, it seems to the Committee that the roads of this country have—at all events in certain places and at certain seasons—been rendered, by the use of motor vehicles, places to which it is dangerous for pedestrians to resort; that, nevertheless, it is necessary for pedestrians to resort to the roads; and that where a pedestrian, without negligence on his part, is injured by a motorist whether negligent or not, he should be entitled to recover damages. The last paragraph to which I need refer is paragraph 11: It may he said against this that it is a hardship on the motorist to be made to pay damages for an accident which was not attributable to his fault. The Committee take the view that this is, perhaps, a misleading way of regarding the question and would put it rather that the payment of compensation to innocent pedestrians who suffer injury is a duty, not so much of the individual motorist who does the damage, as of the motoring community as a whole, and that the increased liability of the motorist ought to be covered, as provided for in the Bill, by insurance against the increased third-party risk. That point, that it is a hardship on the motorist to pay damages not attributable to his fault, was raised in a very definite manner in Committee on the Bill last Session by Lord Halsbury. After a long debate the Amendment of Lord Halsbury was rejected by forty-one votes to five, on July 25, 1933. And may I say that on that occasion no fewer than four members of the Government voted in the majority and against the Amendment? If your Lordships have time to do it, and will study the OFFICIAL REPORT, you will find that there was, as I venture to think, a very striking speech on that occasion by my noble friend Lord Reading. It will be found in Volume 88, columns 1057 and 1058. The noble Marquess refused to vote for Lord Halsbury's Amendment, and voted in the majority against it.

The only other observation which I will make upon that case is this. There are undoubtedly a number of accidents on the roads the responsibility for which cannot be brought home to anybody, either the motorist or the pedestrian or the pedal cyclist, but these accidents often involve serious suffering and grave loss to the pedestrian or pedal cyclist. I ask your Lordships to answer this question. In a case like that, where you can bring home the cause of an accident neither to the motorist nor to the pedestrian or pedal cyclist, which is fairer, that the innocent victim (and the pedestrian usually is a very poor man) should get nothing and bear the whole loss—that is one alternative and the one which I take it Lord Halsbury desired to bring about—or that the loss should be shared by those 2,000,000 of motorists or owners of motor cars all of whom are compulsorily insured under the existing law? Having those two alternatives before you I have little doubt that your Lordships will say that the loss should not fall entirely upon the pedestrian.

Those are substantially all the points which I wish to raise now, but may I add this? The Government never opposed this Bill during the whole of last Session or during the previous Session of 1932 when the Bill, or a Bill less favourable to motorists, was read a second time. On the contrary, during many of the debates and Divisions of last year they repeatedly voted for the Bill, merely saying that they did not pledge themselves to detail. In those circumstances I ask those of your Lordships who supported this Bill and voted for it last year to maintain the conviction upon which you then voted and, the circumstances having in no way changed, to support the Third Reading of this Bill and to be entirely uninfluenced by any change of view which has taken place on the part of the Government. I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Danesfort.)

LORD DARLING, who had given Notice to move, That the Bill be read 3a this day six months, said: My Lords, I will, so far as I can make myself heard, address to the House a few of the reasons why I move that the Bill should be read a third time this day six months. If my voice is incapable of reaching any of your Lordships I may explain that that is due to my having been knocked down by a motor. I made no claim against the man who did it though probably he has deprived me of the advantage of being heard by many of your Lordships, and I am sure your Lordships make no claim either because you will not hear me well. I am sorry to find that my noble friend apparently has some sort of feeling that if I wanted to oppose this Bill, I should have done it long ago on the Second Reading, or at any rate should have opposed it earlier than this stage. But I was unable at that time to take any part in the debate and to oppose the Bill as otherwise I would have done. I apologise to my noble friend for having caused him such inconvenience.


I thank my noble friend very much for his words, and in the circumstances I quite understand why he did not oppose this Bill before. I fully accept what he says.


