HL Deb 20 January 1953 vol 179 cc1083-6

2.45 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, your Lordships will have noticed that this is a short Bill of two clauses to amend Section 2 of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act, 1948, in relation to the assessment in Scotland of damages for death. The circumstances surrounding this Bill are somewhat unusual. The Bill comes to your Lordships' House from another place, where, I am informed, it passed through all its stages almost without a word being said. In these days of strong and often lengthy political argument in another place this is somewhat remarkable, but I hope that the Bill may not, for that reason, be unwelcome to your Lordships. This is not a Party Bill in any sense of the word. It was introduced in another place by Mr. Brooman-White, who I understand is a Conservative Member of Parliament, and it was supported by eight Members, belonging to all Parties, whose names will be familiar to most of your Lordships: the right honourable gentlemen, Mr. Walter Elliot and Mr. John Maclay, Mr. Thomas Fraser, Mr. Grimond, Lieutenant-Commander Clark Hutchison, Mr. Hoy, Colonel Gomme-Duncan and Mr. Oswald. I hope that when I have briefly explained the purpose of this Bill your Lordships may be satisfied and will give it a Second Reading.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide that where a person raises an action of damages in Scotland in respect of another person's death no account shall be taken, in assessing the damages to which the pursuer is entitled, of any benefit which he is receiving under the National Insurance Acts as a result of that other person's death. This is already the law in England, by virtue of Section 2 (5) of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act, 1948, which provides that in assessing damages in respect of a person's death in any action under the Fatal Accidents Act, 1846, or under the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, there shall not be taken into account any right to benefit under the National Insurance Acts as a result of that person's death. No corresponding provision in respect of Scotland was included in that Act, as it was considered that such had always been the law in Scotland and that, accordingly, no express enactment to that effect was necessary.

In 1950, however, in the case of Adams v. James Spencer & Co., a widow in Scotland whose husband had been killed by an accident while at work brought an action for damages against his employers. As a result of his death she had become entitled to death benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. The Court of Session held that the value of that benefit fell to be taken into account by the jury when assessing damages. They apparently took the view that, since no provision relating to Scotland had been included in the Act of 1948 corresponding to Section 2 (5) of that Act, the intention of the Legislature must have been to distinguish between English and Scots law in this matter. It is plainly most undesirable that there should be any distinction between English and Scots law, and that, for instance, a widow in England in the same position as was Mrs. Adams in Scotland should have damages assessed without regard to the benefit which she was receiving under the National Insurance Acts, whereas the Scottish widow should have her damages reduced because of the National Insurance benefit. Apart from this, there are strong arguments in principle and in law against the taking into account of National Insurance benefits in such cases. The present Bill will, therefore, put the position beyond possible question, so that in future where, say, a widow raises an action in Scotland in respect of her husband's death, the jury will be directed, in assessing damages, to take no account of any National Insurance benefit which the widow is receiving. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Morrison.)

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to support the Bill which the noble Lord has introduced. I should congratulate the noble Lord on making the first speech in regard to a Bill which has passed through another place before coming here—an experience probably unique in regard to any Bill considered in Parliament, certainly of recent years. I can confirm what the noble Lord has said. It was never the intention under the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act, 1948, to make the slightest distinction in this matter between England and Scotland. But whereas in England an action for damages for death was taken under the Fatal Injuries Act, 1946, in Scotland it was taken at Common Law. It so happens that in the interpretation placed on the original Act in the case which has already been cited by the noble Lord, an entirely different view was taken, and the jury were instructed to take into account benefits arising from National Insurance. Accordingly, this Bill puts that matter right, and places the position of a widow, say, suing for damages in the case of her husband, exactly on all fours in England and in Scotland. I hope that your Lordships will give this useful measure an easy passage. I think it is an interesting example of what Private Members can do with even the very shortest time that is afforded to them.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether the widow whose case has given rise to this Bill will be looked after, so that she does not suffer?


I say, with reserve, that I do not think that that case can be dealt with under this Bill, or is being dealt with under this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.