HL Deb 28 April 1971 vol 317 cc1190-2

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. We had a fairly elaborate exchange yesterday when I repeated the Statement on the Vehicle and General Insurance Company. En another place the Leader of the Opposition—I may not quote him, out of deference to your Lordships' conventions —expressed the wish that a debate there to-day should be formal; and I venture to think that the purpose of that might be to some extent frustrated if the debate here to-day were much more than formal. I will, however, hold myself available to answer any points that may be raised.

Moved, That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the following issues in relation to the circumstances leading up to the cessation of trading by the Vehicle and General Insurance Company Limited:—

  1. (a) whether and if so by whom the contents of certain documents or other information in the possession of the Department of Trade and Industry relating to the affairs of the Company or any of its subsidiaries were improperly disclosed or obtained between the 4th and the 18th of November, 1970, and whether, should this be shown to be the case, any use was made of such information for the purpose of private advantage;
  2. 1191
  3. (b) whether there was negligence or misconduct by persons in the service of the Crown directly or indirectly responsible for the discharge, in relation to those companies, of functions under the Insurance Companies Acts 1958 to 1967;
  4. (c) whether there is any evidence that the interests of policyholders or shareholders of those companies were adversely affected as a result of any impropriety, negligence or misconduct found to have occurred. —(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, without any argument, may I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for an assurance that at the time when the Chairman of the Tribunal is appointed, his attention will be drawn to what the Salmon Commision on Tribunals and Inquiries said about the presence or absence of the Attorney General?


Yes, my Lords, I think I can give that assurance in an unqualified sense.


My Lords, during the exchanges yesterday there was one item which was not mentioned. It is in my view contained in paragraph (c) of the Motion, which refers to the effect of the Inquiry on the position of policy holders. It also mentions shareholders, but for the moment I am concerned about policyholders who have been adversely affected. As it appears to me—though perhaps the noble and learned Lord will be kind enough to interpret the matter more accurately than I have done—the position of the policyholders is affected only by the suggestion that in a Government Department there was an unofficial disclosure and that we are not concerned in the transactions of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company Limited in a general form; that is to say, whether they are responsible because of some misdemeanour, some financial offence, within company law which affects the policyholders. Now what is the position? In the event of the Inquiry—this, of course, is an assumption; it is pure conjecture—determining that the policyholders were adversely affected, would they be entitled to receive compensation?


My Lords, the only question in paragraph (c) is whether they were adversely affected as the result of any impropriety, "— which might be of Government servants or of a third party— negligence or misconduct", which reads back to paragraph (d), found to have occurred. One would have to know what would emerge from the Inquiry before one discussed the question of compensation, because it would depend upon the nature of the impropriety and the persons by whom the impropriety was committed. I would say in general, of course, that nothing in the Inquiry can prejudice the rights of policyholders arising out of misfeasance.


My Lords, very simply, and without delaying the proceedings, I should like to know exactly what happens under paragraph (c) to someone whose wife was driving her car under a V. and G. policy and only thought about it ten days later, and whose wife then had to spend money to buy another policy. It is an impropriety. As to the first notice given to responsible people in financial circles that the V. and G. Company were in these circumstances, some of us think that the R.A.C. and the A.A. should have been informed so that nobody else bought a policy or so that somebody running a car would know that he was in danger and could be liable for considerable damages which might ruin him. I hope as a layman that some kind of information that laymen can understand will come out. I sincerely hope that the House does not think I have delayed it too long in putting that point of view.


My Lords, I think that any questions affecting the policyholders must either be the subject of legal advice to the policyholders themselves at this stage or must await the progress of the Inquiry, which will no doubt be as concerned as is the noble Lord about the rights of individuals.

On Question, Motion agreed to.