HL Deb 20 January 1982 vol 426 cc629-62

Debate resumed.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, the time would appear to have arrived when we should leave a subject which perhaps itself one day could lead to questions of civil liability and compensation for personal injury and return to our debate on that very topic, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale.

Perhaps I should say at the outset that my noble friends on these Benches would wish to join with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the tribute he has paid to the achievements and the memory of the late Lord Pearson. I hope the noble and learned Lord will not take it amiss if I say that perhaps those tributes would be underlined if we were now to carry into effect some of the recommendations of the commission of which Lord Pearson was so distinguished a chairman. In that connection, I should like to say to the noble and learned Lord how glad we were to hear the news of the measures which are to be introduced and the steps which are to be taken, particularly with regard to damages and questions of that kind. We would like to assure the noble and learned Lord that, when those measures arrive here, they will have our support—though that is not to say that my noble friend Lord Wigoder may not try to improve the measures when they finally arrive.

I should say, too, that my noble friends on these Benches and, I have no doubt, our noble allies on another Bench are wholly in support of the endeavours made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, to carry into effect some of the important recommendations of the Pearson Commission. Certainly I would wish to thank the noble Lord for the opportunity he has given to your Lordships' House to debate this important matter. It seems to us that the Pearson Report has languished in a pigeon-hole for perhaps too long, and therefore it is encouraging to learn from the noble and learned Lord that steps are being taken. Of course, I acknowledge that other things have happened in the meantime, but it is encouraging to hear as a result of that report other things are going on.

The noble Lord focused his remarks almost wholly on one very important question —important from the point of seriousness and also numerically important, having regard to the number of people involved. He focused his efforts on the question of road accidents and the importance of bringing in a basic "no-fault" compensation scheme. We wholly support him in those efforts. He explained his case very fully and very clearly, and it is not necessary for me to add to it, save to say that, as a lay person, one cannot fail to be struck by the frequency with which we have to witness in the courts the perhaps embarrassing and sometimes distressing occurrence of a son having to sue his father or a mother having to sue her daughter, and so on, in order to establish which particular insurance company has to pay certain damages at the end of the day.

That is the kind of result which undoubetdly arises from the present state of the law. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would forgive me, as a lay person, if I say that the law as it now is on this general question of responsibility for the consequences of road accidents has tended to result in pressures on the courts that from time to time have resulted in the courts tending to take decisions which I think have sometimes been wrong in fact and occasionally even wrong in law. In other words, when somebody has been seriously injured, I think there is a clear incentive to the courts to try to find that some responsibility for the injury lies with a person who has behind him an insurance company and the funds that that insurance company controls, rather than to find that the responsibility is with the poor pedestrian for whom nobody is going to pay at all unless the motorist is found to be responsible at the end of the day. I just drop that pebble into the pond, if I may so describe this august gathering, in the hope that it may perhaps create one or two ripples. 1 would merely stress the need to do something about this very complicated question of responsibility for damages in the case of road accidents. It is comparatively urgent, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for drawing it to our attention.

In addition, I should like to broaden the subject a little and perhaps talk very briefly about other matters upon which the Pearson Commission focused attention—matters such as birth damage to children, brain-damaged children and the tragedy of the occasional vaccine-damaged child and all the controversy which over the years has surrounded that subject. I think I may say that this is particularly topical at the moment. We happen in certain parts of Britain at the moment to be in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic. Whooping cough is a disease which in the case of adults and older children is on the whole comparatively trivial. Unfortunately, it is a disease which can have quite catastrophic effects on babies and infants. It can lead to serious bronchitis and bronchiectasis and to even more severe disease in later life, and in infants it can lead to pneumonia and death. Therefore, the professional view has always been that immunisation with the pertussis vaccine against whooping cough is desirable, particularly for the very young. Once the child has grown a little older it is not so important, because then the disease in itself is not quite so important.

But there is no doubt at all that all the controversy about the occasional occurrence of brain damage, as a result of pertussis vaccination, has had quite a seriously adverse effect on the numbers of mothers who bring their babies to be immunised, not only against diphtheria and other serious and important diseases, but against whooping cough. I am bound to say that when one talks about vaccine damage, the average mother does not greatly discriminate between one vaccine and another, and the controversy over this subject has tended almost to bring into disrepute vaccination and immunisation as a whole. It is a fact that in the Greater Manchester area, in which I am in close contact with what is happening medically, we now have quite a serious whooping cough epidemic and not unrelated to that is the fact that the level of immunisation against whooping cough among children in the Greater Manchester area is now considerably less than 30 per cent.

I am not for a moment saying, and would not dream of saying, that the existence of compensation for vaccine damage would itself prevent vaccine damage from occurring. But what I am saying is that the fact that no compensation was available, or, at least, that there were serious arguments about who was responsible for paying compensation—if compensation was necessary—resulted in so much publicity and discussion of this subject, in a way which was highly emotive, that parents were frightened of the idea of vaccination and immunisation altogether; and some of them, indeed, avoided immunisation against diphtheria and things of that kind.

I acknowledge that Governments have taken steps to make sure that compensation is provided through the Family Fund, which I think is administered by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, and through other measures. Similarly, of course, steps have been taken to provide compensation for brain-damaged children in one way or another. But that part of the Pearson Report, which deals with these very complex matters, needs looking at just as urgently as do the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has directed our attention so clearly today.

When I turn to the report on vaccine damage, and look at chapter 25 of volume 1 of the report, I find that it says this: The problem of establishing causation with certainty in any individual case may well be difficult". This is at the heart of this very matter. But it does not greatly matter to the person who is damaged what the actual cause has been, just as in the case of industrial accidents it does not greatly matter. But it is rather tragic that the chap who loses his leg at work may get all kinds of privileges and compensation, as may the same chap if he loses his leg on the way to work or on the way back from work, but if he is unfortunate enough to lose his leg in the garden before he goes to work the present state of the law is such that he may receive almost nothing. That is not fair.

I freely acknowledge that life is not fair, and if we once embark on trying to make everything wholly fair we shall set along a very complicated course indeed. So I acknowledge what is said in the report, that the problem of establishing causation with certainty is difficult. But the report goes on to say: The overriding need is that, where there is serious damage, there should be prompt recognition that some form of compensation should be payable. We do not think it is right to try to distinguish one severely disabled child from another, and to produce a situation where two children have the same needs, but one is compensated and the other is not". The more detailed recommendations of the commission are given in Part VII and I shall not go into those. But I would say that steps have been taken in regard to children who are brain-damaged from birth injury and so on, and in relation to this whole question of vaccine damage. But there are other matters in that whole area which arise from this report and which ought to be looked at on a continuing basis and not just occasionally, when there is some kind of national tragedy which brings the matter on to the front pages of our papers. This question of vaccine damage is, in many ways, parallel and very similar to the kind of cases to which the noble Lord, Lord Allen, referred that occur on the roads, where the result is the same for the individual, but the position of the individual in relation to compensation varies as a result of factors with which the individual himself is almost wholly unconnected.

I think that I have said enough. I should merely like to say, once again, that we are very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for bringing this matter forward. We are also grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for encouraging us to believe that things are still happening, and that the report of the late Lord Pearson is not going to languish forever in a pigeon-hole, but will genuinely be looked at and acted upon from time to time by Government. If that happens as a result of this debate, we on this Bench will indeed be very grateful not only to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, but to everybody else in your Lordships' House.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, not only do I wish to echo the thanks of the whole House to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for having introduced this topic, but I want to say how personally delighted I am to be associated once more, in a very humble way indeed, in supporting him in the work that he is doing. We have so far listened to people who are all extremely expert in their own fields. We now come down to basics. I claim no expertise of any kind, but I am anxious to get things done and in order to do that one has to restrict the scope of one's speech and the area where one wants something to happen. Where I want something to happen is in this field of no-fault compensation, because that lies at the heart of the matter and results in a situation which—at the risk of repeating something that has already been said by other speakers—I want to demonstrate is something which your Lordships would not wish to tolerate a moment longer than it need continue, once your Lordships have brought your minds to consider the matter.

We must admit that this desire to put the blame on somebody else's shoulders goes very deep indeed in the British character. I imagine that all of us here have had motor-car accidents of some kind or other during the course of our lives, and in all those accidents there is, curiously, one common factor. All of them, I dare say, without exception have been the fault of the other man. Indeed, if one rings up a friend, when one hears that he has been involved in a motor-car accident, to ask how he is, the first thing he does is to describe in detail the circumstances of the accident, to show beyond any measure of doubt that it was the other blithering idiot who was to blame and that no blame at all can be attached to him. Then, if one is fortunate, he will go on to tell you whether he has suffered any injury himself and whether the car has been damaged.

So it is something which is deeply rooted in our thinking and feeling, and it will be a very difficult act, and a very difficult political act, for us to move from finding fault to a no-fault system. That is what I want to direct my few remarks to, because I want to satisfy your Lordships that the present system results in great injustice, huge waste of resources and very painful delays.

