HL Deb 16 March 1961 vol 229 cc974-90

4.16 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the Bill to be considered on Report.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 2:

Criminal liability for complicity in another's suicide

2.—(1) A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "fourteen" and insert "seven" [years]. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose to argue either this Amendment or the next one in any detail. Indeed, I put at the Committee stage the case that I thought could be made on these Amendments, and there are no other arguments I can put forward. I put the Amendments down again because the noble and learned Viscount was good enough to say that he would consider the points I had raised, and I thought that unless I had them on the Paper, he would be out of order in making any statement on them at this stage of the proceedings.

If I may talk about both Amendment together, I would say that I find it difficult to understand why the penalty under this Bill for aiding and abetting, counselling, and so on, a person to commit suicide should be any different from the penalty under Section 4 of the Homicide Act. They seem to me—and I made this case before—to comprise mach the same offence. In both cases there is the agreement to commit suicide, and in both cases somebody comes and gives a hand, or advises, or goes as near as possible to actually carrying out the act on behalf of the person who commits suicide. In the one case, the maximum penalty under the Bill is fourteen years, and in the other case it is imprisonment for life. It seems to me that at least we can co-ordinate these two offences by making the maximum penalty the same. Subject to that, I should be interested to know what is the result of the noble and learned Viscount's consideration as to whether the maximum penalty in either case should remain at fourteen years or whether it should be seven years, as is proposed in the Amendment which I now beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 10, leave out ("fourteen") and insert ("seven").—(Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, I should like once again to support the case put forward by my noble friend Lord Silkin, and refer to the figures which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack so kindly gave in his remarks in the Committee stage, and which he has since been good enough to amplify in correspondence with me and, I believe, with my noble friend Lord Silkin. The noble and learned Viscount made the point that, even if a sentence of life imprisonment, as for manslaughter, is permissible, the sentences actually served are frequently very much less. I think I may refer to the amplification of the figures which the noble and learned Viscount has been good enough to let me have.

It is apparent that in cases under the Homicide Act, other than those where diminished responsibility has been successfully pleaded, there were 44 convictions for manslaughter and in only two of those cases was a sentence of more than ten years' imprisonment imposed. It seems to me that these figures, if I may so put it, rather reinforce the argument in favour of a lower maximum penalty, inasmuch as it is apparent that even for the very grave crime of manslaughter it is altogether exceptional that a period of imprisonment as long as ten years even, let alone fourteen, should be imposed. And I wonder if it really does bring the law into good repute that the maximum penalty which can be imposed should be so much greater than that which is imposed in normal circumstances. I believe it is true that it is possible to incur a penalty of fourteen years for malicious damage to cattle or for abducting an heiress, but those are matters that one would not seriously quote in this context. I would reiterate the point that the offence under the Homicide Act of taking part in a suicide pact, which carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment, still seems to me, in general, a less heinous offence than the gravest cases of the offence of aiding or abetting another's suicide; and as the Bill stands we are going to be left with the anomalous situation that what is on paper the heavier sentence will attach to what, in practice, will normally be the less serious crime.


My Lords, I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, that I have considered this point. As I said on the Committee stage, the extent of a sentence must always be a matter of opinion and first impression. I have carefully read the debate again, because when there is a general feeling in your Lordships' House in favour of a certain course I have always done my best—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will bear me out—to try to get the Department concerned to reconsider the departmental interest in order to meet that feeling. But I find that two of my noble friends, not unrepresentative of opinion in the House, if I may put it that way without causing offence, were against the reduction, and therefore from that point of view I could not really conscientiously put that argument.