I am obliged to my noble friend. But, my Lords, I think I can assure him that I shall not use any argument to-day which was not used on the Second Reading by those who were here. This Bill, it is said, received a large majority on Second Reading. That must have been, not this Bill, in this Session, because I find by the OFFICIAL REPORT that the Bill was then supported by nineteen members and opposed by fourteen. It was said in that debate, and it has been said again by my noble friend, that this is a Bill to shift the onus of proof. I say it is not a Bill to shift the onus of proof at all. It is a Bill to render a man liable in damages—and it may amount to a criminal offence—when there is no proof at all. And that is said to-day by my noble friend to be the principle of this Bill, to which your Lordships are asked to give your assent.

Why do I desire that the Bill should not pass this House with any majority at all? It is because it will go to another place, and it would arrive there with the imprimatur of this House. It would thus give the impression that your Lordships all agreed to this Bill because it had passed without a Division on Third, Reading. It passed its Second Reading by a majority of five, but I desire that when it reaches another place it should go as representing the real opinion of your Lordships, or of all of those who happen to be here. When this Bill was debated on Second Reading my noble friend gave what he said were the reasons for the Bill, and they were these. He said: May I mention two of the main reasons why under the existing law pedestrians and pedal cyclists are unable to obtain adequate compensation? One reason is this, that they very seldom can get adequate evidence. If a pedal cyclist is killed he is not there to give evidence. That happens not only to pedal cyclists. If any man is killed, he cannot give evidence afterwards. I should be very much inclined to believe it if he could, but unfortunately I have never heard of a person who has met with a fatal accident giving evidence afterwards. That is one of the reasons which my noble friend gave—because the person was killed and could not give evidence. Therefore, he says, he is against the man who happened to kill him. The man may have done it entirely by accident. He may have been observing every rule that the law lays down, but because that man whom he hit is dead, compensation must be paid. If all of us who died got compensation for dying, our families would be rich and probably enjoy our decease.

Then the noble Lord said: The other reason is that the pedestrian or pedal cyclist is generally a poor person … Well, are we to compensate all poor persons at the expense of the rich? Is that the real substance of this Bill? And my noble friend says that the poor person is quite unable to fight the rich insurance company, which is always behind the motorist. If the company is always behind the motorist, if every motorist is bound to insure, whose fault is that? It is the fault of Parliament. It will not do to reproach these people for having enough money to pay pedestrians who are injured or killed on the road, if Parliament has laid that liability upon them. No man now can obtain a licence unless he can satisfy the State that he has got the policy of some insurance company. And here let me ask for a moment: Why can he go on the road at all? He cannot go on the road at all unless he has got a licence from the State, for which he has paid, and the State, in giving him a licence to use a motor car, makes him insure against the risk of hurting third parties. Then how unreasonable it is to turn round, and to say to him: "You are doing a dangerous thing, you are a pest to the public, you must pay those whom you have hurt, whether you knew you were going to hurt them or not—even if you were at the moment really avoiding what would have been a dangerous us accident; if you injure a person on the road, you must pay."

It is alleged that this Bill is just: I consider it totally unjust. You take a person such as a pedestrian, give him a licence to use a machine, make him pay for that licence, enlarge the road, flatten the road with asphalt, maintain the road or leave it unmaintained, and then, when a man through no fault of his own meets with an accident on that road, you do not say: "Now I am the person to blame. I enabled you to do this thing. If anyone pays, I ought to pay." You say: "Oh, no, it is inconvenient for me to do that; it is easier to pick you out, an utterly blameless man, who has had no more to do with the hurt inflicted than the man in the moon." And as you cannot get at the property of the man in the moon, you get at the property of the nearest you can. You get at the pedestrian, take his property, and say: "You must now compensate this person although there is not an atom of evidence against you and although, if there is any evidence, it proves that you did nothing blameable at all."

