§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a Bill which was introduced into another place by a Pri vate Member, Mr. Edwin Wainwright, and it is designed to benefit travellers on international bus and coach services. I am very pleased to have the privilege of presenting the Bill to your Lordships' House because your Lordships may remember that two years ago I was pleased to have a similar role in relation to what subsequently became the Carriage by Railway Act, the immediate precedent for this Bill. I am particularly pleased about that. The provisions of the Bill are entirely technical and this is reflected by its unamended and speedy passage in another place. The Bill would enable the United Kingdom to adhere to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Passengers and Luggage by Road. This is not a title which is easy to use and therefore the Bill goes by its French title so far as the Convention is concerned and is known by the letters C.V.R., which are derived from the initials of the French title.
A Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, pre pared C.V.R., and it finalised its text early last year. It is the latest in a series of conventions covering the international transport of passengers or goods, or both by air, sea, road and rail, to which the United Kingdom is party. The aim has been as far as possible to standardise conditions of contract. Given the vast growth in international transport, it seems to me that this makes good sense. C.V.R. is mainly concerned with terms of lia bility, amounts of compensation and methods of procedure. I draw attention to the following points. Because C.V.R. brings basic uniformity to what is at pre sent something of an international legal 810 patchwork, travellers would find it much easier to pursue their claims under the Bill. The Convention provides claimants with a clearly defined choice of court in which to bring actions. It ensures that the proceedings are in accordance with standard terms of contract and—and this is important—it makes judgments reached enforceable in other contracting States, which is not the position at the present time.
Secondly, C.V.R. provides in general for "strict liability" of carriers. It means that the burden of proof is on the carrier to show that he is not at fault instead of the claimant having to prove that he is. Again, this will make things easier for those seeking compensation. C.V.R. also lays down standard levels below which maximum compensation which may not fall. These, in the case of a number of States, are a considerable improvement on present limits. Once again, the claimant benefits and, so far as this country is concerned, the House will note that Clause 3 provides—in line with our domestic prac tice—for unlimited liability in the case of carriers whose principal place of business is in the United Kingdom. C.V.R. will assure the users of international coach services that their journey is covered by a basic legal framework, within signatory States, which fully protects their interests in the event of mishap. I suggest that it is a very useful measure indeed, though it is most technical. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Popplewell.)
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, I should like to express the support of Her Majesty's Government for the Bill which my noble friend Lord Popplewell has just commended to the House and, if I may, I should like to congratulate him on the concise and lucid description of the back ground to the Bill, its purpose and its main provisions. Fortunately, there is very little left for me to add, but I should like to emphasise that at present differences in national law cause problems and anomalies when an accident occurs on international bus and coach services.
Different levels of compensation apply in different countries, and there are problems over jurisdiction and the burden of 811 proof. Maximum compensation in some other countries is very much lower than that set out in the Convention. Also, there are the problems of people having to pursue claims abroad, and the difficulties which exist concerning these claims may mean that many people have to abandon their claims without getting any compensation. Even when a decision is obtained, the judgment of the courts of one State may not be enforceable in those of another. The Bill, however, will enable the United Kingdom to accede to a Convention which cuts through all these problems, prescribing a basically uniform legal framework, levelling up the terms of compensation, defining the courts before which proceedings may be brought and making their judgments mutually enforceable in contracting States. These are States which have acceded to the Convention.
As my noble friend Lord Popplewell has pointed out, so far as this country is concerned there is no limit on the liability for compensation, but this is for personal injuries only and applies in cases where the carrier has his principle place of business here. I would add that we are parties to a number of similiar con ventions covering various modes of transport. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has already mentioned his personal involvement in legislation relat ing to one such precedent. It has always been the consistent policy of the United Kingdom to play a full part in such international co-operation in the transport field and the present Bill is a small but valuable addition to the co-operation already established. I therefore commend it to your Lordships.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I should like very briefly to join with the noble Baroness in thank ing the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for moving the Second Reading of this useful little Bill. Having been involved with him two years ago in the Carriage by Railway Bill, I am pleased to see him, a railman, doing something for the roads. I simply give the Bill our blessing from this side.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.