Previous Section Home Page

Column 632

Smith)--because, like them, I felt that the suggestion that either organisation was some kind of travel club should be countered head-on.

Over the years we have become used to the media idea that any attempt on the part of Members of Parliament to become better informed, to maintain a dialogue and to be in touch with Parliaments around the world is a joyride. Of course it has many pleasurable aspects, but that description is a travesty of the work that is actually done. The IPU deals with 112 countries, and must maintain relationships with those countries through the use of some 10 working languages in addition to English and French, the official languages of the IPU. It is a highly sophisticated organisation, involving parliamentarians from both Houses who must be well briefed. Both organisations are well served by small but skilled secretariats. We are especially conscious that, particularly in our conference work in distant places, we draw considerably on the contribution of the learned Clerks. Of additional significance to the IPU is the work that they do twice a year, in parallel with us, at the conference of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament. Both learned Clerks and parliamentarians play their part in our bilateral relations with those 112 countries, and have the opportunity to exchange notes.

The "travel club" idea is nonsense. That is clear when we consider the implications of the 1984 visit of Mr. Gorbachev, as he then was, to the United Kingdom, and appreciate the seriousness with which other countries have approached the IPU's work over many years. That applies particularly to the Third world and eastern Europe. When Mr. Gorbachev came to this country in 1984--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. The debate is becoming very wide. I am waiting for the hon. Gentleman to tell us why the words in the Lords amendment should be inserted in the Bill. So far, he has not done so.

Mr. Marshall : As always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I bow to any ruling that you may make. I am simply trying to demonstrate the special nature of the two organisations, and to explain why they should be singled out for recognition and public accountability.

Part of the grant in aid mechanism in the Bill is devoted to expenditures that would allow, for example, a Russian delegation to visit this country in response to an invitation such as that tendered in 1984. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your usual benevolence, will entirely understand why I single out that visit. It was a fascinating example of a parliamentary organisation's establishing links which, in this instance, have led to a continuing dialogue as a result of the subsequent elevation of Mr. Gorbachev to higher things.

In 1986, funding of the kind that will be allowed in future under the Bill was provided to allow a delegation from the British Parliament to visit the Soviet Union, led by my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). That ability to vary the compositions of delegation reflects another way in which the grant in aid provision will bring together not only Parliament but Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. The Bill's grant in aid provision rightly reflects Parliament's willingness to assist the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen of the day to play an active role.

Column 633

That is why I paid particular tribute earlier to the hon. Member for Swansea, East, who serves on the executives of both organisations and who, despite his onerous responsibilities as an Opposition Front Bencher, clearly sees his IPU duties as an important part of his work. We welcome that.

I shall touch briefly on one or two other aspects of the IPU's other work. There has been recent mention of the proposed British-Irish parliamentary body, about which a more formal announcement will, we hope, be made shortly. It will consolidate our continuing and long-standing dialogues, which take the form of exchange visits and conferences with our Irish parliamentary colleagues. For 23 years, the IPU's dialogue with the Guatemalan Parliament was Britain's only link with that country. My hon. Friend the Minister nods, because on other occasions he has been good enough to recognise that maintaining links by the public funding of parliamentarians has in a number of cases led directly to the restoration of what might be called normal international relations. At the IPU's centenary conference in September there will not only be debates about problems affecting the peaceful use of space, about world food, population and indebtedness but an opportunity for bilateral dialogues with many countries in addition to the conference proceedings themselves. In that connection, those of us who were responsible for bringing the People's Republic of China into the IPU will recognise the opportunity that that conference will provide for particularly timely and significant discussions with Chinese parliamentarians.

