HL Deb 22 April 1971 vol 317 cc865-86

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I think that I had better say a few words in support of my Motion and explain the Bill to your Lordships. Every noble Lord knows that anyone using a motor vehicle on the roads must by law have an insurance policy covering him against third party risks. That has been the law since 1930, and it is now to be found in the Road Traffic Act 1960, a consolidation measure. That policy of insurance does not extend to passengers in or on a vehicle.

The matter is dealt with by Section 203(4) of the 1960 Act, and that is the passage with which my Bill deals. I will tell your Lordships what that subsection says. It says: The policy — the insurance policy, that is — shall not, by virtue of paragraph (c) of the last foregoing subsection, be required to cover — (a) liability in respect of the death of, or bodily injury to, persons being carried in or upon, or entering or getting on to or alighting from, the vehicle at the time of the occurrence of the event out of which the claim arises… Then there are two paragraphs (b) and (c), with which I am not concerned, followed by a proviso, which says: Provided that paragraph (a) of this subsection shall not have effect in the case of a vehicle in which passengers are carried for hire or reward or by reason of or in pursuance of a contract of employment. So the people mentioned in the proviso have to be compulsorily insured, but not other passengers, This Bill does away with that exemption in paragraph (a) and since the proviso is meaningless without paragraph (a), it does away with the proviso as well. From now on, if this Bill becomes law, it will be necessary —and it will be a criminal offence if it is not done —to have an insurance policy which covers a passenger riding in or on a vehicle.

The origin of the exception to compulsory insurance in the case of passengers is not very plain, but it seems to have rested upon the theory, prevalent at any rate in the 1930's, that if a passenger chose to get into or on to a motor vehicle he assessed the risk of whether he would be injured or killed, and if he thought that it was very dangerous he would not get in or get off. The result of this has been, to say the least, very unhappy. Many people have pointed to the results of this exception. Indeed, this Bill is the third in the last ten years to be introduced to deal with this problem. It is, however, the first that has actually passed through another place. It was carried through by my honourable friend the Member for Stretford, who was supported from all parts of the House.

That support, I think, arises largely from a growing awareness of the social evil involved as a result of the exemption from compulsory insurance for passengers. It also results from the expert consideration given to this matter by a Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Kent, which reported three or four years ago, having been set up by the right honourable Lady the Member for Blackburn, Mrs. Castle, as a result I think of the first Bill I mentioned.

Support now also comes from those who at one time were very suspicious about this measure, and I must say that this includes those who are interested in motor bicycles. I would join my congratulations with those voiced in another place to the British Motor Cyclists' Federation upon their highly constructive approach to this Bill, which has been most helpful to my honourable friend, and also on the communications they have had with me. Those who considered that they might be prejudiced have been most carefully consulted by my honourable friend. So, too, have the motor insurers, as has the Department of the Environment, which is highly involved in this matter. I am also in touch with these parties and it appears that all of them support the principle of this Bill. Of course, I will continue with the consultations and will consult with any noble Lord who wishes to raise points on this measure, but I hope that the principle of it is acceptable to the House.

I must say just a word about the social evil which this Bill is intended to remedy. I am told that in 1969 there were 1,132,000 car owners who had no insurance for their passengers. That is only one-tenth of the total number of car owners in this country, so it is not a large proportion; but it is a high number in absolute terms of the number of cars. There were also I million or thereabouts of motor cyclists in the same position—that is, about 90 per cent. of the motor cyclists in this country. There were also half a million owners of agricultural vehicles, as well as some others.

In 1969, 113,000 motor vehicle passengers were killed or injured in accidents. The huge majority of these were of course covered by insurance, but I have recently seen a figure that there may be up to 4.000 of these passengers who are killed or seriously injured yearly and who are not insured at all. If only the driver of their own vehicle is involved, and they cannot put the blame on the driver of the other vehicle, at any rate in part, there is no insurance cover for them at all. This is a serious situation.

I will not attempt to harrow the House with the gruesome and pathetic details of some of the cases that have arisen in this way, but if noble Lords care to read the debate of the Second Reading of this Bill in another place on February 5 of this year, they will find many examples of this. Putting it as briefly as I can, the result of this lack of insurance takes three forms. First of all, the injured passenger himself, or, if he is killed, his dependants, can look only to the driver of the vehicle for any sort of recourse in damages. The driver may not have any money. If so, their prospects are indeed bleak.