I am not going to repeat at length the argument which I advanced on the Committee stage, but perhaps I might just remind your Lordships of the four points. The first is that at present aiders and abettors of suicide are guilty of murder and subject to imprisonment for life; secondly, that the Sellers Committee, who considered this matter very carefully, had in front of them the views of three other Committees of great authority who had suggested that the sentence for this offence should be life imprisonment and they reduced it to four- teen years to distinguish between the two offences which we are discussing. I think the important point (I hope that I am putting fairly the view of the Sellers Committee) is that, in considering what were the conditions on which one could do away with making suicide and attempted suicide a criminal offence, they felt that it could be done away with if, and only if, the legal provisions in-eluded making aiding and abetting suicide a serious offence and marked it as such. As I have said, aiding and abetting suicide is a serious offence, because it means securing that someone else commits suicide, and it may well mean persuading someone else of a less mature mind or in a very difficult position, through illness or otherwise, to commit suicide in circumstances where that would be a serious, criminal and most culpable thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has, with perfect propriety, if I may say so, raised the other point, and I think it is convenient to follow him and discuss the two Amendments together. That is the comparative culpability of the offences. The offence under the Homicide Act, if the Amendment is made by this Bill, means that it is manslaughter for a person acting in pursuance of a suicide pact to kill the other and to be party to the killing of the other by a third party. When however the other kills himself, the survivor of the suicide pact will have committed the new offence under the Bill. In other words, the second offence we are considering is when the survivor has killed the other party to the suicide pact or has secured that a third party has done the killing. The Sellers Committee came to the conclusion, and I respectfully agree with them, that the offences are different in substance, and they recommended that the offences should remain. I think there are three reasons for that.

In the first place, the maximum penalty for an offence involving the taking of life or getting someone else to take life should be high, first in order to emphasise the grave view the law takes of taking life, Which I think is socially important; and, secondly, to meet the worst cases. Even assuming that the suicide pact is genuine and the survivor intended to die, he may well be of such a character, in the realm of abnormal, that he finds his own suicide more attractive if he can persuade another, perhaps against his or her will, to join in it. That, as I say, can be a very serious matter. It depends, of course, entirely upon the position of the other party and the relationships between them. Thirdly, I would again make the point that any offence of this kind, where there is an infinite variety of seriousness and culpability, will be dealt with only by most experienced judges, judges of assize or judges of fixed criminal courts; and they will, of course, differentiate between the offences and will restrict anything approaching a long sentence to the serious cases I have indicated. I think those who have examined the statistics will see that in this field judges have been very ready to take that course.

I am always sorry when I cannot meet the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, because I know the care and attention which they give to problems of this kind. But I feel, on consideration, that it would not be right to depart from the careful recommendations of the Sellers Committee, and I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his Amendment.


My Lords, I think perhaps it would be desirable for someone sitting on this side of the House to express his assent with what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has just said. As he was good enough to mention on a previous stage of the Bill, I have some, though slight, knowledge of the administration of the criminal law gained during the period that I was at the Home Office. I should like to say that I agree with every word he has said, though one must appreciate the complete sincerity of the noble Lord and the noble Lady opposite in pressing their point. I hope that they will not regard it as a reflection upon them—it is not intended to be—if I say that there is to-day a certain tendency to object to maximum penalties. I think the answer to that is the one that has just been given by the Lord Chancellor—namely, that the British courts are probably the finest in the world, and that they use the maximum penalty only when it is necessary to do so.


My Lords, I am not entitled to answer back. All I can say is that I do not propose to press these Amendments, and I beg leave to withdraw the first one.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I move the second Amendment, and having moved it, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("() Section four of the Homicide Act, 1957, shall be amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:— (4) Notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law, the penalty for an offence under this section shall not exceed seven years' imprisonment'.")—(Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, I think I must draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that Amendment has been moved. Since the noble Lord has expressed his intention to withdraw the Amendment, the question need be pursued no further. If your Lordships give leave, the Amendment is withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.33 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, after Clause 2, to insert the following new clause:

Life Insurance Policies

". In all life insurance policies entered into after the coming into operation of this Act the suicide of the person insured shall not invalidate the policy unless the insurance policy provides to the contrary and the attention of the insured person has been specifically drawn to such provision:

Provided that unless the contract of insurance otherwise provides there shall be no liability to pay under an insurance policy if the person whose life is insured commits suicide within two years from the date of the issue of the policy."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this Amendment, which arises out of the discussion we had on the Second Reading of the Bill as to what would be the effect of suicide on the validity of insurance policies. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who had hoped to be able to take part in this discussion but has had to leave for another urgent appointment, took the view on Second Reading that the effect of this Bill would be to validate insurance policies which otherwise would have become invalidated because the payment of the amount assured would have been contrary to public policy; or rather, to put it in another way, that the defence which insurance companies have hitherto had available to them of being able to say, "We will not pay because suicide is contrary to public policy", would no longer be open to them; that hitherto they could pay or not pay as they pleased, but they would now not be able to allege that this was contrary to public policy.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, without going so far as to disagree, expressed some doubt on the matter, and, if I may respectfully say so, I share his doubts. It does not in the least follow that because suicide is no longer a crime it can cease to be contrary to public policy—indeed, I hope it always will be. Certainly, we do not want to encourage suicide, and we do think it is against public policy that people should commit suicide. Therefore, so far as my own understanding of the law goes, it will still be open to insurance companies to repudiate liability in the case of a suicide.

This point has aroused a considerable amount of interest in the Press and outside, and there has been correspondence. A few days ago there was a letter in The Times from Doctor Glanville Williams, who is a well-known legal authority at Cambridge University. He suggested that there might be incorporated in this Bill a clause, which I have taken the opportunity of trying to draft based on his letter. I have accordingly put down the Amendment. I do not stand by every word of the drafting. I can find many faults with the drafting but, broadly, it carries out his suggestion that in all life insurance policies entered into after the coming into operation of this Bill the suicide of a person shall not invalidate the policy unless there is something expressly in the policy which does invalidate it in case of suicide; but, if there is, then according to the Amendment the insured person's attention must be expressly drawn to this provision.

Those of us who have had any experience of insurance policies know that a large number of conditions are printed in very small type which one often cannot read with an ordinary pair of spectacles, which most people do not take the trouble to read at all, but which, when the day comes and payment falls to be made, the insurance company can plead as being one of the conditions upon which the insurance was taken up. So I think it is most important, if this Amendment were to be accepted in principle, that there should be a provision that, where the policy contains a clause which invalidates it in the event of suicide, the insured person's attention should be drawn to it.

Dr. Glanville Williams also thought that there ought to be a period after the issue of the policy in which, if a person did commit suicide, the insurance company should not be liable to pay. He suggested two, three, four or five years, and I have suggested the period of two years: that if a person whose life is insured commits suicide within the period of two years from the date of the policy, then the company shall not be liable. I think it is a most important point. It is one of the few civil matters which arise from the question of suicide, and it is one which this House ought to consider before it parts with the Bill. So I put down the Amendment. I recognise—the noble and learned Viscount will not be surprised when I say this—that it is not a matter which I would take to a Division. I put it down for the purpose of discussion. I think that the wording of the Amendment is not satisfactory, but if the noble and learned Viscount can give me some comfort by saying that something on these lines will be put forward, perhaps in another place, I shall be happy to withdraw the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, I understand that certain legal members of your Lordships' House are going to speak later; that is why I intervene now, because, not being a lawyer, I want to put one other point. Much of my life has been connected in one way or another with life assurance as such, and not in the legal sense, so I do not intend to deal with the point—I hope that my noble and learned friends will—as to whether, whatever is in the policy, if you take out a policy with the intention of committing suicide, you are being fraudulent. That is a matter with which the noble and learned Viscount will doubtless deal. But may I take up with the noble Lord opposite the point that the second part of his Amendment lays down an automatic two-year limit. I think that would be a regrettable step to take.

At the present time, life assurance companies—and virtually all of them have this suicide clause in their policies—are trying to reduce the period; and, on the whole, very few companies have a two-year period. With most of them it is one year, and the time may well come (and I should like to see it) when that is reduced to six months. Because the intention of life assurance companies now is not to evade their responsibilities. They rather take the view that if a man takes out a policy, waits a certain period and then commits suicide, he is in fact committing no offence in that respect, because when he took out the policy he had no intention of committing suicide. Therefore I feel it would be a mistake to put in such a period as two years. I believe that the time will come when the period will be six months.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I think the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for putting down an Amendment enabling discussion of a question that has excited considerable public interest. The question of doubt, I believe, can be put in a nutshell in this way: Will the principle of the decision in Major Rowlandson's case, which was mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning on the Second Reading, still apply, notwithstanding the fact that suicide will no longer be a crime after this Bill becomes an Act? If I may remind those who are interested, the decision of the House of Lords in that case appears in the Law Reports under the title Beresford v. The Royal Insurance Company [1938] Appeal Cases 586.