One could cite many other examples of the work that is in hand and which is continuing. The Argentinian dialogue has been maintained when, for various reasons, the Government have been unable to continue it themselves. It can fairly be said that the changes to the Bill will highlight the determination of both bodies to continue a process that has developed over many years. In the case of the IPU, I suggest that it is not unreasonable to back President Gorbachev's arguments in his book "Perestroika", to the effect that a factor in international diplomacy is a parliamentary link. It is that parliamentary diplomacy which is highlighted by the Bill. The Bill reaches the parts that Governments cannot reach, and one cannot avoid drawing the conclusion that, from time to time, it is useful to one's country to show people from outside it the constructive work that Parliament undertakes--drawing as of necessity it must, on the support and involvement of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. I always find it particularly fascinating to observe how parliamentarians from this House and from the other place work together when they are thousands of miles from home. Perhaps that is a lesson for us all back here.

Finally, I refer to the work of the other place in presenting the amendments before this House today. We are very much obliged to Viscount Montgomery of Alamein for having piloted the amendments through the other place. He was supported by Lady David, an executive member of the Inter- Parliamentary Union. Further support came from Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the Official Leader of the Opposition in the other place. I am grateful also for the support of Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and of

Column 634

the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The proposals that they have endorsed have met with widespread support both from the Government and from all political parties.

In commending this group of amendments to the House, I reflect on the fact that later amendments will be consequential. For the convenience of the House I am trying to encompass as much of the argument as I can in the debate on the first group of amendments. The Bill, and the amendments, are a small but important step towards trying, even if it is only once in every 100 years, to go public on the kind of work that we do in private, away from the glare of publicity. I hope that it puts into context the real essence of much of our parliamentary work. I pay tribute to all those who have sustained the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Whatever work we may embark on during the next 100 years--for example, in the release of political prisoners, in drugs control or fighting terrorism--I feel certain that the strength and support that we have enjoyed until now will continue to be a feature of our parliamentary life. In that spirit, I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh) : I warmly associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), which dealt with an ideal objective. As he said, the aims and objectives of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association are to achieve an all-party approach to vast international problems. He referred to the purposeful work being done by the two organisations. It has led to the creation of what we call a dialogue of diplomacy. The exchange of views, which has taken place over many years now, has had an influence in the corridors of power in many countries. I hope that implementation of the aims and objectives of the amendments will be as effective and as long-standing as the two associations hope.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) has said about the Bill. We are happy to support it and to give it a fair wind. It is a useful measure. All hon. Members are well aware of the important work done by the IPU and the CPA. The measure will help to bring out into the open some of the valuable work that they do.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) when he spoke to the amendments. He made some very valid points. I accept that there are technicalities which make the position of the other organisations to which the amendments refer--the WEU, the Council of Europe and the NATO Assembly--somewhat different. As we all know those organisations provide valuable sources of contact between parliamentarians and have done some useful work over a number of years and continue to do so.

I note with interest what the hon. Gentleman said about the Bill's particular relevance to Opposition Members, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have been associated with the hon. Gentleman in his efforts today. I should put it on record that the Opposition value the contacts that those organisations provide, which can be maintained over a number of years and lead to a great deal of insight into the concerns and special situations of our parliamentary colleagues in many different parts of the world. I support the measure and give it fair wind.

Column 635

1.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Eggar) : May I say on behalf of the Government how delighted we are to have the opportunity to discuss the Bill this afternoon. I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) who consistently, quietly and over a long time has managed to surmount and avoid all the various obstacles that have confronted him-- both procedural and imposed by Whitehall for various arcane reasons that neither he nor I fully understand--and to get the Bill back here. That is a considerable achievement. I would have said that he has done so single- handedly, had I not heard the speeches by Opposition Members and had I not read with great interest and heard about the debate in another place. My hon. Friend paid tribute to Viscount Montgomery and Members in another place, who as members of the executive committee of the IPU or the CPA have contributed to the smooth passage of the Bill. I was delighted that my hon. Friend drew the attention of the House to the presence in the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant), who has managed to combine his unheard activity on the Front Bench with splendid chairmanship of the CPA. I, too, pay tribute to that.