But it is not only they who are in trouble: the driver himself can get into severe difficulties. He may be held responsible, in whole or in part, in negligence and very large sums can be awarded in the case of some of these accidents. It is quite likely that the driver is put in the position, having no capital and no insurance policy, in which the only way he can attempt to meet the damages that have been awarded against him is to accept responsibility for a small weekly payment, which may impede him in his financial affairs for years and may be of such an amount that there is no prospect of it being paid off within his lifetime, or indeed within three of his lifetimes. This is disastrous both for him and to the person injured or the dependants of the person killed.

It is a third and very important consideration that, so long as passenger insurance is not compulsory by law, no assistance can be obtained from the Motor Insurers' Bureau. This is an institution which has the most admirable and laudable agreement with the Department of the Environment to help if a risk which the law requires to be insured against is not in fact insured against. In that event, injury or death arising out of an accident will be backed up by the Bureau, and payments to those injured, or to the dependants of those killed, are made by the Bureau. But, of course, that is done only if the particular insurance cover that should have been in force is required by law. In the case of passengers, at the moment it is not, and therefore the Bureau do not step in. They will do if the Bill is passed.

That is important, I think, in three situations. First of all, if the driver has broken the law and has not insured himself, as he would be required to do under this Bill, then the Bureau will step in. Secondly, they will do so if the insurance company reneges on the contract, because perhaps there has been some alteration to the vehicle of which they have not been told. For instance, there was a case where somebody put an extra carburettor on his car without telling the insurance company, and they said that the description of the vehicle had been changed and they would not honour the contract. In those circumstances, the Motor Insurers Bureau would step in, but only if this Bill becomes law.

There is another circumstance, where the insurance company goes into liquidation. Noble Lords will have very much in mind one particular case where this recently occurred. A large sum of damages was awarded against somebody who was insured with that company. The man was perfectly lawfully insured with the company against risk, but by the time the court dealt with the claim and awarded the damages the company had gone into liquidation. So again, had it not been for the Motor Insurers Bureau, if this had been a third party claim, there would be no recourse. In this case there was a passenger claim, and because the Bill was not law there was no recourse and the Motor Insurers Bureau did not step in: though I am bound to say—and I am sure that the House will be glad to know about this—that the British Insurance Association have come to the aid of the particular individual faced with payment of the award, so that, fortunately, all is not lost; but that course would not have been necessary had this Bill been law.

So I would suggest that the change that the Bill makes must be welcome to all in principle. Moreover, we shall only be catching up with all the other countries of Europe, except for Italy, which for some reason does not have compulsory insurance. All the other countries in Europe have compulsory insurance for passengers. They include Northern Ireland, which brought this measure into force on January 1 of this year. So, as I say, we a re only catching up with the rest of Europe.

My Lords, the picture looks so rosy that it would appear that there cannot possibly be any snags. But of course there are; there are bound to be difficulties in any matter of this sort. I should like briefly to touch on one or two matters which have been raised by way at least of partial objection to this Bill. First of all, some people have suggested that there should be exemptions from this compulsory passenger insurance. My honourable friend the Member for Stretford, the Minister in charge of this Bill in another place, and indeed the whole of the Standing Committee, all agreed that there should not be exemptions. Respectfully, I agree with them. I say that this is a matter of principle. It is worth noting that the Northern Ireland Government allowed a very minor exemption, and I am told that even so soon as this moment, they now regret that they did so.

The difficulties about exemptions are, first of all, that it is extremely difficult to decide what, if any, sort of vehicle should be exempted. Secondly, it is difficult to enforce any exemption if it is allowed. All sorts of means have been suggested of doing this, but none that I know of stands up to any test of practicality. Then there is the third, and I should have thought fairly obvious, proposition, that there is almost no vehicle—and nobody has ever suggested one in the course of the passage of any of these Bills—which cannot carry a passenger. Some of them may not be meant to or allowed to carry passengers, but physically I know of none which cannot. For instance, a small motor-cycle may be made as a single seater—although many of them now are not—but for a very small sum a kit can he bought whereby a conversion can be made to carry a passenger on the back: and many of these vehicles are quite powerful enough to do so.

Then, my Lords, what about agricultural tractors? Is there no kindly farmer in the country who will ever give a child a ride on his tractor? I do not believe it. Then I read of a case, again concerning a friendly driver of a mechanical digger, who used to give children rides in the bucket on the front of his digger, and most unfortunately, one of these children was crushed to death. Although there was no equipment to carry passengers on that machine—and indeed, I should think it was illegal—a passenger was being carried, and he was killed. As I have said, the Committee in another place considered this matter and came to the conclusion that there should be no exemption.