The law of England under this Bill, which was introduced by Lord Danesfort and passed its Second Reading on his advocacy, would be this: that whether you are guilty or not—you may plead not guilty of any kind of act and for all that you have got to pay. We used to have a motto in the law—we have still—that what does not appear does not exist. You will have to translate that into "It does not appear that you are guilty—you are not guilty—but the reasoning of the law is just the same as if you were. You must submit to a penalty just as though you were guilty." You plead "Not guilty," you have proved you are not guilty, but the Judge must not ask the jury whether you are guilty or not because he must tell the jury that that is wholly immaterial. You have got to pay whether you are guilty of the charge or not; and that will become the law of England. My noble friend has said it is unusual and improper to oppose the Bill on Third Reading, and it should not be done. What is the Third Reading for? If a Bill has got its Second Reading and Committee and the House still objects to it, what is the Third Reading for if the House is not to exercise its right of rejecting it? Is this Bill to go to another place with the impression that this House agrees with it?


I never said—I hope I never shall say—that no Bill ought to be opposed on Third Reading. What I did say was that when a Bill comes before this House on Third Reading which has been carried on Second Reading, and is precisely the same Bill as it was when carried on Second Reading, it is extremely unusual so far as I know to oppose it on Third Reading.


It is unusual for the same Peers to be here every day; and that may very well happen to this Bill as to any other. The principle, the important part of this Bill is in the first clause. My noble friend has said so before and he has said so again. These are the words: Where bodily injury to a person is caused by or arises out of the use of a motor vehicle on a road or in a place to which the public have a right, of access damages shall be recoverable from the owner of the motor vehicle"— he need not be the driver— in respect thereof without proof of negligence or intention or other cause of action as though the injury had been caused by his wilful act, neglect or default, except where the injury was solely due to the negligence of the injured person. In the course of the speech to which I have referred my noble friend said this Bill would not reduce accidents on the road; it will do nothing of the kind and there will be just as many accidents as before, the only difference being that persons who meet with them will have to pay for them.

Note these words: "is caused by or arises out of the use of a motor vehicle on a road." You can imagine many cases—I need not bore your Lordships with instances—where an accident on a road arises out of someone being there using his motor vehicle. He may be guilty of no negligence whatever. In fact the Bill says so. It will be just the same "as though the injury had been caused by his wilful act." No difference is drawn, no distinction is made, between the man who has taken every precaution with his motor car on the road and the man who has taken no precaution and has wilfully caused the damage. I am sure if your Lordships realised that this was the law proposed you would not allow the members of the other Legislative Assembly to be under the impression that you unanimously approved of that statement. That is why, at the risk of being discourteous, though my noble friend apparently has acquitted me of that, I propose this Motion.

This has been represented over and over again as a Bill to shift the onus of proof. Let me ask, what is the onus of proof? It is the burden of proof of negligence. It has been represented that all this Bill seeks to do is to shift the burden of proof of negligence. At present that burden is on the plaintiff, and if he sustains it he puts money in his pocket, but, if you shift the burden, you will take money out of the pocket of the man against whom you have not given any proof at all. That was pointed out in the course of the Second Reading debate by the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth. Giving a reason why the Government said they did not give any support at all to that part of the Bill, the noble Earl said this: If no one at all is to blame the motorist is, notwithstanding, to be held liable in damages to the third party, and where there is contributory negligence that no longer affords a ground of defence, although I agree it can be urged as a factor to be taken into account in the assessment of the damages to be paid. That was not contradicted by the supporters of the Bill. It could not be in the face of the clause which I have read, and which contains the whole principle of the Bill. Without any fault on his part a person is to be called upon to pay simply because he has a motor car, and has a Government licence, for which he has paid, to use that motor car on the road. He is not a wrong doer; he has committed no crime; he has committed no civil wrong; but it is said: "He has the insurance companies behind him and we mean to have the money because they can pay."

I ask, what is the justice of that? An insurance company is allowed by the State to insure a man on payment of a premium. That man obtains, by payment, a licence to use the road, and, if an accident arises out of the use of the road by a licensed man, that man, although an innocent man, for the reason I have stated and no other is to be made to pay. I cannot defend that. That such a thing is convenient to many people I have no doubt, and that many people would avail themselves of this Bill, I have no doubt. I might have done so myself if this Bill had been passed at the time I met with an accident. What did I do? I did what I thought was fair. I did not allege, and I did not suggest, that the driver or those who employed him had done anything wrong, or had committed the slightest negligence. I have been brought up to think that although negligence makes a man guilty of doing wrong, doing right does not render him liable to be penalised. I am of that opinion still and it is because I hold that opinion that I hope your Lordships will pardon my having imposed this speech upon you.