If I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in one small respect, the House of Lords did not so much say that suicide was contrary to public policy. What the House decided to be against public policy was that the estate of a person who had deliberately brought about the event which made the policy monies payable should benefit from that fact; and, of course, at that time what was done was a crime. During the Second Reading debate my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, who was, incidentally, the junior counsel for the plaintiff in that case, expressed the view that when this Bill was on the Statute Book that principle would no longer apply. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack displayed greater caution in the matter when he came to reply.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, says how much he shares the doubts of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, and I can only say, after having refreshed my memory by re-reading the speeches of Lord Atkin and Lord Macmillan in that case, that I also share the caution with which my noble and learned friend approached the matter. Since then, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, there has been the letter to The Times from a distinguished academic lawyer, Dr. Glanville Williams who, while hoping that the view taken by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning was correct, pointed out that the matter was still one of some doubt, and suggested that that doubt should be removed by an appropriate clause. There is, therefore, some doubt in the matter—and there is always some argument for removing doubt by Act of Parliament.

On the other hand, I should like to express another possible point of view; that is, that the scope of this Bill is to deal with the criminal law, and that it is travelling rather wide of the general scope and purpose of this Bill if we revise insurance law and go into this question of public policy. So I would express some doubt, even if it were desirable to remove the doubt that has arisen, on whether this would be the appropriate place to do so. Nevertheless, on that I do not wish to express any final opinion until I have heard my noble and learned friend upon it.


May I just ask the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, whether he has seen the Long Title of the Bill: to amend the law … relating to suicide, and for purposes connected therewith.


I had seen that. Nevertheless, with some experience of the interpretation of Long Titles which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I still had some slight doubt whether this was not travelling a little wide. My other point is that this may be a matter which we should like to have considered by the Courts. After all, this is a question of Common Law and of public policy, and I do not think we shall necessarily be wiser if we determine the matter without having first had judicial consideration of it. However, I fully admit the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin; that there is this doubt. He has made an honest attempt to remove that doubt, and I have expressed my view why I have some doubt about this Amendment—doubt which I know is shared by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, with whom I have had a word and who is inclined to the view that we had better leave the Bill as it is in this regard.

I should like to add two criticisms about the actual Amendment drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—and I know that this will not prevent my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack from dealing with it on the merits of the noble Lord's intention. Nevertheless, in case it should be desired to incorporate something in this matter. I should like to make my two criticisms of the actual Amendment before us. My first criticism of the drafting is that I believe that, in one passage in his Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has inadvertently said precisely the opposite of what he meant. What he has said is: the suicide of the person ensured shall not invalidate the policy unless the insurance policy provides to the contrary What I believe the noble Lord meant to say was that the suicide shall not invalidate the policy unless the insurance policy provides that it shall. I believe that he was led astray by the letter of Dr. Glanville Williams, because, of course, in his letter the words that preceded the "unless" clause contained a positive and not a negative. If the noble Lord had said that the suicide of the person insured shall be covered by the policy, then, of course, the words "unless the policy provides to the contrary" would have been correct. But as it stands, the words "to the contrary" have the effect of putting in jeopardy the very intention that the noble Lord had.

My second objection to the actual terms of his Amendment is on the provision that The attention of the insured person"— shall be specifically drawn to such provision. Those words I hold to be wholly objectionable. It really is necessary that, when people enter into important contracts, they should read those contracts before they enter into them. If we once begin to provide that it shall be the duty of one party to call the attention of the other party to particular sections, how we are going to choose which sections I do not know. Nor am I at all clear whether the attention has to be drawn orally or in writing. I find those words wholly objectionable. But, subject to that, I think that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, resolves a doubt which undoubtedly exists. I think it is for consideration whether we wish decisively to resolve that doubt before we have the benefit of the view of the courts upon it. And I have a still greater doubt, which is shared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, whether it is appropriate to put the provision in this Bill.