Then, in that case, people say that the premiums will be very high, and perhaps prohibitive to some people. It was in order to elucidate this sort of point that consultations were held with the insurance companies. It seems that the extra premiums are not likely to be so large as some people fear. Of course, in many cases people already have this insurance anyway—as I have said, nine-tenths of the car owners have—and in their case there will be no additional charge at all.

There has again been some concern about motor cycles. Figures were given in the debates in another place, and I have had a communication from one experienced and knowledgeable writer in the motor cycle world who says that he accepts as realistic a range from 50p for a single seater moped to about £7 for a 750 cc. machine with a driver over 25. Those were figures given by my honourable friend the Member for Stretford. I am not denying that bad risks will pay more, but so they do in the case of any insurance for any motorist.

Despite that, and despite the talks with the British Insurance Association, some of the motor cycling interests are still not quite satisfied that the insurance industry should be allowed to work this Bill out in the market without further supervision. Of course there is control of insurance companies by the Department of Trade and Industry under, among other things, the Companies Act 1968. But there was put forward in another place a clause suggesting a code of practice which should be incorporated unless expressly excluded in every policy. That clause was considered carefully in Standing Committee, who rejected it as impracticable. Again I entirely agree that the legal difficulties are substantial. In any event, I would suggest to the House that this is not the right measure in which to introduce codes of practice or other general matters relating to the insurance business, because that is a much broader affair and not really suitable to be dealt with in this rather limited, though important, measure.

One must remember, of course, in terms of premiums and how the market will work, that the wider the premiums are spread the lower they should be for any individual. Indeed, in the case of one vehicle, which, on its face, is either incapable of carrying or is not allowed by law to carry passengers, one would expect the risk to be so small that the insurance premium would be equally minimal in its turn.

Then some people suggest that the risks involved in motor cycling have been overestimated by the insurance companies. I mention this because the British Motor Cyclists Federation produced some statistics, which they presented to various Members in another place, and which they have since said—I dare say, rightly—have not been challenged, to show that perhaps people have overestimated the risks from riding as a driver or a passenger on a motor cycle. My view about these statistics is this. If the risks are, contrary to what they say, great, then it is all the more important that passengers should be insured against them. If they are, as the statistics suggest, very much exaggerated, then this should be reflected in the level of premium, and it ought to be possible to obtain a policy at a much less price than perhaps some people would fear.

I suppose that in all these conversations about the insurance companies and how the Bill will work in practice it is most reassuring that there is a promise of a continuing dialogue between the motor cycling interests, in particular, the British Insurance Association, and indeed the Department of the Environment, during the whole of the time before which the Bill becomes law. It is to be brought into force by virtue of an order to be made at such date as the Secretary of State thinks right. There is still time for discussions to be worked out. I hope it will not be thought that anything ought to be put in the Bill about this.

I come to the last drawback, and it is upon this that I would welcome the assistance of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, if he is able to give it. About four days after this Bill was given a Second Reading in another place, Mr. Justice Ackner decided a case called Bennett v. Tugwell. It is reported in The Times of February 9 this year. What happened was that a passenger in the car was injured through the admitted negligence of the driver of the car, Mr. Tugwell. The driver had comprehensive insurance covering passengers, but for some reason he had put a notice on the dashboard of the car which said: Passengers travelling in this vehicle do so at their own risk. It was a little notice which had cost him 12½p to buy.

The result for him was very unfortunate, although I do not in any way wish to criticise the decision of the learned judge. The passenger was injured and claimed £1,100 damages. In fact, £500 was paid into court, and the insurance company, although it won the case, allowed him to keep this, to their credit. The defence essentially by the insurance company was that he got into the car, saw the notice and therefore voluntarily accepted the risk. Mr. Justice Ackner said that there was no need for a contract but merely for the defendant's assent, not to the infliction of injury but merely to the assumption of the risk of such injury. He then went on to point out that if he had thought that the insurance company was trying to "get away with it" rather than deal with the point of principle, he would have been very severe, at any rate in his criticism of them; but their conduct plainly showed that they were not seeking to do that.