First, as to the injustice, it has been made clear already that the practical question is not who is blameworthy, but whom you can prove is blameworthy. For that you need good witnesses with long memories, with strong nerves and with a recollection of what was happening as it was happening and not with a recollection of what had happened after the accident drew their attention to it. You also need to collect the names and addresses of these witnesses at a time when you arc at the least distressed, at a time when you are possibly in pain, at a time when you are possibly occupying a bed in an ambulance and being carried off to hospital. So whether you are going to get the names and addresses of the witnesses is enormously chancy. And the witnesses will know that in due course they will have to face a hostile counsel who will endeavour to demonstrate that their memory is at the least confused, if not inaccurate, that they will have to appear in a public witness box, that they will have to do so possibly two, three or four years later and that all this inconvenience will possibly be rewarded in heaven but nowhere else. So it is not going to be easy to get witnesses who satisfy the requirement of being able to prove fault in a road accident.

The facts are as have been indicated. I rely on an Oxford study—in the late 1960s, I think—that only 45 per cent. of those seriously injured succeed in recovering any damages at all. I am not talking about full damages. I am talking about any damages whatsoever. That is a system which surely we do not want to tolerate a moment longer than we need.

As to the huge waste which I have indicated, the figures as given to us by the Front Bench are even stronger than those which I myself had seen: that approximately one-half of the common pool reaches the victim while the other half is consumed in the process of fault finding and to a small extent in administration. That cost is something like five times as heavy, in proportion, as the cost involved in the industrial injuries scheme or in the criminal injuries scheme. It is a very high price indeed to pay for the satisfaction of seeing the name of somebody else recorded as the blameworthy person years after anybody is at all interested in the matter.

The reason why I refer to painful delays is because we know that these claims are settled, on average, in the seond year, that one-quarter of them are settled in the third and fourth years and that the victim has to make do, somehow or other, in the meantime, living with uncertainty, hardship and the other things which have been referred to. It is not surprising that it is generally known, I understand, as the forensic lottery—this system of trying to recover damages for the injury you have sustained in the way that every civilised society wants; namely, the alleviation of suffering by an individual through the contribution of his friends, neighbours and the rest of society as quickly as may be.

The no-fault system, once we can adjust our minds to accepting it, gets over virtually all these problems. It can be related to need. It can be paid from time to time, either in a series of lump sums, towards which the Government, I understand from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, are moving, or in periodical payments. It is quick: it is cheap to administer. It is very difficult indeed to think of arguments against, but in case they are mentioned later in the debate may I anticipate them by dealing with the two which most frequently come forward.

The first is that this kind of no-fault system would lead to a reduction in the deterrence of accidents on the road and the deterrence of had driving. All I can say about that is that the present system clearly fails wholly to do that. One only has to look at the number of deaths and people maimed on the roads every year to realise that one cannot claim any success in that sense. But more particularly the present system fails because the negligent driver pays exactly the same as the careful driver—to wit, nothing. It is the insurance company which pays, because we are talking about bodily injury and about compulsory insurance for every authorised driver. So there is no difference whatsoever whether the accident arises through huge negligence or through great care. The insurance company pays.

But the insurance company does not pay in relation to anyone's negligence. It pays wholly in relation to the amount of the damage. The matters which are of a deterrent value would continue under a no-fault system just as they exist at the moment; namely, the desire of every individual for self-preservation and, to a lesser extent, the desire to avoid criminal prosecution, police prosecution. So I do not think that there is anything substantial whatever in the claim that this system would result in a reduction, in a lessening of the deterrent value.

Then it may be said that it would result in more cost, through more claims being settled. Yes, of course it would result in more claims being settled. That is its purpose. What society wants is that those who suffer accidents of this kind should be helped by their fellow men, by a common pool. That is what it is all about. It is no credit to us to he able to say that something like one-half of those injured never get anything for their injuries. That is no credit to the method we have or to the kind of society we paint ourselves to be. The figures indicated that twice the number of accidents could be alleviated at the same cost. I have yet to be persuaded that there is anything whatever in the fear that costs would rise, or would rise in any substantial way so as to make one carefully consider introducing a no-fault scheme.

I am supported in that view by the chairman of the Justice Committee which sat on this very topic and reported that there would be no additional cost what ever. I am also supported by the knowledge that in several American states their experience—and in the States they use the insurance companies and not a social security system—is that insurance premiums have been reduced, that the number of victims receiving help has been doubled and that no additional cost at all has been involved. Therefore, I hope we shall accept the need for a no-fault system to cover the loss, damage, agony and so on suffered by the victims of car accidents and will not get bogged down with different ways in which one can achieve that purpose.

Of course, there are various methods. Of course it can be done mainly by relying on the expertise of the insurance companies. Of course it can he done mainly as a state service. I believe that the debates we have had in this House on insurance companies and the need to protect policyholders in this field through the Department of Trade show that there is probably a need to move more in the direction of regarding all this as a state service. Nevertheless, whichever way it is done, it can be done once we are determined and are satisfied that the present chancy unreliable state of affairs should cease.

It is not even that we need to adopt a new view. It is merely that we need to extend an existing view. The " no fault " principle, as your Lordships will recollect, applies to industrial injuries, to sickness benefits paid to those who suffer in car accidents, and to supplementary benefits paid to families of criminals serving prison sentences. It is the insurance companies who pay for damages to a car, irrespective of the degree of the driver's negligence, and it is they who pay out a personal accident policy irrespective of how the accident arose. We merely need to extend the principle to bodily injury from road accidents, as many other countries do with great success. In my view, we would then be nine-tenths of the way towards a just, humane and efficient method of alleviating suffering resulting from road accidents.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, may I also be allowed to associated myself with the expressions of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for his speech, which concentrated the mind wonder- fully and served as such a useful and objective exposition of the case for the implementation of the scheme that it enables one to marshal some of the concepts on the other side of the argument. Before I attempt to do that, may I also be allowed to associate myself with the tributes which have been paid to the late Lord Pearson, before whom I appeared on many occasions as a member of the Bar.

I assure your Lordships that it is not out of any want of humanity on my part; it is not because I entertain misconceptions about the question of defects in this type of litigation that I seek to suggest to your Lordships that it is not desirable that this noble scheme for road accidents should be implemented. There are, I would respectfully suggest for your Lordships' consideration, three independent reasons why it is not appropriate that this scheme should be implemented. In the first place, as an abstract concept of justice, to equate the position of the blameworthy driver with his innocent victim as regards the payment of or entitlement to compensation may not appeal to all of your Lordships.

Secondly, there is the cost. The cost of removing from the courts—and this is what it is—into the realms of social security, in the form of a extended welfare state, this type of question is going to be very considerable. Figures of £66 million per annum within five years have been mentioned, rising to £90 million per annum after 40 years; and that, as I understand it, excludes the cost of the extra civil servants who are to administer the scheme. I know not whether these estimates take account of inflationary pressures, but your Lordships will probably agree that all estimates these days require very substantial upward revision before they become reality. I will adopt if I may, with the utmost respect (and I could have put it ne'er so well), the way in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, dealt with this very delicate subject. It does pose the problems as he posed the problems, and the solutions are not easy to trick out of the trees. There are real problems about this question of costs. Thirdly, and lastly—

Lord Diamond

My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on to the question of cost, may I ask him to give us his views on the nature of those costs? He talked about £60 million of additional costs. Who would be the recipient of those costs?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that in due course, but, briefly, I took the figures from another noble Lord who spoke. The cost as stated in the report itself—and I am open to correction because I do not have the paragraph number in mind—was £24 million per annum after five years, rising to £54 million per annum after 40 years, excluding the cost of the civil servants. Those were the figures I was going to use until I heard the other figures mentioned. I based the figures that I would have used, of £24 million and £54 million, on the basis used in the report and on no other basis.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, may I make it clear and remove the doubt, that the figures I quoted were figures including administration, and they were figures based on 1977 prices.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am very much obliged. The two figures marry with that qualification. The most important reason for not implementing this scheme is not the question of cost, to which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, just referred, which is basically dependent on a political concept—as to whether one treats this as a welfare state matter or whether one does not. It is this: that in view of the intended reforms which have just been announced by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, if one adds to those intended reforms three very simple reforms, one has a viable and wholly sufficient alternative. There is no necessity whatsoever in these circumstances to enter into this scheme of "no-fault" road accidents.

The alternative is provided in this way. Take the case of children: you introduce a simple reform which presumes that a child of 12 is incapable of contributory negligence. Secondly, take the case of the anachronistic defence of act of God: abolish it, and in such situations reverse the burden of proof, making the driver in such circumstances—such as a bee-sting or an attack of epilepsy at the wheel or something of that sort—disprove negligence. Thirdly, at the moment in the case where there are two drivers, they both collide, both die; there are no witnesses, no extrinsic evidence; the estates of neither recover. Alter that in those circumstances; the estates of both recover. If you were to tack those three concepts, which could be implemented in a very simple, short statute, on to the substantial intended reforms to which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has previously adverted, there would, in my respectful submission, be no necessity for the introduction of this scheme.

Furthermore, if one were to do this it would comply with the spirit of the European Convention; that is Annex 9 to this report. But there I am not advocating that one should adopt the convention. There are two reasons for that. One is because the convention itself leaves open many matters for implementation, and, secondly, the terms of the convention could well give rise to serious litigation owing to their want of precision from the point of view of the English approach to jurisprudence. In these the general principle would be that it would always be open to the driver to show that the accident or the injury was wholly or partly caused by the victim, save in the case of a child of 12 where the presumption against contributory negligence operates and is binding. As regards these submissions, they reflect the work which has gone on for some 10 years now on the committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers under the chairmanship of my learned friend Mr. Michael Ogden, QC, and it is to him that I am indebted for these concepts. I put them forward as worthy, no more, of your Lordships' consideration.