Amendment moved— Leave out the word ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Darling.)


My Lords, I am sure I shall be voicing the opinion of all sections of this House when I say how sorry I am to hear of the accident that has happened to the noble and learned Lord, and how glad I am that he has sufficiently recovered to be able to be back in his place. Without wishing to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, I would like to reinforce what has fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort. The noble Lord has told you that the provisions of this Bill have been accepted by your Lordships' House on numerous occasions. Last year your Lordships sent it to a Select Com- mittee, of which Committee I had the honour to be a member. That Committee spent many long hours examining the witnesses, and a very considerable time before coming to its unanimous recommendations. The Bill was re-introduced this Session, and received a Second Reading by a majority vote. It was not changed by one word either on Committee stage or on Report stage. Then we come to its Third Reading and the noble and learned Lord puts down a Motion for rejection. I listened to the arguments that fell from the noble and learned Lord. They were arguments that had been put before us on several previous occasions, and I do feel that it is too late now to bring up these arguments again as a last resource.

With regard to putting down this Motion for rejection on the Third Reading, no noble Lord in the House would suggest that a member of this House has no right to put down such a Motion on Third Reading, but, in a case like this, where the Bill has received a Second Reading by a majority vote in this House and has gone through the intervening stages without being changed, there is no reason why the Bill should be rejected on Third Reading. Furthermore, there is this point, that as a precedent it might mean that in the future, where a Bill has received a Second Reading, a noble Lord on the day of the Third Reading of a Bill, would put down a Motion for the rejection of it without giving the supporters of the Bill time to come to the House, and thereby, as it were by trickery, get a Bill rejected. For those reasons I hope your Lordships will pass the Third Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced the Bill was careful to explain in the course of his remarks that the Bill had come to us entirely unaltered for Third Reading. Therefore, the injustice which the Bill proposes to perpetrate remains precisely the same. Let me give your Lordships one instance of what that injustice may mean. Your motor car may perhaps be standing outside your house. A cyclist avoiding a pedestrian runs into the motor car and is killed. The owner of the motor car will inevitably be held to be liable under this Bill. I submit to your Lordships that that would be the case under this Bill. His only way of getting out of that would be to prove that the injury was solely due to the negligence of the injured person. If the cyclist runs into the motor car and is killed he is the injured person but he is not negligent. Fatal accidents may take place and the driver of the car may be exonerated from blame, but the driver will be held to be responsible and will have to pay compensation as if, in the words of Clause 1 (1) of the Bill, "the injury had been caused by his wilful act, neglect or default." His only hope will be to prove that the accident was solely due to the negligence of the injured person. When an accident takes place the difficulty always arises of securing reliable witnesses. There is any amount of evidence in such cases but much of it is very conflicting and very contradictory. Before the motorist can have any hope of justice under this Bill he must prove that the accident was solely due to the negligence of the injured person. I submit that that is one of the most difficult things to prove, if, indeed, it is not impossible. For these reasons, because of the appalling injustice which your Lordships are asked to perpetrate, I support the noble and learned Lord in his Motion for the rejection of the Bill.


My Lords, I can only say that I hope your Lordships will not listen to the noble and learned Lord, because I do not think it is really quite a fair proposition. The noble and learned Lord, whom we are all glad to see has recovered after his serious accident, only read the beginning of the subsection. He did not read the proviso, which says that: where the injury was contributed to but not solely due to the negligence of the injured person there shall be taken into account in computing the damages the degree in which the negligence of such person contributed to the accident. The Committee had a very difficult Problem to face and we had to assume that the motorist was to blame or we could not begin. At the present moment many people who suffer damage by a motor car cannot begin to bring an action to recover anything because they have to prove that the motor car was to blame. It is extremely difficult to get adequate proof. We had that put before us very conclusively. The result was that one was impressed by the default of our system of justice in carrying out the wishes of Parliament.