He added—and this is important—that he hoped that the main effect of his judgment would be to expedite the passage of legislation to make passenger insurance compulsory, a change in the law which the legal profession had long sought. And not only he said that. In a case in 1969 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, to whom I know this House listens with great attention, said it, too, and I know that there have been many others over the years who have said the same. It may well be that as the result of that recent case an Amendment is necessary to this Bill in order to remedy the matter. It is on that that I should like the assistance of my noble and learned friend. I know that it has been discussed between his Department, himself and my honourable friend in another place. I feel sure that in view of the promises that have been made of remedial action it may be that we should have an Amendment in this House.

My Lords, I have touched upon most of the points of principle which I believe to be important. I can, I hope, answer questions if there are other matters which I have left obscure. I hope that I have convinced your Lordships that this is a worthy and necessary Bill, and that there are no inferential or consequential problems which override the public good which will come of it. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Viscount Colville of Culross.)

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, as we know in this House, any Bill introduced by the noble and learned Viscount is always clearly explained to us, and we are grateful to him. It is a great personal pleasure to me to be able to support the Bill on behalf of the Opposition, because, like practically all working lawyers, I have come across these tragic cases where men and women, often young, are crippled for life and then find that there are no damages because the driver has no money and is not insured. Sometimes it is even worse—you do not find it out until a fortnight or so after the trial, when a girl who may be crippled for life and has heard a judge award her £21,000 has to be told, "He is not insured; he cannot possibly pay more than £5 a month". That would take 350 years and she will not be there to get the money. All lawyers feel strongly about this matter because of these personal experiences.

In a case in 1969, Lord Justice Sachs said: It is now the best part of forty years since a large measure of compulsory insurance for motorists was brought into force, having regard to the perils to which other road users were put by the motor car drivers incapable of paying damages. That was indeed a great step forward, though even at that time there was a measure of criticism of the plight in which passengers were left. Since then the courts have seen only too often a procession of gravely injured passengers who were bereft of compensation because the drivers were too mean or too careless to take out a more comprehensive form of policy… In 1961, Mr. Cronin, the honourable Member for Loughborough, introduced a Bill to remedy this great wrong, but, as we all know, he was defeated at that time by the motor-cyclists' lobby. When I found myself a member of a Government I was naturally concerned about this matter. Mrs. Castle, when Minister of Transport, appointed a special committee of the National Road Safety Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Kent, who made a strong report in favour of compulsory insurance for passengers, with no exception. That was in 1968. My recollection is that very soon after that Mrs. Castle was transferred to another Ministry. I then had to tackle Mr. Marsh. On March 10, 1969, Mr. Marsh made a statement saying that the Government would legislate as soon as possible. Before they had been able to do so, in February, 1970, the honourable Member for Nelson and Colne, Mr. Waddington, introduced a Bill which passed its Second Reading and Committee stage in April. Then came the General Election. From the Cronin Bill until March, 1969, 25,000 pillion passengers met death or injury—that is over 70 a week. In 1969 alone there were 1,491 on scooters and 4,400 on motor-cycles. Vehicle for vehicle, in relation to the number of vehicles there are five times as many passengers injured on scooters and motor-cycles as in cars.

We have now an advantage in the experiences of Northern Ireland, because the Northern Ireland Government passed an Act providing for full compulsory insurance, excluding vehicles which were not equipped to take a passenger. That has been very useful to us, for two reasons. First, we now know from experience that the premiums are no higher than those who can afford to buy motorcycles can afford to pay, and, secondly, we know that to have an exclusion of that kind is absolutely unworkable, because that is what they have found in practice. The relevant Minister says that his Government are going to change that as soon as they possibly can. My Lords, for those reasons I strongly support this Bill, as I hope and believe all my noble friends will, and I hope that noble Lords in all parts of the House will do so.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, my object in intervening briefly in the passage of this Bill at this late hour is to endeavour to give a measure of support to the motorcycling fraternity, to whom it appears the Bill may have some harsh financial implications. No doubt it is felt by many people that the average motor-cyclist is a noisy, wild young man in a leather jacket whose very youthfulness gives him a "devil may care" attitude to other road users. There are not so many motorcyclists about to-day, and out of these I can assure your Lordships that only a minority fall into the category I have just mentioned. The majority take pride in their machines and in their riding and are both skilled and considerate. Yet on account of the stupid behaviour of a minority group, they are not always, in my opinion, given fair publicity. In fact, I am not sure that some people would not like to see the motor-cycle removed from our roads.