With your Lordships' leave, may I pass to another aspect of this report which is included in the first sentence in the form of a question. There is in Chapter 31 of this report a reference to hazardous activities and exceptional risks. I would most earnestly submit to your Lordships that the recommendations of the report as regards this should not be implemented, for these reasons, which are totally different reasons from the reasons I have sought to put before your Lordships in relation to the objections to the no-fault scheme for road accidents.

The reasons why I suggest that the Chapter 31 recommendations should not be implemented are these, because they relate to the difficulties of definition. In the first place you have to modify the concept of the strict no-fault liability in order to relate it to the activity carried on when the injury was occasioned. This involves, first of all, hazardous employments; secondly, activities within hazardous employments. But it goes further than that, because you need then to have a further category which all but belies definition, which is the circumstances in which the activity is carried on.

May I illustrate. Deep sea fishing is a hazardous employment. It involves carrying on a certain activity on deck. The employee slips on a wet deck in a force eight gale. Is he to be compensated on the same basis as if this happened in flat calm? In Paragraph 1666 of this report the commission recognised these difficulties of definition, and I would earnestly submit to your Lordships that, however carefully the implementing statutes were to be drawn, they would give rise to endless litigation, the sort of spate of litigation that some of us remember which ensued under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. Therefore, with respect, my Lords, for these reasons on these two disparate aspects I would respectfully submit that the recommendations should not be implemented.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for allowing us to discuss this important matter today. We have been grateful to him before. We remember the debate he introduced on product liability, which is covered by this report. I shall never forget the closing words of his speech, when he said that never would he be able to forget, would never allow himself to forget, the picture of those thalidomide children. It is that pertinacity in regard to keeping all aspects of the Pearson Report alive that our admiration goes unstintingly to the noble Lord today.

I feel that anyone who is a practitioner in the law would regard litigation as being a lottery. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, described it as a forensic lottery. May I say that anybody who has been engaged in running-down cases would regard it in somewhat more extreme form, as almost an enterprise of Russian roulette? I say that advisedly because of the matters that have been spoken of in this debate in regard to the sheer difficulty years afterwards of getting the evidence together and relying upon it being accurate. Of course, there is the difficulty of the poor victim of the accident, who, as a rule, is not in a fit state to gather witnesses from around him. Usually the driver of the vehicle is in a rather better state to try to secure witnesses, or to forget the names and addresses of those he did gather together but who did not speak in a complimentary way about the manner in which he had driven. So I do not think anybody is going to quarrel with the idea that we ought to look, as indeed Pearson did, at the justification for keeping the system that we have had up till now, which goes back literally to the horse and carriage days. The pity is—and I know Lord Allen has said this that we are again debating this matter without any firm decision being taken, so far as I can see, nearly four years after Pearson has reported.

It is no quarrel with the report to say that the recommendations in regard to a no-fault scheme need not necessarily be followed merely because one disagrees with the present unsatisfactory state of running-down cases and the present state of the law. Indeed, I ought to make it clear to your Lordships that Pearson did not recommend doing away with tort. Pearson in fact recommends that tort should be kept alive. Indeed, in severe cases where sufficient damages would not be paid under the scheme the tort remedy is still available.

However, I pause to ask this. Quite apart from the expense, which is obviously a very material matter, is it really a proper scheme for us in justice to support wholeheartedly? It is all very well to sentimentalise—I can do that with all your Lordships, and do it very sincerely—with those who suffer injury through no fault of their own or through ordinary human error. But I wonder how your Lordships would really appreciate the justice of a scheme in the following circumstances—a scheme backed by taxation in one form or another, which means that every one of us is contributing to it. If a man who is normally in full possession of his senses becomes recklessly drunk and rolls across the road in front of a motor vehicle thereby causing himself extreme injury, is it right or is it just that out of this scheme that has been spoken of he should, at the expense of the state, get compensation for his loss of earnings and other things such as are mentioned in the report? I wonder?

It so happens that the noble Lord who preceded me did himself an injustice. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, whose speeches we are always delighted to listen to, gave us an alternative scheme which he said, and I say this obviously in all seriousness and with great respect, he owed to a group of Conservative lawyers. It was typical of him to pay tribute to the source of his inspiration. But in 1932 Lord Danesfort introduced a Bill called the Road Traffic (Compensation for Accidents) Bill which had this as its precise policy—namely, to reverse the burden of proof. That was the basis of that Bill. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that it received Government support, but with your Lordships usual independence it did not receive the support of the majority in Parliament. It was adumbrated in 1932. The Law Society, of which I am a very proud and privileged member, delivered, before this report came out, a memorandum—I am not sure whether they would hold the same view now—in which they suggested the very idea that the noble Lord was just talking to us about.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I would wholly accept that I do not know that in the 10 years that the committee has been working on this matter they borrowed ideas from the sources that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has mentioned, and others besides. I certainly would not on any political plane claim any pride from one party against another.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, obviously nobody is interested in who should have the credit for an idea: we are merely interested in the idea itself. I was not talking politically. I was merely saying that there must be some soundness in the idea because it has not just emerged from the 10 years' deliberation of a group of lawyers. It has in fact emerged from the Law Society in its own memorandum quite a little while ago before the Pearson Report, and, as I have said, I conjure up the memory of the brave Lord Danesfort who put his Bill before the House in 1932.

It is a fact that if we were to look at the principle of strict liability, which is the way that I would prefer to put it, and say that in regard to every motor vehicle accident the presumption is that the driver of the vehicle is responsible for the injuries sustained and the damage sustained by the victim; and we then say that quite obviously that strict liability can be altered in regard to a percentage from 100 to nil, then if the motorist manages to prove that the victim was in some way contributorily negligent we would get rid of the whole question of a number of cases in which you have to bring witnesses from all over the place; because quite obviously this is a pretty simple issue to decide and will only be taken up where quite clearly there is a case for showing that the pedestrian, the motor-cyclist or the pedal cyclist or whoever it was contributed to the blame for the accident. It was absolutely correctly said, and 1 entirely agreed with the noble Lord when he said it, that this would be a matter that could easily be dealt with by a very short piece of legislation. I agree with the noble Lord—and again as he knows this has been put forward previously—that a young child should be exempt from the question of contributory negligence. We have all been thinking of somewhere around the age of 12 as the noble Lord mentioned. I should like to pass from this field to the question of damages, and I do so very briefly.

I think that we were all very indebted to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for giving us some cheer and saying that some parts of the Pearson Report were going to find their way into a Bill before long. I feel that I must say the following as an English lawyer and I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor realised this while he was speaking. Most of the positive reforms that the noble and learned Lord mentioned are borrowed—and I say this with diffidence—from Scots law as it now stands. It is quite remarkable, and I find myself saying this with some diffidence and some jealousy, that very often when we look at Scots law we find that there is so much that we ourselves can borrow from it. I hope that it is a mutual transaction going backwards and forwards over the border. May it continue in the same amity that it always has done.

There were some things that I wanted to say about what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned in regard to the possibility of amending the law of damages in this context. Quite obviously I think that all of us would welcome the abolition of the causes of action that he mentioned: the loss of expectation of life as a separate entity in the claim; fatal accidents and the loss of services and the loss of consortium. The increase in the range of dependants that the noble and learned Lord mentioned is in fact, unless he is going to limit it in his Bill—I think he mentioned grandchildren and so on—directly borrowed from what is Scots law at this moment and so, indeed, is the introduction of an award for loss of society.

What I did not hear the noble and learned Lord mention, and I would be so grateful if he would have this at all events under consideration, is the recommendation in regard to disregard of benefits from the estate where at present our law is that when you look at the question of dependency you see what the dependent in fact receives by way of benefit from the estate of the deceased. It does seem a grave injustice. Scots law does not allow it and I would hope very much that that too would be a matter—

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I should like to reassure the noble Lord in this respect. I have a fairly full note of what at any rate I intended to say and what I thought I did say. Benefits from the estate which accrue to the dependants who make the claim will be left out of account in assessing damages and that, of course, will increase the award.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I only apologise for the fact that, although I was concentrating very hard on every word of his speech, I missed one valuable sentence. I am so glad that I have been put in receipt of this knowledge now, and I am grateful to him.

The only other matter I wish to raise is this. If we are really to treat reports of Royal Commissions, of the value of Pearson—a report, if I may say so, in regard to the question of no-fault schemes being inspired by the late Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, who regarded it as a matter of grave and urgent importance that this should be looked at urgently—in the way in which Pearson has been treated, then I quote what I believe has been said in this House before by others: it is a complete discouragement to everybody who give up of their time to serve on Royal Commissions.

In the past we have relied—I am sure that we shall have to rely in the future—on those public men of worth, skill and experience who are prepared to sit on these commissions and give of their time, energy, thought and expertise. They will not do it if they find that the result of their labours is purely and simply to see that now and again one of the members of the commission has to bring forward to Parliament the fact that the recommendations have been neglected, are not being acted upon or that no decision upon them is being taken.