The Government have no problem with the amendments suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel. I offer him an apology as advice that he received on the original drafting of the Bill proved subsequently to be incorrect and led to the need to introduce the amendments in the other place and to bring them back here. It is fitting that the Bill should be getting a very strong wind behind it in the House in the centenary year of the IPU. I know how very hard my hon. Friend has worked in gathering together the various strands that will make the conference to be held in London in September a unique and uniquely successful event. I am delighted that Mr. Speaker and his colleagues, including Madam Deputy Speaker, will be closely associated with the centenary events in September. The hon. Members for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) and for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) have rightly and understandably expressed the importance that we attach to the exchange of parliamentarians, both within the Commonwealth and in the context of the CPA--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Minister's remarks are wide of the narrow terms of the Lords amendment that we are supposed to be discussing. I very much hope that he will get back to it.

Mr. Eggar : I appreciate your concern, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we should remain in order, and I will certainly endeavour to do so. We are talking about the substance of the Bill. The effect of the amendments is to limit the compass of the Bill to the IPU and the CPA. We very much regret that, for technical reasons, the other organisations must be excluded from the Bill. My hon. Friend has explained the reason for that. As a result of the amendments, we are left

Column 636

with the Bill mentioning the CPA and the IPU. The work that those two organisations do in the exchange of parliamentarians of all parties and of all member countries of the CPA and the IPU is widely welcomed and recognised. That is why the Bill should be introduced and why the two organisations should be mentioned. There should be an obligation on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to come to the House every year with the names of the organisations covered by the Bill, namely the CPA and the IPU, and the amounts of money that are being made available by the Government to fund them.

The exchange of parliamentarians is to be widely welcomed. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the importance of continued dialogue with parliamentarians from Guatemala and the existing dialogue with parliamentarians in Argentina. He drew attention to the important visit by Mr. Gorbachev, as he then was, when he came here under the auspices of the IPU. Examples such as those justify the expenditure of public money on those two organisations.

I thank you for your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Again I pay tribute to the tremendous work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel on getting the Bill this far. I have no hesitation in welcoming the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.


Register of Organisations

Lords amendment : No. 2, in page 2, leave out line 4.

Mr. Michael Marshall : I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4.

I remind the House that the previous debate has substantially covered a good deal of the ground of these amendments. It was in that respect that I showed tolerance to the House.

Mr. Marshall : In the light of what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not my intention to detain the House unduly. The amendments are consequential. They delete three organisations : the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Assembly and the Western European Union. The reasons for the difference between those organisations and those that remain in the Bill, the CPA and the IPU, are now apparent to the House. Looking to the next century of IPU, I should like to see an opportunity to increase and improve co-operation and collaboration between the IPU and the CPA, the two organisations which will formally be recognised in the Bill. However, I would not wish to rule out any links that could be maintained with the other three organisations to which, in a sense, we are sadly saying farewell in statutory terms.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4 agreed to.

Column 637

Citizens' Compensation Bill

[As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.]

Clause 2

Bereavement damages

1.24 pm

Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 1, line 23, after parents,' insert provided that the deceased was a minor who never married.' It is right to set the background to the Bill before charging straight in to a consideration of the amendment. Clause 2 extends the categories of people who would be entitled to bereavement damages. Bereavement damages are damages payable purely for the grief suffered because of a person's death. They must be distinguished from damages that are payable to those who are dependent on the person who has died. I stress that the damages referred to in the Bill are damages to compensate for grief.

One can take the view that it is degrading to human nature to turn the grief that one feels at bereavement into money. Indeed, I take that view. However, bereavement damages have been well established for a long time. Because, as the law of our country stands at the moment, it is accepted that there should be bereavement damages, we should decide to whom those damages should be payable.

As I have said, I take the view that bereavement damages are not justifiable because payment for grief is something that I cannot understand. I made that point on Second Reading and that view is generally accepted, but not by everybody. I find it difficult to express what the death of a person is worth because of the grief suffered. If someone close to one dies, no money can compensate for the loss of that person.

However, if we accept bereavement damages, it follows not only that the class of person who is entitled to those damages should be severely restricted, but that the amount of money available to those people should be severely restricted also. Any amount of bereavement damages that is more than a token or a nominal small amount would make one feel that one had profited by the death of the person who had died. That would be a bad thing.