I referred just now to the comparative scarcity of two-wheeled vehicles. I think it is true to say that the motor-cyclist of yesterday has now become the owner and driver of a small car to-day. There is no better training, quite frankly, for road-craft and eventual driving expertise than starting your career on a motor-bike. Many of the world's finest drivers—some of whom I know very well indeed—started their careers on motor-cycles. So once again I stress that any attempt to price this not necessarily wealthy class of road user off our roads would be a stupid mistake. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is the intention, but it is in the minds, I know, of motorcyclists.

I have only recently had the opportunity to discuss this insurance Bill with one or two well-known motor-cyclists. Of course, it is difficult in theory to fault the Churchill Bill, and I would congratulate Mr. Churchill on his work on it; but in actual practice it may not work out so well for everyone entitled to use the roads. We all want to see that injured passengers have open to them the same sources of compensation as other third parties have. But I am concerned with the possibility that premiums are likely to be excessive, because compulsory motor insurance is unique in our commercial law; the normal rules of supply and demand and market competition cannot apply. The customer is obliged to buy, and the vendor is not obliged to sell except on his own terms. I know that motor-cycle clubs, organisations and riders generally suspect that extortionate premium levels will be charged out of all proportion to the alleged risks of motor-cycling. On this point, it is interesting to note that in relation to the numbers of two-wheeled vehicles in use there are very few passenger accidents. I am not going to quote a lot of statistics which I have been given, but I do not believe that motorcycles present a more significant passenger risk than do motor cars.

The doubts to which I have referred are understandable by the failure of the insurance industry to quote firm premium estimates for compulsory passenger cover, and the present high levels for voluntary passenger cover. No special rates are given, so far as I can see, for solo bikes, and special terms are rarely, if at all, given for good risks. The collapse of the insurance company to which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has just referred cannot have given great confidence to the British Motor-cyclists' Federation—as would apply to any insurance company for that matter, if this had unfortunately happened to them. Both the R.A.C. and the A.C.U. have argued that single-seat motor-bikes should be exempt from compulsory passenger insurance. Why should the riders pay for something that they do not and cannot use? This seems a reasonable argument. If very occasionally a passenger is carried illegally on a solo machine, and in some discomfort—that is to say, without a proper pillion seat—then the risks of civil action for damages should be taken into account at a reasonable premium.

My Lords, there is a large section of the motor-cycling community proudly owning veteran and vintage vehicles—and this is very important. They generally have to pay disproportionate running costs when their use may be confined to, say, half a dozen runs a year. For these costs to rise much higher than they are at present would only swell the already alarming export rate of really irreplaceable historic vehicles from this country. Owing to rising costs, et cetera, far too much of historical interest is leaving these shores already. It was not so long ago that we lost London Bridge. If this is slightly irrelevant, I apologise, but it seems a pointer to the way things are going to-day. I suggest it is our duty to try to call a halt to all this if it is within our power, particularly so far as these rather magnificent vintage machines are concerned. I like the idea put forward in another place, that the Minister should be given enabling powers to exempt specified classes of vehicle pro tempore until he is satisfied that suitable insurance arrangements are available.

It is quite possible that the enforcement of compulsory passenger insurance with high premiums would add to the number of insurance dodgers. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who I know has spoken to my informant so far as motor-cyclists are concerned, will give consideration to all these small points which are nevertheless very deeply felt by those who ride motorcycles. I frankly admit that I feel slightly embarrassed speaking between two such very learned gentlemen as the noble arid learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner; but I understand the feelings of road users, with whom I am proud to have been connected for so many years in so many different capacities.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I personally should like to give a wholehearted welcome to the principles of this Bill. What is bothering me, and a certain number of other people, is not exemptions, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, referred, but inclusions. It appears to me from reading the Road Traffic Act (not being a very able reader of Acts) that there can still be a number of passengers free of insurance cover. Apparently it is the insurance companies who are really going to operate this law. I know that a number of insurance companies insist, in the case of vans and pick-up vehicles, that passengers shall be carried only in fixed seats. If we are coming down to a situation in which the insurance company can say that only a passenger in a fixed seat is covered, we should know how such a law is going to be enforced. It is quite common, particularly in the country, for people to carry passengers in non-fixed seats—on cushions and so forth in the back of vans—and they will not be covered. How is a law going to be enforced so that they will be covered?