My Lords, I would say, very shortly, that I should be rather disturbed at the prospect of voting for the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, because it seems to me to run quite counter to another general rule of law which was stated in the letter that has been very much discussed already, the letter to The Times from Doctor Glanville Williams. The proposed Amendment would state the following general rule of law: the suicide of the person insured shall not invalidate the policy". The general rule of law to which I submit that that runs counter is this—and this is the rule to which the Doctor drew attention in his letter to The Times: A person who insures against an event impliedly undertakes not to bring about that event by his own intentional act". It seems to me that a person who takes out a life assurance policy and commits suicide does that very thing: he deliberately brings about the event which he has insured against. It seems to me that the rule to which attention was drawn by Doctor Glanville Williams ought to be the overriding rule in this matter and that the rule proposed in the Amendment is, for that reason, unsatisfactory and should not be acceptable to your Lordships.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for raising this point. I am also grateful to Doctor Glanville Williams for writing the letter which he did. My gratitude further extends to my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford, and to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for raising very important points in their speeches. And I shall not forget the point raised by my noble friend Lord Derwent, which I think is important on insurance practice and which I was going to deal with in any event.

I am sorry to stand in the way of my noble and electrical countryman from Scotland, but I feel that the point has now become one of considerable importance, and I should like, if your Lordships would allow me, to deal with it as such. My noble and learned friend Lord Conesford was, of course, correct in regard to the facts of the case of Beresford v. The Royal Insurance Company. The facts in that case were that Major Rowlandson, who shot himself while sane a few minutes before the policy was due to expire, was insured under a policy which provided that if the insured died by his own hand, whether sane or insane, within one year from the commencement of the assurance the policy should be void. The House of Lords held that, notwithstanding that the policy on its true construction bound the insurance company to pay in the event of the insured's death by his own hand more than a year after the commencement of the insurance, the policy monies were irrecoverable. I think it is very important, in considering this point, to consider the reasons which that great Judge, my late noble and learned friend Lord Atkin, gave. Some points have been raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Cones-ford, and by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, but I think it is worth while my quoting the relevant passage. It is on page 594. Lord Atkin said: In discussing the important subject of the effect of suicide on policies of life insurance it is necessary to distinguish between two different questions that are apt to be confused: (1) What was the contract made by the parties? (2) How is that contract affected by public policy? On the first question, if there is no express reference to suicide in the policy, two results follow. In the first place intentional suicide by a man of sound mind, which I will call sane suicide, ignoring the important question of the test of sanity, will prevent the representatives of the assured from recovering. On ordinary principles of insurance law an assured cannot by his own deliberate act cause the event upon which the insurance money is payable. That is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. The quotation continues: The insurers have not agreed to pay on that happening. The fire assured cannot recover if he intentionally burns down his house, nor the marine assured if he scuttles his ship, nor the life assured if he deliberately ends his own life. This is not the result of public policy, but of the correct construction of the contract. In the second place this doctrine obviously does not apply to insane suicide, if one premises that the insanity in question prevents the act from being in law the act of the assured. That is the first point, and a point of great importance: that that is not, as Lord Atkin said, the result of public policy; it is a basic concept of our insurance law, I should think (though I have not looked it up) going back certainly to the time of Lord Mansfield. That is a very important consideration. Lord Atkin went on to say: On the other hand, the contract may and often does expressly deal with the event of suicide: and that whether sane or insane. It may provide that death arising at any time from suicide of either class is not covered by the policy. It may make the same stipulation in respect of suicide of either or both classes happening within a limited time from the inception of the policy. The rights given to the parties by the contract must be ascertained according to the ordinary rules of construction: and it is only after such ascertainment that the question of public policy arises. Having said that, Lord Atkin then went on to say that the rule that the courts would not recognise a benefit accruing to a criminal from his crime prevented Major Rowlandson's executor from recovering under the policy.