Whatever else may be the result of this debate, I hope it will mean that, one way or the other, the question of no-fault schemes, and our law of tort in regard to negligence and in regard to road traffic cases, will he looked at definitively and a decision firmly made on policy. I hope that the contributions in this debate will help the Government make up their minds.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Chitnis

My Lords, like everybody else who has spoken this afternoon, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for giving us the opportunity to debate the report of this Royal Commission. But I must confess, like the last speaker, to a certain surprise that it should have been left to him, a Cross-Bencher, to bring this matter to the Floor of the House.

After all, it is nearly 10 years since the commission was set up and it is nearly four years since it reported. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, one would have expected a weighty and carefully considered report like this, prepared by such eminent prople, to have resulted in Government action by now, or, failing that, a debate or a discussion initiated by Government.

The delay and lack of interest would perhaps be excusable if we were dealing with an unimportant matter or one of very little interest to the general public. But neither is true, and in particular there seems to be evidence that a vast number of people are suffering under the present arrangements for attempting to obtain compensation to which they are entitled.

My reason for saying this is that just over two years ago there was a woman in Dorset, Mrs. Marilyn Salkeld, who was involved in a road accident in which she was seriously injured. As she began to recover she also began to understand the enormous difficulty of obtaining proper compensation, even though in her case fault was admitted by the other car driver and liability not denied by the opposing insurance company. She was immensely frustrated by this and, to her credit, realised that there must be many others in a similar situation. She therefore made her concern public and announced her intention of setting up an association which she called the National Association of Compensation Claimants. This was as recently as September 1981.

Up to the start of this year—in other words, in only three to four months—this association has received no fewer than 4,687 letters from victims of accidents complaining of the difficulties of obtaining proper compensation. One can fairly assume that this number must be only the tip of the iceberg. The association has not been enormously well publicised and I doubt whether any of your Lordships has ever heard of it before. As this will also be true of people outside, only a tiny fraction of those with a problem could have written in.

It is very interesting to see the common strand which runs through the letters in the association's files. Some of them are from people who are still uncompensated 10 years after their accident. Clearly, relying on the law of tort produces difficult problems for innocent people. They, of course—the victims of the accident have the onus of proving negligence, and, with the present unrealistic legal aid financial limits, many accident victims go uncompensated simply because they do not have the financial resources to enable them to fight through the courts. Further, many claimants appear to have gained the impression that some insurance companies seem to use delay as a tactic, because they calculate that the longer they take in effecting settlement, the more they may be able to beat down the claimant and the longer they will be able to hang on to their interest-earning money.

Nor, I am afraid I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, do solicitors escape unscathed. Many victims find that solicitors are unfamiliar with personal injury claims and that even those who do know about them talk about them in terms which the complainants find incomprehensible. There are numerous complaints of claims being handled in a dilatory fashion. Of course, what happens is that many claimants, particularly the older ones, just give up because they find it all too complicated. To introduce the principle of no-fault compensation would, on the face of it, eliminate their problems and make it so much easier for them.

But it may be that the sort of far-reaching reform which is suggested, or the other reforms which have been suggested by other noble Lords, would take a long time to implement, even if agreed. If that is so, those who are concerned with this report should look not only to the future but also to the present. Surely the Government, through the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and professional associations such as the British Insurance Association and the Law Society, should take account of the very obvious dissatisfaction and evidence of mishandling of claims, and attempt to improve matters even under the present system. I suspect that very few of your Lordships have had accidents of the kind about which we are talking today, but I guess that even if you were to have them, the chances are that you would be capable of working your way through the maze in which adequate compensation is the prize. But there are thousands of elderly people, less educated people, people less capable than your Lordships who find themselves caught up in this tangled web through no fault of their own and whose lives are wholly blighted as a result. I think that they are entitled to look to the Government and Parliament for help.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Drumalbyn

My Lords, I should like to join with all other noble Lords who have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for having given the House an opportunity to debate this subject. I do not altogether take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, who has just sat clown, that it should be somebody other than the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who should have introduced this debate long since.

The fact of the matter is that the whole subject is of immense complication. Indeed, there are very many subjects involved. The report is one of over 500 pages. Other countries are involved in discussions. But what the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has done so succinctly, with such precision and such economy of language, is to focus the attention of the House on one particular subject which he thinks—and I would agree with him—could be dealt with separately, and dealt with very soon.

We have heard from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that some of the aspects of damages are to be introduced quite soon—in fact, within a month or two. But I personally do not think that I can add very much to what the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has said, supplemented by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond; and I do not propose to make the speech that I was about to make because it would do no more than repeat what those noble Lords have already said. But I should like to comment on one or two what might be called rather peripheral points.

Attention has been drawn—I think it was by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones—to the point made in paragraph 998 of the report which says: Changes in the tort system alone would not be enough, since they could not ensure compensation for everyone injured by a motor vehicle", and then goes on: Provided that some means of financing a scheme without increasing direct public expenditure can be found, we think that the primary element of compensation for injuries caused by motor vehicles should be based on the no-fault principle". I think it is fair to say that the commission did find a means by which no extra burden of expenditure would be placed on the Exchequer. The system that they proposed was that the administration of the scheme should be in the hands of the Department of Health and Social Security, largely because the scheme would be in essence an extension of the industrial injuries scheme. But the Department of Health and Social Security would not have to pay for the scheme; they would administer it. As the report itself makes clear, what they had in mind was that the scheme should be funded through a levy of a penny on petrol prices, and that that money should be paid into the national insurance fund and should be simply, so to speak, laundered by the Department of Health and Social Security, who would pay it out. So I think that the proviso that the commission themselves made has been fully met in that matter.

Not everybody will be entirely happy about the scheme being run by the Civil Service. Indeed, at a time when the Government are seeking to reduce the numbers of civil servants, the Government may plead in aid that policy as a good reason for postponing dealing with this recommendation, or at any rate not accepting this part of the recommendations. But presumably they will be reducing the numbers in the Department of Health and Social Security, among other departments, and it would be quite possible to use some of those who are reduced in that department, or transferred from other departments, to do this work, and of course they would not be paid by the Government. They would still be civil servants, but the money would come not from taxation but from the petrol levy. I am really saying this to anticipate what my noble friend may try to aver from the Front Bench. I really do not think that that would be a good answer.

There is one point that I am not certain has been raised so far, and that is the alternative that was rather briefly mentioned in the commission's report. The alternative to no-fault insurance, no-fault compensation, was strict liability. The late Sir Graham Page introduced a Private Member's Bill in 1975 to impose strict liability backed by a form of compulsory insurance on motor users, and I suppose in the climate of those days it might have got through, given time. The proposals had the support, I might add, of the majority of the Bar Council. What the commission said about it was: Strict liability improves the victim's chances of obtaining compensation". But they considered that it would place an unfair financial burden on motorists.

They did not expand this view, but no doubt they felt that an innocent motorist would stand to lose his no-claim bonus and possibly pay a higher basic premium as well as—and this is quite an important point—incurring at least a slur on his reputation. I do not think that the extract that is given in the report from Justice's memorandum of evidence has been quoted yet, but it is worth quoting in this whole context. What Justice said in paragraph 988 was: Some …accidents will happen because the victim has not been quite careful enough for his own safety. Others will happen because someone else has not been quite careful enough for the safety of other people. Yet others will happen because someone has deliberately chosen to take an unwarranted risk. But many will happen despite the fact that everyone concerned has taken as much care as any reasonable person would, in the circumstances, have expected him to take. Not every accident is directly 'caused' by anyone's 'fault'. Most people would feel that it would be wrong to impose a strict liability on someone who is wholly guiltless in causing the accident. I would support entirely that the no-fault policy would be vastly superior to the strict liability one.

May I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench this question. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred to experience in other countries. Obviously the experience in those other countries was the experience up to just before the writing of the report, which is really quite a long time ago now. I wonder whether the noble Lord could give this House the experience that has occurred since then in other countries, and give us some indication of that, because it would be valuable to the House in making up their minds on this matter?

When we are talking of other countries, there is the question of accidents to visitors to this country, which I do not think has been mentioned yet. The recommendation of the commission, as I understood it, was that what the scheme is supposed to be covering is accidents taking place in this country. Therefore, it would cover accidents to visitors in this country, and it would enable those visitors, those injured people, when they return to their own country to go on receiving benefits although they were no longer in this country. But it would not cover accidents to British people while they are abroad. I do not know what my noble friend's view is on that matter, but it is something which is always likely to cause some controversy.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, proposes that we should make a start on no-fault compensation for injuries in motor vehicle accidents on the lines of the industrial injuries scheme. The immediately preceding section in the report deals with the industrial injuries scheme. I have perhaps a rather suspicious mind, but it seemed to me that one possible reason for postponing action on the no-fault scheme would be that it would be alleged that it would be necessary to amend the industrial injuries scheme before we got on to the no-fault scheme.

The connection between the two is of course close. The basic benefit would be the same, but there is really nothing in the amendments suggested to the industrial injuries scheme that would require to be made before the no-fault scheme for motor vehicle accidents was introduced. Therefore, I hope that this will not be alleged, because if and when the industrial injuries scheme is amended obviously it will be possible to amend the no-fault accident scheme as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made a valid point when he was talking about the entitlement of somebody who has contributed very considerably and, probably mainly, to an accident through his own misconduct.