Something else that has been slightly worrying me is the subject of tractors. Under this Bill, people have to be covered as passengers, but most tractors have no seating for passengers. Are we then to say that tractors in the country are not to carry passengers? Are the insurance companies going to say that, or that passengers may be carried only in seats constructed for passengers? At the present moment, I personally know of one gentleman in the country who lives two and a half miles from the bus stop and who goes down to collect his mother from the bus. The method by which he brings her home is on a cushion, with a rug stretched over it, on the mudguards of a tractor. Is this lady to be covered; and how is a premium going to be assessed for covering her? I know people who go to work on the mudguards of tractors. Furthermore, if we are going to allow the insurance company to be the interpreter of this law, is it right that that should be so? I thought that Members of Parliament of both Houses were the people who decided what the law should be.

There is another series of items which tend to worry me. Take trailers. It is a common practice in the country, particularly at harvest time, for workers and children to be taken to and from hayfields and cornfields, and suchlike, on trailers. I understand that the law says that a trailer is part of a vehicle when a substantial amount of its weight is carried by the prime mover. I may be wrong in this, but that is what I understand. If a trailer is merely attached to the prime mover, will the passengers on that trailer be covered by these provisions—because at the moment, as I understand it, they are not part of a vehicle which has compulsorily to be insured for passengers. I feel that they should be covered, and that this Bill should be made to do that, because in many cases it is very young people who become involved as passengers in this way.

This also applies to what I think are described as low-loaders, which are merely hitched on to an articulated vehicle. I myself have seen a low-loader in the dark draw up at traffic lights; a number of young hitchhikers have got on the back, and even the driver has not known they were there. How are we to cover those people? Are they automatically covered as passengers, or will the driver unwittingly be breaking the law? What I am worried about in regard to all the laws that apply here is how they are to be enforced. It is hopeless to make a law that cannot be enforced. I am 100 per cent. with the noble Viscount in this matter.

I now come to motor cars. I am 100 per cent. in agreement that all passengers in cars should be covered. How are we to say which passengers in that car are to be covered? The car is constructed perhaps to carry five or six people. People go out to a dance, get into a party; somebody's car breaks down, and seven or eight people pile into the one car. Which, out of those seven or eight, if the number of passengers covered is to be restricted to five, are not to be covered; and if they are not covered how is the law to be enforced in such a way that they will be covered? This worries me, my Lords, and while I heartily support the noble Viscount in the principle of this Bill, I hope that somebody can reassure me on some of these points.


My Lords, if the Liberal Party is somewhat thinly represented this evening, at least it is not alone in that regard. But I think I can speak for all my noble friends in warmly supporting this Bill.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross for undertaking the burden of what I think is a public service in sponsoring this Bill through your Lordships' House. I should also like to say what a pleasure it is to me to support not only him but a Bill which I think represents the first separate legislative endeavour of the new Member for Stretford, who bears the honoured name of Mr. Winston Churchill and whom one is glad to see, for every reason, in Parliament—an additional reason that applies to me that does not apply to noble Lords of the opposite Parties.

I think I can wholeheartedly support this Bill without any qualification at all. If I may deal with some of the points that have been raised, I should like first to answer the question put to me by my noble friend Lord Colville about the Tugwell decision. It is my intention at the Committee stage of the Bill to introduce a clause against contracting out, or, if my noble friend would prefer to do it himself, I can provide him with a little preliminary draftsmanship and support him, which would be just as welcome to me. But at any rate it is my intention to try to prevent contracting out, so as to nullify the effect of the Tugwell decision. This, of course, is not a criticism of Mr. Justice Ackner, who decided the law on what I should have thought any lawyer would agree to be correct grounds, but we just do not want it to be the law any longer. We are going to amend it, and this is a suitable legislative opportunity to do it. Secondly, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, for what he said. I specifically endorse his arguments because he, like me, has seen too much of this business to want anything else but to see this law in force as quickly as possible.

That brings me to the two speeches of my noble friends, who were slightly—but I hope only slightly—more critical. First, there was my noble friend Lord Howe, who spoke, as he said, in defence of the motor-cycling fraternity. I do not want to differ in any way from his encomium on the general run of motorcyclists, any more than I want to differ from him or anyone else about an equal encomium about the ordinary run of motor-car drivers or lorry drivers. The great majority of people who use the roads use them responsibly. But anybody who has driven a car for as long as my noble friend, or even anybody who has driven a car as long as I have, which is since 1926, knows what accidents are about. Accidents are not about criminal driving or reckless driving; they are about negligence, and if anybody thinks he can drive on the roads for forty years without ever driving negligently he is either a knave or a fool.

