HL Deb 15 December 1975 vol 366 cc1203-4
The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the maximum compensation payment which both British Rail and British Airways can pay to the dependants of a person killed in a rail or air accident.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, when a fare-paying passenger is killed in a rail accident damages may be claimed at Common Law and under the Fatal Accidents Acts, without limit. In the case of a fatal accident to a passenger on a British airline compensation is payable unless the carrier proves that he took all necessary measures to avoid the accident. Compensation is payable up to a limit of £25,000 in international carriage, a limit the United Kingdom Government are seeking to raise by international action, and up to a limit of nearly £32,500 in domestic carriage; but if it was to be shown that the accident resulted from the intentional or reckless act of the carrier, or his servants or agents, no limit would apply. In all cases the quantum of damages or compensation awarded, subject to the limits when they apply, is a matter for the court.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that reply, may I ask whether he would agree that in the case of British Airways, although there is a maximum, in practice they rarely pay below that as a minimum? In the case of British Rail, although there is not a maximum, if there is a case to be judged, the solicitors act ing for the defendants have to fight for a minimum. In many cases compensation is very small—even derisory—and in a number of cases the payments are not paid for three or four years.


My Lords, I was not aware of the matters of fact which the noble Earl has described. If he would be good enough to see me and particularise the matters, I will see that the state of affairs he has described is taken up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State with the authorities concerned.


My Lords, would the Government agree that, in addition to a statement about a maximum, is it not an unrewarding and somewhat embarrassing business to try to calculate compensation, and could there not be a minimum which would be automatically recognised and from which perhaps advances could be made up to that maximum?


My Lords, in the case of dependency, of course, the extent of the dependency varies from case to case depending upon the earnings of the victim and the extent of the dependency. In the case of factors such as compensation awarded for loss of expectation of life, an arbitrary figure has now been laid down by the courts of £500, and the value of that goes to the estate of the deceased. There is no compensation payable under the laws of England and Wales in respect of bereavement, but of course there is in respect of pain and suffering in appropriate cases.

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