Some members of the commission thought there should be an exclusion clause applicable to those who suffer injury through their own misconduct in the course of or leading up to the accident, and the suggestion was that the Secretary of State should be given discretion to intervene and withdraw or deny the benefit. But as I understood it, that was to be limited only to criminal acts. I had some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in thinking that that should go a little further and that misbehaviour which plainly was responsible for the accident should also possibly be taken into account, but I am not sure that I got the noble Lord right.

Lord Mishcon

The noble Lord got me completely right, my Lords, and I am obliged to him for mentioning the point. However, does he realise into what area he is now drifting if every time somebody thought that conduct which was irresponsible or wrong had to go to the Secretary of State before a decision could be reached? Are we not walking into the same multitude of disputes that we are trying to avoid?

Lord Drumalbyn

My Lords, I think I am correct in saying that in all these cases there will be, or should have been, a report to the police. Many matters in this sphere may come to the Secretary of State's department, but it does not necessarily follow that he need do more than look at the papers at the end and I should not have thought it would be a very great burden, but perhaps my noble friend Lord Bellwin has further information to quantify the number of cases that might arise.

I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long. What I—and I think this applies to most noble Lords, judging from the debate—would like to see is legislation in this field, and the sooner we have it the better. The objectives of that legislation should be to ensure that as high a proportion as possible of innocent victims of road accidents should receive compensation on a fair and intelligible basis, preferably in line with the industrial injuries scheme; secondly, that as high a proportion as possible of awards should go to the victims as distinct from administration; and thirdly, that the various schemes of help for victims—the National Health Service, the industrial injuries scheme, the tort system and the new no-fault scheme—should be dovetailed so as to avoid either gaps or overlapping. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, referred to the complementary nature he envisaged for the no-fault scheme. Several noble Lords have spoken as if they thought the new scheme would largely supplant rather than supplement the tort scheme, but I am sure that is not the intention. I warmly support the Motion and hope the Government will accept it.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, rightly says that the strict liability concept does not help very much here, may I ask him whether that is not because that concept is of the strict liability of a supplier of a defective product? Even if one presupposes that most road accidents are caused by defective vehicles, which probably is not true anyway, the plaintiff still has the formidable task of proving that it was a defect in a vehicle which caused the accident.

Lord Drumalbyn

I do not think that is the intention, my Lords. The report deals with defective products and we have already debated that matter in this House. But that is an entirely separate matter from road accidents and I think it better that we keep them separate.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Noel-Baker

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for his courage in moving a Motion which I regard as of the highest importance, and I support noble Lords who have urged that the Government should bring in an early Bill to carry through the reforms which the Pearson Report puts forward. I believe it is self-evidently true that the defects of the law of tort should be remedied and that a no-negligence compensation system should be introduced. I believe it is pre-eminently desirable that £41 million—or more if it be required—should be found to give proper compensation to the victims of road accidents.

I am not qualified to follow noble Lords in the legal arguments which they have deployed. Instead, I wish to draw attention, and perhaps widen the debate, to the horrifying significance of the information about road accidents which the Pearson Report gives us: 7,600 people killed on the roads every year and 400,000, a huge army, injured, 80,000 of them seriously injured. Let me try to put those figures into true perspective.

In 1979, British Rail had a serious accident. A sleeping car was, by error, locked at night. It caught fire and 11 passengers were burnt to death. The accident created a great stir in the public press, national and local, and the details were on radio and TV. It is still talked of today. It was the most serious accident, with the greatest loss of life, which British Rail had had for more than five years.

But in 1979, 1980, 1981 and in the first 19 days of 1982, 20 people have been killed every day in accidents on the roads, and on two days a week the number is 23. Those facts should fill every thinking man with indignant horror. They mean that accidents on the roads are by far our gravest social problem, graver than alcohol, tobacco, slums or prostitution. They cause a sum of economic loss to the nation and of human suffering to its citizens which no one can estimate.

The purpose of the Pearson Report was to help the victims of road accidents, to avoid injustice, to lighten the burden which falls upon them from death or mutilation. But incomparably the most important thing that can be done to help the victims of road accidents is to reduce the number of the accidents, and I believe that to that end the Government could do very much that they have not done. I speak from a knowledge which was detailed long ago.

During the war I had the privilege of being Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. In that capacity I was the chairman of a Ministry committee on road safety. It was a highly expert committee, with a representative of the motor manufacturers who became my friend and who desired as ardently as I did that our report should lead to practical results. As well as the representative of the motor manufacturers, there were representatives of the AA and the RAC, spokesmen for motor-cyclists and for pedestrians, a traffic expert from the GLC, and other people with intimate knowledge of the subject, including in particular two chief constables. One of the chief constables was from Lancashire and he had achieved very notable results in reducing the number of accidents on the roads in his area.

The committee sat at monthly intervals for four years, and in the end it produced what I regarded—it was not my work, it was the work of all the experts—as a masterly report, with between 160 and 170 proposals for separate measures which would reduce the death and mutilation on the roads. I want to refer to a few of those proposals. The first was that the Government should indulge in much greater public education about the danger of road accidents—consistent, thorough, sustained propaganda. The Services departments spend millions a year advertising for recruits for the armed forces. I believe that the Government should spend millions a year advertising to save the lives of the country's citizens, advertising in the national and local press, on the radio services, and on national and local TV. The secret of success in advertising is tedious repetition, saying the same thing again and again, until people are subconsciously aware of what is said.

I believe that the message to be advertised to all our citizens is not only one of caution, caution by the drivers, but much more it is to give the drivers a sense of their duty to consider the other users of the road. It is to teach the other users of the road that they must understand the problems of the driver. It is stated in the Pearson Report that a good driver makes nine mistakes every five minutes. What does a bad driver do?—and there are bad drivers. There is a small minority of drivers who consistently drive too fast, who care nothing for the other users of the road, and I hope that the Government will not be afraid of harassing such drivers. They deserve to be harassed. In fact, it is in their own interests that they should be harassed, for harassment is the only hope of bringing about improvement in their conduct.

Such propaganda, and the other measures that I shall propose, are in the interests of all drivers, good and bad. I should like to cite a personal example. My driving days were ended by a drunken young man who hit my car at 40 miles an hour as I was crossing the north side of Sloane Square from west to east. He was very drunk. My car was a total write-off. Had he been a split second earlier, he would probably have ended my days. The loss of my car was a serious misfortune, but for him the accident was a grave disaster. He spent the night in the police station, he was so drunk. His car lay in Sloane Square until the following day, when it was carted away by a lorry with a crane on it. The police never revealed to me what were the subsequent penalties that he endured.

To avoid such an experience is the major interest of every one who drives a car, and that is why I believe that what I put forward is in the true interests of motorists themselves. The advertising that I have suggested should be directed to the motorist, the motor-cyclist, the pedal cyclist, the pedestrian, and the parents of young children. It should be skilfully adapted to each of those groups. It should, I believe, be supplemented by much more stringent conditions for the granting of licences to those who wish to drive.

In particular, the candidate for a licence to drive should undergo a course of serious education in the ethics of road driving. I believe that the Government should spend a lot of money making an elaborate and a moving film depicting a young man who, by dangerous driving, under the influence of drink or otherwise, kills a child. The film should show the agony of the parents and the guilt of the young man which he will carry with him through his life to his grave. It should make a deep impression on every candidate who wants to drive.

I believe that the Government should try to deal with the major causes of road accidents. Drunkenness, of which I have spoken, is perhaps the most lamentable of them all. Far too large a proportion of fatal accidents, in particular those that occur after 10 p.m., are due to drunken driving. Propaganda here can help. It can give the driver a proper sense of his guilt. It can make him understand that he is guilty of a crime, that he is quite as much a murderer as a bandit who plans a killing, who stalks his victim, and then does him in. He is quite as much a murderer because when he drinks he knows that it may make him drive dangerously. Yet he drinks. Then he goes out and the tragedy occurs.

But I believe that more than propaganda is required. Withdrawal of a driving licence, not for six months but for life, would have a great effect. I believe there should also be the imposition by the courts of long terms of imprisonment for dangerous driving which leads to needless death. In general, I do not believe in punishment as a deterrent to misdemeanor, but I believe a few sentences of 10 or 15 years' imprisonment for drivers would produce a magical effect on those who now drink and drive.

Another major cause of road accidents is vehicle defect. I have no recent figures or evidence, but an illustration from long ago, when I understood the subject extremely well, will illustrate my point. In my last year as a Member of another place the chief constable of my constituency, Derby, carried out a check on the lorries which passed through the city. He found that 60 per cent. of them had some defect, and that 25 per cent. were so defective that he would not allow the drivers to proceed upon their journeys until they had been to a garage for repairs. One in every four lorries was in such a dangerous condition that it might easily produce a fatal mistake.

The ministerial wartime committee of which I have spoken proposed a bold and comprehensive remedy for this condition—a remedy which was then in working order in a number of the states of the United States of America. Those stages had special publicly-owned garages with tools and equipment which enabled them to test the safety of a vehicle in three minutes—steering, brakes, clutch and all the rest. The driver was obliged to take in his vehicle once a quarter, four times a year, to have a test. He paid 50 cents, then two shillings, and in three minutes he could safely drive away. I believe that such a system here would amply repay the cost. I do not go further in recalling the measures which we proposed in our wartime report, but I believe the Government could do worse than take out that report and consider the measures one by one.