That is true of motor-cyclists no less than of motor-car drivers, and I wonder whether really it is a defence of motorcyclists to say that they should not be liable for acts of negligence which they may show towards their own pillion riders, if those pillion riders suffer damage—damage which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, reminded us and as every practising lawyer on the common law side knows, may involve either death (in which case there is a widow and young children, whom we were discussing on Tuesday in connection with the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill) or injury which may involve permanent loss of faculties. Is it really the desire of the motor-cycling fraternity that their pillion passengers should not be protected from a momentary act of carelessness? Which of us can honestly say, crossing his heart, that we have not been guilty of momentary acts of carelessness where, but for the grace of God, we should have been involved in a serious accident? Speaking for myself as rather an ageing man, when I think of how I drove when I was an undergraduate I really would not have applied to myself the wholehearted encomium which my noble friend Lord Howe applied to his clients. I did not always drive safely; I did not even always drive according to the letter of the law. Sometimes I drove dangerously.

I hope and believe that I have learned to drive safely over the years, and not the least factor which has taught me to drive safely has been forty years of experience in the common law courts, seeing the misery and pain and sorrow, persisting year after year, of perfectly innocent people, passengers and others, who haw been guilty of no more than a moment's folly, unable to get compensation because of that moment of stupidity or even of a slight deviation from the standards required by the courts. Is it really a defence of the motor-cycling fraternity—


My Lords, if I may dare to stand up and interrupt the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, may I say that I was more concerned with the height to which the premium might be raised. What worried me so much was the fact that the motor-cyclist is not a particularly wealthy user of the roads, and although I quite understand that he should have a premium to pay I was worried that it might be very high.


M2,' Lords, I was just about to come to that point, but I am glad that I need not labour the point of principle. I have lived with this controversy in Parliament for years, like the noble and learned Lord. Lord Gardiner. I lived with it in another place and I have lived with it in a previous Government. The motor-cycling fraternity are rather apt to forget that the insurance is just as much for their advantage as for the advantage of their passengers. What person, if he drives a motor-cycle and if he really thought about the implications, would like to start out on his life as a young man with a judgment of £21,000 against him which he could not afford to pay? It would mean that if at any time in his life he acquired some money he could have it taken away from him by the representatives of the person, or the person whom he had injured. Let us be responsible and let us be realistic about the principle. I have laboured it only because my experience has been that the motor-cycling fraternity are rather apt to lose sight of it, and when an old, bald-headed lawyer goes and tells them the facts of life they do not want to hear. But I am certainly old enough and mad enough to go on telling them, whether they want to hear it or not.

Now I come to the question of premiums, which I agree is, in one way, the crux of the matter. I would first of all refer my noble friend to what my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross said in opening, because it has been established by experience in Northern Ireland that the premiums are not unduly high. You cannot get anything for nothing in this world, and you cannot get additional cover for nothing. But they can be as low as £7, and on the very largest type of motor-cycle, with the driver with the worst possible record, I suppose they could go up to £25, or something like that. That is the sort of range. My noble and learned friend Lord Colville in his opening speech indicated that in the case of the ordinary type of cycle and the ordinary type of driver the premiums are in fact much less.


My Lords, I do not want there to be any doubt about this. I gave £7 as the top of the range for powerful machines with a driver of 25 or over. It could be very much less than this in some cases; for instance, in the case of the single-seat moped it could be only 50p.


My Lords, I think it could be more for the bigger machine and for the younger driver. In fact, I think there are some machines of more than 750 cc. on the roads. But the experience of Northern Ireland is perfectly reliable, because it represents what has actually happened; it is not guesswork. And I am informed, and believe, that Northern Ireland is in fact, with Glasgow and London, for some reason, an area of rather high premiums rather than low. In the greater part of the country the premiums would be less and not more than in Northern Ireland, although about the same in Glasgow and in London. So much for the level of premiums.

I would also venture to say, bearing in mind that the moped premium is down to 50p (I would still prefer to call it 10s.), that if you can afford to buy a 750 cc. vehicle you can afford to insure it; and if you cannot afford to insure the 750 cc. vehicle, as against your mopeds, there are some stern old gentlemen who would take the view that you ought to buy a less powerful machine. I may be a "square", and I may be stupid and unable to absorb the great enthusiasm of youth for more c.c.'s; but I do feel that, if they are as responsible as my noble friend says, they ought to realise that if they are going to use a lethal weapon on the roads it is not enough to say "I am a good rider "; they must also insure the passengers.