I cannot help assuming that Parliament intended that persons who were hurt on the road should have some compensation if it was not their fault. Otherwise, why should there be third-party insurance? Why should motorists have to pay premiums to the insurance offices? I cannot help saying that I should be deeply grieved if through an accident caused by my car a man who was injured had to suffer very seriously because he was a poor man, even though my chauffeur was not to blame. Yet at the moment I cannot do anything about it. There is a clause in this Bill which does do something to remedy that state of affairs. If a man who is injured is partly to blame and my car is partly to blame, as I understand it at the moment, an action would be brought and it would be decided whether my car was to blame or not. If my car was not to blame the man would get no compensation. As the law is at this moment, if there is any doubt as to whether my car is to blame, the man can get no compensation.


If there is a doubt, meaning that the jury have a doubt and cannot snake up their minds, there will be no verdict. Neither side will get a verdict.


No. But if an accident has occurred as far as I am concerned I feel deeply grieved that a poor man shall be very seriously incapacitated because he is hurt. It seems to me a very serious fact that I cannot do anything to relieve that man's suffering. Of course this may be a burden on the industry, but I hope it will not. It is impossible to say how much it will put on the industry. In paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Clause 1 it is provided that where both parties were to blame the extent to which the person injured was to blame will be taken into account in assessing damages. It seems to me that that makes a very great difference compared with the present state of affairs. As to precedents, I understand that this is not far from the precedent applying to ships at sea where they have to share the cost of damages caused by an accident. It seems to me that we cannot continue the present miserable state of affairs. People are run over by motor cars and it is extremely difficult to know what has happened owing to the fact that there is no reliable evidence. I refer to a poor individual purposely because a rich man would probably have a solicitor to help him. I am not so much concerned with the man who will not suffer by being incapacitated for months or weeks or even for days only: I am concerned with the man who has a family to keep and who cannot get proper legal advice.

We were informed that there are plenty of people to give rather questionable advice—people who go to an injured person and tell him that they can get the Court to say, or that they can get the insurance company to believe that the Court will say, that the motorist is to blame, and then ask him whether he will give them a certain proportion of the money received. Surely that is an iniquity, and if it is an iniquity I hope your Lordships will take this opportunity of making an alteration in the law. I am sorry that the first paragraph should appear to put the whole blame on the motorist but I cannot see any other way. We have no other suggestion by which we can begin to secure justice. Therefore I hope your Lordships will give the same decision, if we are brought to a Division, as you have given on previous occasions.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Darling, because I feel that a certain misrepresentation has been made to-day in the Motion for the Third Reading of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, said that there had been no change of circumstances whatever since the Bill was brought before your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have only to walk from here to Trafalgar Square and look at the road as you go and you will find a change in the situation—a change which has, I believe, caused one horse to mistake the road for a five-barred gate. That change is designed to provide greater safety for pedestrians, and it is proposed to make certain regulations, if they prove successful, governing these five-barred gates. If those regulations are made and your Lordships at the same time agree to this Bill, you will have regulations and law in completely opposite directions. You will have a pedestrian, who can do what he likes in the safety lane, doing it at the wrong moment, getting knocked over, and saying: "It is not my fault; but it does not matter if it is my fault, the motorist has got to pay." That is one thing which we have got to take very seriously into account.