The Pearson Report deals with the problem of accidents on the roads, of death and mutilation, in terms of monetary compensation, but the real cost of a road accident to the victim is not measured in terms of cash. It is measured in terms of a ruined life, in grief and human suffering, and in family tragedy. I have had friends whose wives were killed by careless young men and whose whole existence was disrupted; whose young children, rendered motherless, suffered what they could not bear to see. I believe that it is in terms of human suffering and family tragedy that the Government should think about this problem, and I hope they will use the opportunity of this debate to make the decision that they will in fact take drastic measures to reduce the grave scandal of death and mutilation on our roads.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, himself a distinguished member of the Pearson Royal Commission, on having made this debate possible today; and I join in the admiration of the lucid way in which he introduced it. I myself see much in favour of the proposal to introduce a no-fault compensation scheme, but I also see some drawbacks in the particular proposal in the commission's report. Some of these have been mentioned by previous speakers, so I shall merely touch on one or two later. But I am seeking to take part in this debate because I strongly support the conclusion of the commission, on page 367 of the report, in its Summary of conclusions, that considerable simplification of the highly complicated social security system is desirable". I welcome the consideration of proposals for reform as a further step towards equality among severely disabled people. I propose to address my remarks to the effects of such proposals on disablement in our community. Noble Lords will know of my role during the recent International Year of Disabled People. Compensation, services and support at present depend largely on the cause of disability. In many cases disablement is a result of road accidents. Under the present system of civil liability in tort (or, in Scotland, delict) compensation is normally paid only when it is proved that someone is at fault, and then it is usually the insurers who make the payment.

I believe we should consider all this in a wider context. There are other disabled people whose disability comes from other causes. What they receive in money or in kind depends on the cause; for example, war disablement, industrial injury or, in recent years, criminal injury compensation and vaccine damage compensation. These last two are small in comparison with the other schemes, and are designed for special circumstances. There are many accidents in the home, as the report indicates. They are not even within the scope of the Royal Commission report. Then, disablement is also caused by illness—for example, multiple sclerosis—or people are disabled from birth.

For these categories there was before 1970 no provision in the national insurance system. Non-contributory benefits, however, have been introduced since 1970. Before that, very few of the categories I have just mentioned of severely disabled people could qualify for financial help other than supplementary benefit or its predecessor, national assistance—and they, of course, were subject to a test of means. The reason for this, your Lordships will recall, was that the national insurance system introduced after the war worked on the principle of compensation for the absence or loss of employment. The essence of it was employment. Someone who had been severely disabled from birth or early youth did not qualify on a contractual basis under the national insurance scheme and did not enter the scheme. That is changing. Much has been done in the last 10 years.

May I illustrate the position as it was in 1970 by giving four examples. These are four men, all with virtually the same disability; all paralysed but having the limited use of one arm. All are living at home but unable to do normal jobs. The first man was disabled in the war and was receiving a 100 per cent. disability pension, the amount of which varies with the rank when disabled. There are also special medical and transport arrangements for that category. The second man was injured at work and received a special industrial injuries pension under the industrial injuries scheme. The third was disabled by a road accident which was determined by a court to have been somebody's fault. He, therefore, received compensation. The fourth was disabled as a child after an accident which was officially nobody's fault. For him, there was no compensation, pension or benefit for his disability. These are simple illustrations. Your Lordships will be able to imagine other categories of disabled persons also.

For about 20 years after the war, the war disabled received priority for reasons which are easily understandable. It was from the mid-1960s that other categories of disabled were brought to the attention of Parliament and changes were made. It was in the 1970s that the process started of extending benefits to other severely disabled people. Examples of non-contributory benefits that were brought in in the 1970s are the invalidity pension (which is about half the value of the contributory invalidity pension); the same pension for married women—this is for the disabled housewife; because most wives did not, and still do not insure separately from their husbands and therefore if a housewife had an illness which caused her to be severely handicapped she did not have any special provision. There is the attendance allowance (which is to cover another, able-bodied person performing nursing services in the home for a disabled person); and the mobility allowance as regards transport.

These are a few of the non-contributory benefits which have been introduced to meet gaps in the system. There are conditions applying to each, including medical tests where appropriate. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pearson Commission has pointed out that the largest single source of compensation for injury and bereavement is the social security system. This is as regards both money payments and services and facilities in kind. Their suggestion is that the system of tort (or delict in Scotland) should be directly related to their suggested scheme for no-fault compensation. In this way double compensation would be avoided; and I should like to emphasise that the commission has suggested that the two should both continue, because some speeches today may have given the impression that the commission suggested that no-fault compensation should replace tort.

I believe that the social security system now has become so complicated that simplification is necessary —and the new benefits have been partially the cause of this. To many the whole system has now become so complicated and seems so irrational owing to the miscellaneous conditions attaching to social security benefits, including those unrelated to disability for which many disabled people hope also to qualify.

Some of the gaps which have existed in our social security system have been filled or partially filled by the piecemeal introduction during the last 10 years of new forms of financial help; and I have given some as examples. The resulting complex web of pensions and allowances needs thorough rationalisation and simplification. In this I agree with the Royal Commission's Report.

The Government have made clear that they are considering the concept of a general disablement benefit which would not depend on the cause of the impairment or on national insurance contributory status. That may be on the distant horizon. Nonetheless, the Government have indicated that that is their aim. That is an aim which many voluntary organisations have been advocating. I myself can see many difficulties on the way. The present Government have also indicated the distant aim of bringing in a tax credit system. A Green Paper on the subject was published eight years ago. This again may be a distant prospect, but I ask my noble friend to encourage the Government to take steps towards rationalisation with an eventual framework in mind, perhaps a tax credit scheme, perhaps something that they have decided would be better. This may be 10 years or 20 years off but we should not close the option of such a system while we make step-by-step reforms to parts of the social security system.

I advocate this because it would mean a great reduction in bureaucracy. It would mean reducing the profusion of payments in both directions between individuals and the public purse which exists at present.

Regarding the financing of a no-fault compensation scheme, I do not have time to comment on the suggestion that it should be done from a levy on petrol. I am not persuaded of that, but I understand the reasons for it. Regarding the criticisms made about costs of such a scheme, I would say that if this were done as part of a general reform, the amount saved in cutting out bureaucracy would probably be much greater than the cost of any additional administration that had to be paid for in a no-fault scheme. I was impressed by the figure which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, gave: that 85 per cent. of the money received in compensation under the tort system went on legal fees, expenses and other administration.

I think there may be other ways of achieving a scheme of the kind which the commission has in mind and some of these have been suggested today. I am not competent to comment upon them. I am not legally qualified, nor have I the experience of cases or courts. I should like to say that I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to Scots law and had clearly taken the trouble to go into the provisions there. I hope that the Government will seriously consider reform whether on the basis of a no-fault compensation scheme or by other means. The aim, I suggest, should be to move towards equality of treatment for severely disabled people depending upon their condition—that is to say, their state of mobility or their dependence upon other people or upon special equipment—and not simply upon the cause of their disability such as war, illness or different kinds of accident.

6.9 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I join in the thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for opening the debate on this massive and important report. I hope that he feels gratified by the large number of very informative speeches that have been made by noble Lords. It is my intention to concentrate mainly on the proposal for the no-fault road scheme. I must say that I was concerned—and other noble Lords may be concerned—that the commission was inhibited by the terms of reference that were given to it. The commission made clear in the opening paragraph of the introduction that it was confined to consider the position of five categories only; and in respect of the 3 million injuries resulting in death or four or more days' incapacity each year, some 1.4 million or 45 per cent. of all those injured at the moment, most get no compensation. About 1 million of these cases are outside the terms of reference. That is a very important figure which I hope we shall keep in mind.

As the commission state in paragraph 3 of the introduction, this did not permit them to give consideration to a comprehensive scheme dealing with all injuries, still less a universal scheme to cover all capacities. I was very pleased to note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in this connection. I was also pleased that the commission did not feel constrained by its terms of reference in the consideration that it gave to the special solution for severely handicapped children and bringing in appropriate recommendations. The terms of reference did not include that, but they were not constrained by that. Most noble Lords will be grateful that they considered that matter.

I regard this restriction of the terms of reference as most unfortunate. As my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones said, my own party have still not made a final decision on the recommendations of the Pearson Report. However, we should be most unhappy if the adoption of a separate scheme for road injuries, as proposed by the commission, should inhibit the introduction of a comprehensive scheme for all disabled persons, which we regard as so essential. In 1968 the Disablement Income Group and a number of other organisations expressed the view that all disabled people should be covered by a scheme, whether they are born disabled or disabled as a result of accidents, either at home or at work. We should be very unhappy if the introduction of a partial scheme now inhibited the possible introduction of a fully comprehensive scheme.