I quite see that there are classes of vehicles that do not normally carry passengers in the ordinary way. My noble friend Lord Colville made reference to this point. These questions have been very carefully considered at least since 1960, when the first Private Member's Bill was discussed, both by the Department and by the Kent Committee. Their conclusion was against any form of opting out, and the reason is that the stakes are much too big, and the damage done in these vehicle accidents much too large.

Vehicles can change hands, can be converted, can be lent. Passengers are in fact carried on vehicles where there are no passenger seats, and from time to time they will be carried on vehicles where the driver has actually undertaken not to carry passengers. It is just those cases where the odd accident will happen and irreparable damage will be done. Incidentally, may I say that it is in those cases that the premium will be lowest, because, as my noble friend Lord Colville pointed out, it is these mopeds which have no seats where the actual factor in the premium which will cover passengers will be the smallest.

I should like now to say one or two things about the questions—I am not sure that they were intended as criticisms —asked by my noble friend Lord de Clifford. First of all, I think we must get clear what this Bill does. It simply removes an exception to the existing law. That is the first thing, to get absolutely plain. He asks me how the law is going to be enforced. The answer is, in exactly the same way as it has been enforced for the last 40 years. What we have done is not to introduce a new law, but to remove an exception from an old one. There is no difficulty about enforcing the law. It will still be enforced, even when the passengers are not covered, in exactly the same way as in the not infrequent cases that occur now—for example, where the assured in some way breaches his policy and invalidates it. He will be committing a crime, and the Motor Insurers' Bureau will pick up the damage as regards an injured passenger just as they now do in other cases of voided policies when a person who is not a passenger is injured by negligence. There is absolutely no difficulty about that at all.

The same principle applies to tractors, to trailers, to motor cars, and all the other instances that my noble friend gave. It presents no difficulty which is not met with every day under the general law, because all we are doing is to remove from it an important, though still relatively small, exception—I say relatively small because, as my noble friend Lord Colville pointed out, nine out of ten policies already cover passengers without any enforcement behind it. When they are not covered, the Motor Insurers Bureau will stand behind the injury. Perhaps I may deal with one other point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who spoke about the insurers enforcing the law. My Lords, they will not enforce this law, any more than they have done for 40 years. There has been compulsory insurance since 1930. The only thing we are doing is to take out an exception. They will not enforce this law any more than, but they will do so just as much as, they have done for 40 years.

I would say that no one want to encourage insurance companies to charge excessive premiums. As a driver of very many years' standing, I think my interests as a driver override my interests, which I must also declare, as a name at Lloyd's. But the fact of the matter is that all the trouble in the insurance world, at any rate in the last three years, has been caused not by excessive premiums but by inadequate premiums. That seems to me the reality of the case. If Vehicle and General had charged excessive premiums, they might not be where they are now.


Did the noble Lord say Legal and General?


I said Vehicle and General—V. and G., not L. and G. At any rate, I did not mean Legal and General, and I do not think I said so. At any rate, that really covers that kind of point. I therefore end by saying that I hope that this Bill, with the addition of the new clause that I shall be proposing in Committee, will go through in the form in which my noble friend has introduced it.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am immensely grateful to noble Lords from all parts of the House for the support they have given. I also interpreted the speeches of my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord de Clifford as being, in principle, in support of this Bill—and I am glad to see them nod their assent. My noble and learned friend has answered the points that I raised, very much to my satisfaction. I should have referred to my own position and declared an interest as a name at Lloyd's, and I certainly do so now; but I confess that it had not occurred to me that I have any direct interest in this Bill.

My noble and learned friend has also answered a good deal more fully and competently than I could have done all questions asked. Perhaps I could put one gloss on the point Lord de Clifford made about insurers interpreting the law. I do not believe that they will do so, any more than my noble and learned friend believes they will. But what I believe may happen is that when drivers, obtain insurance, which will have to include cover for their passengers, it may become apparent to them that there are things—such as carrying passengers on tractors—which are illegal. It may become known to them through their insurance policy that this is so. It may also become apparent to them that they should not carry passengers in the back of a van upon anything other than fixed seats, and they may do something about it. I cannot guarantee that this will be so. If they do not, and as a result their insurance policy in any way becomes void, then, as my noble and learned friend said, there is still recourse to the M.I.B. But possibly and incidentally, it may be that the people who at the present moment do things which are perhaps not entirely safe for their passengers will be encouraged to mend their ways. At any rate, I am delighted with the reception that this Bill has had in this House, and I hope that it may now receive a Second Reading.

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

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