Another thing is that there is at the moment before another place a Bill which is designed to make the roads safer. By that Bill it is proposed to limit the speed of vehicles in certain areas to thirty miles an hour. I have no doubt that your Lordships have all read your Times to-day, but I will, with the permission of your Lordships, read a short extract from one letter on that subject, because I think it is very applicable to this Bill. It says: This absurd idea … will only lead to more deaths, as the selfish portion of the public, who are really responsible, criminally, I think, by their own carelessness, will only be more careless than they now are, and walk off the pavement more readily, without looking. Why, even the fowls and dogs are able to take care of themselves, having learnt to look before they leap! I believe that that is very true, and quite certainly it is true of this Bill, which I humbly submit goes too far in one direction and not far enough in another. It turns everything except a motor car into a pedestrian. It does not matter whether it has got four feet or two wheels or two feet, it is a pedestrian. It does not matter whether it is a coach, a cart, a tricycle, a bicycle or anything else, it becomes a pedestrian. You are providing protection for, and putting into a privileged position, a man who is at the moment the most dangerous road user and the cause of most accidents, the pedal cyclist. He is most irresponsible. He has a machine that can wriggle in and out of small spaces, and he does it quite regardless of the danger which he causes other people; but that man is to be put into such a position that unless you can catch him after an accident (which you very often cannot) and prove that he was the cause of the accident, you, as the driver of the motor car, or the owner of the motor car, will have to pay for the results of that man's action.

We have heard a lot about this Bill making it a question of payment according to the amount of your liability. That is not my reading of the Bill at all. My reading of the Bill is that if you can prove that the pedestrian has committed some slight culpable action which may have partly contributed to the accident, then you can make him let you off paying a certain amount of the damage, but that unless you can prove that you will have to pay the whole of the damage, although the accident was not in the least your fault. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, if a cyclist runs into the back of a stationary car and cannons off into a pedestrian, then the cyclist may have been culpable and may possibly have to pay part of the damage, but the pedestrian who is injured by the cyclist will have a case against the motor car owner who was sitting in the house having dinner. That is not justice, my Lords, and I do humbly submit that for the sake of your own reputations you should not allow this Bill to go to another place.


My Lords, on the Second Reading of this Bill my noble friend Lord Plymouth, speaking on behalf of the Government, stated the objections in principle which were felt by the Government to the proposals contained in the Bill. I listened this afternoon with great admiration to the very powerful speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Darling, and as I listened I could not help wishing very much that we had had his advocacy available in the Second Beading debate, because the narrow margin by which the view of the Government was defeated in this House might easily have been reversed if only his arguments had been put forward in his own inimitable way. I cannot pretend that the decision of your Lordships' House on the Second Reading has altered the view of His Majesty's Government as to the objectionable character of the principle which is enshrined in the Bill now before your Lordships for Third Reading. On the other hand, I recognise that there has been long established in this House what I regard as a very salutary rule, and that is that, when a matter has been the subject of discussion and decision in this House, your Lordships will not re-open the same question and attempt to decide it in a different way during the same Session of Parliament. We accept a decision even though some of us may not like it.

That does not mean, of course, that you are never to vote against the Third Reading of a Bill if the Second Reading has been carried. That would be a quite unnecessary and illogical extension of the rule. There are obviously cases which most of us can think of in which a Bill has come forward on Second Reading embodying a principle which some of us may have thought a good one, but in which Amendments are made in the Committee stage raising objections which to our minds become insuperable. There are on the other hand cases in which the general principle of the Bill commends itself to some of your Lordships, who therefore support the Second Reading, but who support it with the qualification that it is essential that some alteration shall be made in some matters for which the Bill provides, and that unless those alterations are made it will not be possible to support the Third Reading. I can even remember a very historic debate which took place not long ago on a Bill brought in by my noble friend Lord Salisbury as to which some of your Lordships, I think, expressly stated that in voting for the Second Reading they were not committing themselves to all the provisions of the Bill and that unless some alteration took place they would not find themselves able to support the Third Reading. Such cases obviously provide a proper occasion for the exercise of the right which your Lordships' House undoubtedly has to decide on Third Reading differently from the decision which was reached on the Second Reading.