The commission made out a very strong case concerning those who suffer injuries from motor accidents and are at present left out of compensation for various reasons. A number of noble Lords have added details and facts. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, introduced figures in his speech which show the size of the problem. The commission point out that, after excluding those who are injured while at work, there are still nearly 300,000 persons who suffer injuries from the road who are not covered at the present moment. The commission emphasise that road injury cannot be avoided by anyone who enjoys normal mobility and makes the point that one quarter of those involved in injuries from road accidents—and, one third of those who are killed—are pedestrians. Children and elderly pedestrians are particularly vulnerable. We must keep these matters in mind. Another piece of information is that road injuries are more likely than most other accidental injuries to be severe. I noted from the commission's own personal injury survey—and they are to be congratulated on conducting a personal survey of this kind—that injuries from road accidents cause a longer than average incapacity for work.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and others joined in the general criticism by the commission of the reliance on the present system of tort. I will not go into those details. It seems from the speeches that most noble Lords were in general agreement with that criticism. My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones mentioned the costs of administering the present tort system. In addition to the point made that what are called operating costs are about 85 per cent. of the value of compensation payments, it was put another way: that the operating costs are 45 per cent. of the combined total of compensation payments and operating costs.

Despite these facts, is this sufficient justification for singling out some 300,000 persons for special attention but leaving 1 million persons who suffer from injuries out of consideration altogether because they were excluded from the terms of reference given to the Royal Commission? The commission rejected, as has been said, the view put forward by some witnesses that there should be strict liability for motor injuries. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, were very helpful in this direction, as were the examples given by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. I share the view of the commission that this would place an unfair financial burden on motorists, and also share the view of the two motoring organisations, who say that this would impose heavy burdens and penalise the innocent driver. In our anxiety to do something about road accidents, we should not find ourselves penalising innocent individuals.

The commission support the continuation of tort despite their proposal for the special road scheme. For myself, I support that view and I note that the two motoring organisations, the AA and the RAC, also support that line. I must again emphasise, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, that, although the Labour Party have not yet considered all the implications of the Pearson Report, we believe that it is absolutely essential that there should be a comprehensive scheme for all disabled persons. We may have to progress with a phased programme in that direction, but it is the aim.

A number of noble Lords indicated today that they support the commission's proposals for a no-fault injuries scheme. Other noble Lords may be inclined to support it because from the commission's proposals there will be no burden whatever falling upon the Exchequer. So far as I can recall, no noble Lord dealt in detail with the actual scheme. I do not want to be unfair to the commission or be ultra-critical of their plans, but there are some points that I wish to make generally on the main no-fault scheme if it should be considered desirable to proceed with it.

The commission considered quite a number of alternatives but eventually came down in favour of the cost of being met solely by the owners or drivers of motor vehicles. It suggested that this should be initially by a 1p per gallon levy. As has been mentioned, this figure may be out of date now because of the difference of prices. The commission also recommend that injuries involving motor vehicles sustained on the way to work or from work should in future be included in the industrial injuries scheme. This is a proposal which I am happy to say we support.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, outlined that sickness benefit for those at work injured in road accidents is at present met from the National Insurance Fund. This totals approximately £36 million a year. The commission propose that in future this should be met by the proposed no-fault road scheme. This means transferring a charge to the motorist which is at present borne by all employers and all employees, with a contribution from the Exchequer.

The costs of the no-fault scheme were given as being £64 million after five years and £90 million after 40 years for the basic scheme and costs of administration. It is also explained by the commission that if in addition to this all the benefits at present paid in connection with road accidents from the National Insurance Fund were transferred to the no-fault road scheme—which is what is proposed—the costs would then be £90 million after five years and £125 million after 40 years. In other words, the commission's proposal would already take the penny per gallon of levy, which may itself be out of date, 40 per cent. above. Therefore I think we have already seen there can be a substantial increase in the levy by that proposal. I would ask, if a no-fault scheme is considered desirable—and this would apply where there are no legal responsibilities on motorists—is it equitable that the motorists should be the only ones called upon to pay the cost of the scheme, and also to pay some of the costs at present borne by the national insurance fund? A number of noble Lords seemed to be putting similar views on that matter.

The answer by the commission is that although there may be a case for contributions to be made from general taxation on the grounds of community responsibility, they see no logical justification—those were their approximate words—for imposing on a special group, that is the employers and employees, the cost of injuries caused by another special group, the motorists. That ignores the fact that in many cases, as the commission explains, the motorist is not at all to blame for the injury and has no legal responsibility except that he happens to have a motor-car. Far be it from me, as a layman, to criticise the legal profession, and I know it is suggested that most members of the Bar Council favour this type of scheme, but one could take this argument to such an extent that all sorts of things could be charged to individuals who happen to possess certain things or to pursue their lives in a certain direction.

This seems even more to reinforce the need for a comprehensive scheme to take in all categories of the disabled; and I should like to emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that it is important, in any scheme dealing with the disabled and those with disabilities, that we should consider benefits from the point of view of the effects of the disability and not from the causes. I have not read the whole of the report but I have read the 18 chapters which apply to the position I am dealing with, and it seems to me that the commission are dealing with this matter from the causes of disability rather than the effects.

Lord Drumalbyn

My Lords, may I intervene? If the scheme follows the industrial injuries scheme, surely that is not so, because that scheme is related to the effects?

Lord Underhill

My Lords, if we are dealing with the effects, then of course we would be looking at a comprehensive scheme, and that is what I am talking about. Despite the intention of the commission to place the whole cost of such a scheme on motorists, we find in Chapter 5, and also very helpfully set out in detail in Annex 4, details of a number of non-contributory benefits which have been introduced in the last decade. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, outlined some of those and therefore I shall not repeat them.

The commission also pointed out a number of other departures from the principle of contribution and where payments are made from general taxation. This, of course, is in line with what we have been repeatedly told from the Government Front Bench in various debates last year—that no longer can benefits be related to contributions. That no longer applies. I recognise that strict adherence to the contribution principle does exclude a number of special groups.

My last point concerns a levy on petrol. We may call it a levy but it is in effect a tax, and it entails the acceptance of the principle of hypothecation. The Treasury and successive Governments have refused to hypothecate any tax or part of a tax for any particular purpose, and that is what would be done if this charge is put on the motorists. This is the argument that successive Governments have used against the motoring and road haulage bodies who have tried to claim that a huge surplus occurs from the amount they pay in motor tax which is not spent on road maintenance and construction. It is always argued that this is a tax to general revenue and is not to be earmarked for any particular purpose. Yet in this one case this is being proposed, because a levy, in my view, is a tax. It is not only wrong in principle but it could be the thin end of the wedge and could lead to other similar things. Therefore, in conclusion, I believe that the commission are to be thanked for an immense and valuable task, but I think they were constrained by the terms of reference. My personal view is that any no-fault scheme that is to be introduced should not be made the sole responsibility of motorists, but should be met by the general community. I should like to express concern that any partial scheme, if it would inhibit a general comprehensive scheme for the disabled, is one that should be looked at with great care.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, may I begin by saying that I, too, endorse what has been said by others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for bringing forward this matter today. We do indeed owe him a debt of gratitude for that. May I also thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for his important and helpful contribution. I am very grateful to him.

It is fitting, so soon after the conclusion of a year in which special attention has been focused on the needs of disabled people, that we should have the opportunity to address our minds to the report of the Pearson Commission, which had its origins in the thalidomide problems. Some measure of the breadth of the field of consideration, and the extent of the commission's painstaking research, can be gauged from the list of their 188 recommendations. Many concern fundamental and far-reaching issues, which are still under consideration by the Government. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has explained the position in relation to those recommendations which fall within his responsibility.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, will forgive me if I do not dwell tonight on the road safety issues which he raised. These are important points which 1 know my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will wish to consider, but this evening in response to the debate I would like to concentrate on the recommendations on compensation for the victims of road accidents. In doing so, may I remind noble Lords that the discussion is not about the construction of a scheme to provide compensation where none is available at present. It is about the provision of additional benefits, on top of existing rights to sue for damages, on the basis of a driver's negligence; and on top of any entitlement to the benefits provided under the social security schemes.

As the commission pointed out, preferential, no-fault benefits are already available for two categories of injured persons—those injured at work, and those injured while serving in the Forces.Pearson recommended that the same benefits should be available for industrial and for road injuries. The analogy with the industrial injuries scheme is apt. Both types of injury can be related to a readily indentifiable incident. There is therefore much common ground

As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, our proposals for the reform of the industrial injuries scheme were published in a White Paper last November. This scheme's most important benefit is disablement benefits. It is based on the assessment of the disablement which results from a loss of faculty caused by an industrial accident or disease. It has no counterpart in the main national insurance scheme, and can be paid in addition to the benefits of that scheme, just as it can he paid in addition to wages or salary. As noble Lords well know, and as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, reminded us, there are other, everyday risks in life, which can cause accidents and lead to disablement. There are accidents in the home, which are far greater in number than those on the road, and those occurring in sporting or leisure pursuits.

Any extension of preferential benefits to one category must inevitably lead to questions. For example, why is provision made for one group of injured people, and not for others? Why should the cause of disablement determine how much benefit is payable? Is not the loss of a finger, for example, just as disabling, in itself whether it is caused by an accident at work, on the road or at home? These are the very points emphasised by the organisations who represent the interests of the disabled.

In 1980, the Government published a discussion document, following a comprehensive review of the industrial injuries scheme prompted by the Pearson Report, and sought views and comments on how the scheme could be improved. A foreword explained that the lack of available resources, prevents any improvements, unless they are achieved by offsetting changes elsewhere in the scheme. In the majority of the responses from organisations and individuals to the Government's invitation to comment on the options for change presented in the discussion document there were two distinctive threads. One supported the view that preferential benefits should not be given where there is already a national insurance benefit which compensates for a similar, but non-industrial, contingency. The other pressed the Government to redirect the scheme's resources from minor disabilities towards the seriously disabled.