But the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I am sure, has already got one point in mind, and that is the three things that Lord Atkin mentioned. Burning down a house would be (I am speaking generally) a crime; scuttling a ship is also a criminal act; and, until the operation of this Bill, suicide is a criminal act. But that principle, that basic principle of insurance law, that you cannot yourself deliberately and intentionally produce the circumstances in which you recover, would apply just as well if you took an act that was not a crime—for instance, if you pushed a motor car over a cliff and then claimed from the insurance company. At least for the moment, I do not see what crime that is. But the basis of that part of the judgment is not the criminality, but the fact that the insured person is himself, by his own deliberate act, producing the circumstances in which payment is made.

Now my late noble and learned friend Lord Macmillan agreed with the first part, when he said at page 602—and I quote again: If the policies had contained no reference at all to suicide, I should have been of opinion that they did not cover the contingency of the assured committing suicide while sane, or in other words that the event of the assured's death did not mean or include the event of his self-caused death while sane. Thus, with all respect to my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, it seems reasonably clear that, in the absence of a provision such as Lord Silkin suggests, insurance moneys would not be payable under a policy which was silent on the question of suicide if the insured person killed himself while sane. There seems to be no good reason why any alteration should be made in this general principle of insurance law to deal with the case of life insurance alone. That really was the foundation of the doubt of my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford, and, as I understood it, the basis of the opinion which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, expressed.

The Life Offices Association would be opposed to any change of this kind. As the Chairman of the Association pointed out in a letter to The Times on March 10, 1961, the great majority of claims arising as a result of suicide have always been paid ex gratia, either in full or in substantial part, but it still remains necessary to protect policy holders as a class from exploitation by someone who has dishonest intentions. Here I come to the second of the points of my noble friend Lord Derwent. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that rests on the fact that the general amounts of premiums depend on the claims; and if you are going to change the law of insurance so that a person could deliberately, by his own act, benefit his estate when he wanted, then you are introducing a serious new factor into insurance law.

Now there is no doubt—and I want the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to consider this very carefully—that to some extent this point would be met by the proviso to Lord Silkin's new clause, the effect of which would be to exclude the insurance company from liability if the insured person committed suicide within two years from the date on which the policy was issued. But to draw the line there would be somewhat artificial, and, as my noble friend Lord Derwent stated, the effect in certain cases might be to force the insurance companies to act less generously than they are doing now. For instance, it is a common practice at present for companies to include a clause excluding liability if suicide takes place within six months of the issue of the policy; and, if the law were amended in the way proposed by Lord Silkin, it seems likely that all companies making use of a clause in this form would extend the period to the permitted maximum of two years suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.

Now I want to come to the practical point—and again it takes up the insurance companies mentioned by my noble friend Lord Derwent. As an example of the present practice of the insurance companies, I am permitted to say that one company has paid in full 60 suicide claims, totalling £60,000, in the last ten years, without contesting any of them. The Life Offices Association state that this is the general practice of their members; and, in fact, all the companies issuing, life assurance policies are members of that Association. Now may I anticipate the perennial retort which is made to someone who produces an argument of that sort when a Bill is passing through any legislative assembly? It may be retorted that, if this is so, the new clause would do no harm. But the fact remains that it would be an inappropriate amendment of the general rule of insurance law stated by Lord Atkin, and one for which there appears to be no need in a Bill which is otherwise concerned solely with criminal law. If we are going to change the criminal law, if there is anything wrong with that principle, and if there is anything wrong with the correlated principle that a person should not be entitled, by his own act and his own calculation, to benefit his estate in that way, then I think that we should discuss it in the context of insurance law. Then, obviously, one would have to consider very carefully the marine cases and the tire cases which I have mentioned.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this matter, but I think it is too difficult, from the insurance point of view, to take in as a side-wind on this Bill, and I would ask him not to press it to-day. If, on considering what I have said, any further point arises, I shall be most happy to discuss it and pass it on to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General; but that is the conclusion I have come to, and I hope the noble Lord will think that I have given his point full consideration, even if he is not satisfied with the result.


My Lords, of course, I am perfectly satisfied that the noble and learned Viscount has given the matter full consideration. I should hesitate to say, even, that I am not satisfied. I should like to think about it. But in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.