HL Deb 12 March 1979 vol 399 cc387-91

4.7 p.m.

Lord JACQUES rose to move, That the draft Hovercraft (Civil Liability) Order 1979, laid before the House on 19th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order is made under Section 1(1) of the Hovercraft Act 1968. It replaces a similar order made in 1971. It is necessary partly because of inflation and partly because there have been changes in legislation in the meantime. In effect, it updates the 1971 order.

In 1971 a modified version of the Carriage by Air Act 1961 and the Carriage by Air (Supplementary Provisions) Act 1962 was applied in respect of liability in carriage of passengers and luggage on hovercraft. It fixed the limit in respect of death or personal injury to passengers at £12,000. The order which is before the House will increase that limit to £30,000. I shall give two comparisons, one as regards shipping and the other as regards air.

In the case of shipping, the limit of liability is just over £30,000 under the provisions of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. In the case of travel by air, there is at present a Bill before the House —the Carriage by Air and Road Bill—which proposes a limit of £66,000 per passenger, plus costs.

In 1971, the limit of liability for luggage was fixed at £138 for the luggage in the passenger's charge, and at £7 per kilo for other luggage. Since 1971, those limits have been increased in respect of air passengers. The £138 for luggage in the passenger's control has been increased to £216. The £7 per kilo for other luggage has been increased to £10.78 per kilo. Those higher figures already apply to aircraft passengers. However, experience has shown that in the case of hovercraft the luggage is seldom weighed, and that the limit which was related to weight is not suitable. The order before the House raises the limits for luggage in the control of the passenger from £138 to £216, so that is the same as it is for air passengers. However, in the case of other luggage, instead of adopting a rate per kilo, it fixes an additional and separate limit of £216. So there is a maximum claim of £216 for luggage in the passenger's control and a further £216 in respect of other luggage.

In 1971, the liability rules for cargo were based upon the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1924. However, in June 1977 that Act was superseded by bringing into force the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971. The order now before the House applies this change in maritime law to hovercraft.

I turn now to the vexed question of global limit. In maritime law, shipowners have a global limitation of liability. The 1971 order applied the law to hovercraft, but expressed the limits per kilo instead of per tonne. Those limits applying to shipping have since been increased by approximately 50 per cent. This order gives a similar increase in the limits for hovercraft. However, in 1971 and in the order which is before the House, in the case of hovercraft there was and is excluded from the global liability the liability to passengers for death, personal injury and luggage. Shipowners can include passenger claims in the global limitation, but they will be limited in so doing when the 1976 London Convention comes into force. Provision for the United Kingdom implementation of that convention is included in the Merchant Shipping Bill, which is at present under consideration in another place.

I should explain what the London Convention will do in regard to shipping. It will not allow the shipowner to include his liability to the passenger in the global liability, but it will fix a separate global liability of £16 million for any one incident, regardless of the size of the ship, for liability to passengers for death or personal injury. To apply this global liability of £16 million to hovercraft would, in practice, have no effect because the largest hovercraft has a capacity of just over 400 passengers and if that hovercraft were fully laden and every passenger was able to claim the maximum of £30,000, it would still fall short of the global limitation for shipping of £16 million.

It is intended that the order before the House will come into operation on 1st April. We have had all the necessary consultations and we are satisfied that it will not cause inconvenience. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Hovercraft (Civil Liability) Order 1979, laid before the House on 19th February, be approved. —(Lord Jacques.)

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, there is really not too much to say about this order. Of course the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the order. We on this side of the House have no wish to hold it up or to oppose it. Indeed, as it is an order, despite its long and detailed provisions, we would not be able to amend it even if we wanted to. Therefore, all we could do would be to reject it, which clearly is not desirable.

However, briefly, I should like to sound one note of warning. In recent months and years we have considered a number of orders relating to hovercraft, and in general we seem to be applying to them the full panoply of civil aviation legislation. As the noble Lord has explained, that is not strictly true in the case of this order because here we are introducing some of the principles of maritime legislation. But I hope that we shall avoid the pitfall of so ensnaring these new, revolutionary craft in a tangle of complicated legislation that their effective operation becomes difficult or impossible. Already there are some doubts about what I shall call the "airworthiness" code—if that is the right word—which is applied to hovercraft. Some say that these craft are now so wrapped around in regulation that their exploitation will prove difficult. I have the impression that we shall do that in this other area of civil liability also.

Of course passengers and shippers who use these craft are entitled to proper protection. Certainly this order provides for that. But I am concerned that we are making the whole fabric of the legislation surrounding these craft so complicated that there may at least be a disincentive to operators to introduce them on a wider scale. However, having said that, I do not think that this is the time or the place to oppose the order. Indeed, I hope that your Lordships will agree to it.


My Lords, briefly, I should like to thank the Minister for the clear and lucid way in which as always, he presents the matter from the Front Bench. I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in wondering whether the fabric of legislation relating to hovercraft is not being tied up too much with civil liability and liabilities in relation to maritime law and civil aviation. Therefore, after again thanking the noble Lord for his presentation, I simply want to raise the matter whether the Government would have in mind more flexibility and perhaps more originality as regards the liabilities and arrangements associated with this revolutionary kind of transport.


My Lords, in the area of civil liability the hovercraft is not being subjected to more regulation than shipping or air flight. What happened in 1971—which I think was very sensible—was that we applied to passengers and their luggage, not the law regarding air travel or shipping, but a modified version of the law relating to air travel. For example, the maximum liability was not that which applied to a passenger travelling by air, and under the new order it is not that which applies to a passenger travelling by air; it is less than half what the figure will be when we get the effect of the Carriage by Air and Road Bill, which puts the figure at £66,000 maximum.

On cargo, both the 1971 order and the present order simply apply the maritime law, with suitable modifications. From my study of it, I am convinced that on this particular aspect of civil liability we are not subjecting the hovercraft transport industry to any great nuisance and that it is treated very fairly and in line with shipping and civil aviation.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for that information.