I have already mentioned the White Paper on the reform of the industrial injuries scheme, which flowed from this consultative period. In Chapter 1, there is a summary of the reactions to the discussion document, containing quotations from some of the respondents. One is from the Disability Alliance. It was, of course, concerned with the preferential benefits of the industrial injuries scheme, but it is just as relevant to the whole concept of preferential benefits. I quote: the distribution of preferential compensation through the industrial injuries scheme, on the basis of place and cause of disability, when the majority of people having the burden of severe disablement in our society are excluded, offends principles of social justice". Pearson argued that the proposed road injuries scheme would provide compensation for all people injured by motor vehicles, compared with the 25 per cent. who now receive tort compensation. It would also eliminate the element of chance which applies to such actions, particularly in the case of road accidents, but it could provide no benefit for past cases. It should provide speedier compensation, and be very much less expensive to administer. The levy on petrol, which as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, and others reminded us, was to pay for the scheme, would ensure that the cost of compensation would fall on those who cause the injuries—that is, the motoring public. Adding to the objections to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred, I would submit that the special levy would not be sensible. It would quickly become lost in the much larger motor fuel duty, and annual increases would have to be measured in hundredths of a penny per gallon. If desired, the scheme could be financed notionally from motor fuel and other duties, in the same way as other public costs caused by motorists.

But whether financed by levy or not, the scheme would increase public expenditure. I regret that I do not have available an up-to-date figure as to the public expenditure cost of the Pearson proposals, but it is clear enough that it would be considerable. Pearson recommended that commuting accidents should be covered by the industrial injuries scheme. The White Paper on the reform of that scheme has rejected that proposal. If those accidents were included in a road traffic scheme, public expenditure costs would increase still more. Staff costs have been estimated to he of the order of 1,000—including 200 doctors. This, in itself, would be a source of great difficulty, not least at a time when the Government are trying to reduce the size of the Civil Service.

A programme of consultation with outside bodies on the road traffic scheme has been completed. The TUC, TGWU, Police Federation, Cycling Council, Pedestrians' Association, British Road Passenger Transport Confederation, Freight Transport Association and Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders all support the scheme. But bodies representing the disabled, the motoring associations, the British Motorcyclists' Federation, and the Road Haulage Association, are opposed—the organisations for the disabled pressing strongly for priority for general relief for the severely disabled.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, in a most interesting speech, referred among other things to alternatives to the Pearson scheme. One alternative would be to change the law of liability for injuries resulting from road accidents, so as to enable more people to obtain compensation, and to provide that the extra cost should fall on insurance premiums. But this approach would be counter to the Royal Commission's fundamental strategy of shifting the burden of compensation from the tort system to the state. It would increase insurance premiums, and, therefore, costs all round, and would be opposed by the motoring public. These were, of course, points made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, with which I agree.

All contributors to the debate today have expressed their concern for the welfare of all disabled people, whatever the cause of their disablement. It is a concern which Her Majesty's Government fully share. Our aim is, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, to provide a coherent benefit system to help all disabled people. We will take into full account the many thoughtful ideas which noble Lords have put forward today, but I must frankly say that the achievement of the Government's aims cannot disregard the availability of the necessary resources. I am also bound to say that, subject to a thorough reading of what has been said in the debate today, it is not clear to the Government that the attainment of these aims would be helped by introducing a further preferential, no-fault benefit aimed at a special section of the public on whatever basis it was financed.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, referred to the offsetting of social security benefits against damages awards. Pearson recommended that there should be an offset, so that a double benefit should not be paid for a single accident. In the White Paper on the reform of the industrial injuries scheme, which has been mentioned, the Government have announced their intention to amend the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948, so that the full offset proposed by Pearson should operate, instead of the partial offset which has obtained since 1948. This was not, however, a topic which was mentioned in the discussion document which led up to the White Paper, so the Government have asked for public comments on that proposal by 31st March.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to Pearson's recommendation that the social security scheme should be simplified. I gladly tell him that the Government entirely agree. The White Paper, which I have already mentioned, proposes to remove those industrial injuries benefits which duplicate others and the result will be three benefits instead of the present eight. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn asked whether we have more up-to-date information about foreign schemes. I am informed that at the present time we do not, but I should want to look into that point and, indeed, to answer one or two other specific questions which he put to me, about which I want to write to him.

As has been said by every speaker today, the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has rendered an important service by initiating this debate. I assure him that his ever-thoughtful comments, and those of other noble Lords who have contributed to a most interesting discussion, will be carefully studied by Her Majesty's Government in their efforts to ensure that scarce resources are used to the best effect for the benefit of disabled people. The Government are seized of both the importance and the urgency of the matter. What my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said surely indicated that and I gladly confirm it.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he would be kind enough to address himself to the abundant evidence which the Pearson Commission had, that the present state of the law in regard to road accidents is unsatisfactory? Is it the Government's conclusion that all that evidence should be ignored to the extent that the law is to remain the same?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, should deduce from what I have said that that is the Government's attitude. As I have tried to indicate, apparently not successfully to the noble Lord, we are concerned about all aspects of the Pearson Report. Because we do not at the moment agree with everything that is contained within it, since we find that it is not possible immediately to deal with all aspects of it, this does not mean that the Government disagree with the report. Should there be any particular point relating to the matter which the noble Lord has raised which we ought to consider further then, as with all the other observations which have been made, I gladly confirm that we shall study it very carefully.

Lord Noel-Baker

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him two questions. He spoke of the increase in public expenditure. Does the noble Lord appreciate, with the intensity which it deserves, the fact that public expenditure would put right what is now a very grave social injustice to people who suffer great hardship? Secondly, does the noble Lord realise that the outstandingly important financial fact is that road accidents are reliably estimated to cost the nation not less than £1,000 million a year and that the reduction of that enormous sum should be a prime objective of Government policy?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if by taking any action on the Pearson Report or, for that matter, on any other report one could reduce road accidents in the way that the noble Lord and everybody else would like, that would be another matter. I can only say to the noble Lord that we appreciate the importance of action, but always there are those who have to take decisions as to drawing balances, and at present it is the Government who have to take those decisions.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a few moments. It has been an interesting debate. At least we have had some reaction from the Government, which we are very glad to hear. I am not sure that I have taken in everything that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said. He did go at quite a rate. I look forward to reading in Hansard both his speech and the other speeches which have been made. I gained the impression that in some respects the noble Lord's officials had not quite understood what the commission was after. This must be our own fault in drafting. If, however, there is any help which I or any of my colleagues on the commission can give to the noble Lord's officials, they have only to ask.

As has been pointed out, there are a number of aspects of the report upon which we have had hardly time to touch. May I mention a small point on the figures. Those which I have used and those which other noble Lords have used regarding accidents have differed. I have used Great Britain figures. Other noble Lords have, I think, used United Kingdom figures. The 45 per cent. of seriously injured cases to which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, referred where compensation was forthcoming, as shown by an Oxford study, is in our view a little high. It depends on how you define what is meant by "seriously injured".

I am not going to comment on all the points which have been raised. We looked with great care at reversal of burden of proof and strict liability and came to the conclusions set out in the report. I heard with no surprise what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, had to say on public expenditure, but some of us are innocent enough to think that the right thing to do is to look at the demands on the national economy as a whole. If by a small addition to the public sector you save a lot of commitments elsewhere, then it is worth thinking about.

Naturally, I am very conscious of the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, devoted such attention: that restrictions were placed upon our terms of reference and that we do not want to go in for anything which will prejudice the position of the disabled as a whole. But one has to be very careful not to let the best be the enemy of the good. Although it was outside our terms of reference, we were certainly very conscious of that question when we made our recommendations. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on getting better information out of the motoring organisations than I have been able to get. The correspondence which I had with the AA in particular made me wonder whether they had really hoisted in what the report was about. Their comment that putting a bit of a burden on petrol means that the good driver is subsidising the bad driver really makes one wonder how they think that insurance premiums are calculated. However, this is not the moment to pursue that point further.

I heard with great interest what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about the decisions of Government concerning various aspects of assessing damages, and in particular learnt of those which the Government are proposing to adopt and those which they are still thinking about. I was personally sorry, but not a bit surprised, to learn that they had rejected the idea of payment by periodical payments. We on the commission heard a great deal about people preferring lump sums. One can understand this. But it also seemed to us that this was not doing what tort expects one to do. Before the accident the individuals did not have lump sums. They had a regular income. We thought the right course was to ensure that after the accident they continued to have a regular income. As realisation of the value of periodical payments comes to be appreciated in this inflationary world, opinion will slowly change, but I know that it is going to take a long time.

There has been very general agreement that the present position is not satisfactory, that there are gaps to be filled and that there are needs to be met. The rather startling information which my noble friend Lord Chitnis produced underlines that point very well. I said right at the beginning that we were all very conscious that this was an extremely difficult and complicated matter, that there were various objections and difficulties to be got over and that we may well not have got it all right. I am sure that we did not. However, having endured five years of evidence-taking and discussion, I confess that I came to the same view and still hold to the same view which was reached, after all, by two judges, two barristers and two solicitors on the commission: that something on the lines of what we were proposing is more fitting to the needs which have been established than the system which we have at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.