But in the present case no such considerations can possibly be said to arise. The only suggestion of any alteration was the ingenious thought of my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, in which I think he was more ingenious than correct, when he said that because some regulations have been introduced as to the comparative rights of way of pedestrians and motor cars on the so-called safety lanes on the roads, therefore something had happened which ought to alter your Lordships' decision. I cannot think that even my noble friend seriously believes that those instructions as to right of way have in any way materially altered the grievances which the Bill sought to remedy or the attitude which any of us ought to adopt with regard to the remedy which is proposed. In this case there is no change in the terms of the Bill which alters the attitude of any one of us towards its passage, and there has been no failure to deal with some particular objection raised which ought to justify a change of attitude between the Second and Third Readings. In fact, no altera- tion was ever suggested in Committee by any one of your Lordships, and in those circumstances I rather hope that my noble and learned friend Lord Darling, who takes exactly the same view about the merits of the Bill as I do myself, may not think it necessary to press his Amendment to the point of a Division. If, however, he should, as he undoubtedly has the right, having unfortunately been unable to record his opinion on the Second Reading, consider that it is proper to press his Motion to a Division, then so far as the Government are concerned we cannot support a Bill to which we still have the same objection as that which we recorded on the Second Reading, but, on the other hand, we think it so undesirable that any breach should be made in the recognised practice, as I understand it, of this House, that a point once decided shall not be revised or reversed during the same Session of Parliament, that we should not think it right to support a Motion for the rejection of this Bill, and should not be able to go into the Lobby with Lord Darling.

I would add that we are able to take that decision on the present occasion with the less regret because, as we have already explained, through Lord Plymouth, the state of business in another place makes it impossible for this Bill to be considered without some special concession of Government time, and there is no Government time available for its discussion. It follows, therefore, that although the Third Reading will no doubt involve the approval of this House, so far as the present Session is concerned, there is no risk or hope, as the case may be, of this Bill reaching the Statute Book this Session, and in another Session we shall be quite at liberty to give expression to the view put forward through the mouth of Lord Plymouth. So far as the present Amendment is concerned, I hope it will not be insisted upon, but if we are asked to decide upon it, so far as the Government are concerned we cannot give it our support.


My Lords, I was hoping that the Leader of the House might clear up one point which was raised by Lord Howe, and that was as to where a bicycle ran into the back of a stationary motor car and damages were claimed by the owner of the bicycle. I would like to ask the noble Viscount if he can advise the House whether under the words of the Bill, which are "where bodily injury to a person is caused by or arises out of the use of a motor vehicle on a road," a motor vehicle can be said to be used on a road if it is standing still. If it is not so, I think my noble friend's point fails. I really want to say that I welcome the Bill on behalf of a humble class who still ride and drive horses. It seems to me that this Bill would be very considerably to their advantage, because it would enable them to recover damages when you could not really prove negligence on the part of any one, unless, possibly, on the part of the horse. That is a real grievance which is sometimes felt, and I think this Bill would go some way to redress it.


If I might with your Lordships' permission say a word after what the Leader of the House has said, and remembering still that members of the Government voted against the Second Reading, and spoke against it, I will not put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 6:

Application to Scotland.

6. This Act shall apply to Scotland subject to the following modifications:—

  1. (a) Nothing in Section two of this Act shall prejudice any right to recover damages in respect of fatal injury to a child under the age of fourteen, which any person may have by virtue of Section one of this Act, but such person shall not be entitled to recover damages or expenses by virtue of Section one and also under Section two.
  2. (b) The expression "minor" shall mean "pupil"; the expression "solicitor" shall include a law agent as denned in the Law Agents (Scotland) Act, 1873; the expression "taxing officer" shall mean "auditor," and the expression costs" shall mean "expenses."


My Lords, there are two small Amendments which I ask your Lordships to make in this Bill. They are purely drafting Amendments in paragraph (a).

Amendments moved—

Page 3, line 15, leave out ("or expenses").

Page 3, line 16, after ("also") insert ("expenses").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

LORD DANESFORT moved to leave out paragraph (b). The noble Lord said: My Lords, the reason for this Amendment is that paragraph (b) was in the former Bill, and when that Bill was altered paragraph (b) got left in by mistake. It is not required in, or indeed suitable to, this Bill.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 17, leave out paragraph (b).(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.