If one is restricting the class of people who would be entitled to bereavement damages, one must consider the existing law and the people who are entitled. It is a pretty odd list. The statute sets out that bereavement damages should be for the benefit

"(a) of the wife or husband of the deceased ; and

(b) where the deceased was a minor who was never married-- (

(i) of his parents, if he was legitimate ; and

(ii) of his mother, if he was illegitimate.

Today that sounds pretty odd because it makes an invidious and unpleasant distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children when in our other legislation we are tending to reduce those distinctions as much as possible and are trying to remove any stigma that there might once have been because of the acts of one's parents over which one had no control.

It sounds an odd list and there could well be some justification for changing it. However, one must do so according to the list of people who might most arguably suffer by the loss of their parents. Obviously, one cannot

Column 638

say that a father of a legitimate child will suffer any more than the father of an illegitimate child. There are difficulties under the present list of proving that the father of an illegitimate child is actually the father. However, with people living together outside marriage more and more, that is becoming a decreasing difficulty. 1.30 pm

We must categorise the list of people entitled to bereavement damages in one way or another. Any categorisation of such people will be fraught with difficulties. One difficulty will be that some people whom most of us think should be included will be left out, and those whom people think should be left out will be included. Our approach should be to recognise that there are major difficulties about that area of the law and that, whatever we do, we are unlikely to get it finally perfectly right.

Any extension of the list of those who would be entitled to bereavement damages should be done slowly and gradually. It should, perhaps, lag a little behind public opinion rather than leaping ahead of it. Our proper approach should be to look at the list of those who are entitled now to bereavement damages, and then to consider which person is most obviously left out. That was dealt with in another place in 1982 by Lord Mishcon, when he moved an amendment to the Administration of Justice Bill. He said words with which I have to agree. He said :

"there are several categories of people who are entitled in regard to the bereavement claim but, as I tried to submit on a previous occasion, the one obvious claimant has been omitted. It is the unmarried minor child, who one thinks is possibly the person who will the most miss the parent from the point of view of actual loss, only in the sense sometimes a surviving spouse can find some kind of relief, contentment and indeed happiness, in a remarriage, whereas a child can never regain a parent who has been lost."-- [ Official Report, House of Lords, 4 May 1982 ; Vol. 429, c. 1109.]

Some people ask why I have put forward the amendment to limit the increase to a minor who has never married. My reason for doing so is that the minor who has never married is probably the person who is most likely to suffer the loss of a parent. Those who are older tend to suffer less, perhaps because of other relationships that they are able to form--more open and less exclusive relationships than one naturally has with one's parent when one is a child. I suggest that this is the right way in which to limit the clause.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh) : The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) is at least consistent in his criticisms of personal injury compensation and the category of persons who receive it. On Second Reading he made similar points and I and other hon. Members tried to reconcile them. We have never denied that the amount of money payable in such circumstances is incalculable. We have said consistently that there must be recognition of that fact, because recognition has been given in other elements of our law, when dealing, for example, with a person's injured reputation. One cannot compare the £300,000 and £1 million awards that are given by the courts for injured reputation with those given for injured bodies--or the psychological impact, which brings about nervousness and in many other ways affects people who are bereaved because of accidents. Some people argue that because the loss that a bereaved person suffers is beyond compensation, there should be no award. As I have asked many times before, how can we

Column 639

adequately compensate people for the loss of a member of their family? Today I have been given some illustrations of the sort of claimants who should be included--the categories that the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford talked about. If a bereaved person believes that financial compensation will help him recover from the tragedy, he should be allowed to seek compensation. It should be his choice to decide whether or not to claim and how to use it.

I wish to fill in the background to the Bill as that is necessary to understand the amendments. When I introduced my Bill I received massive all -party support, which was exciting. Some 260 hon. Members committed themselves to supporting the Bill through organisations, mainly the Citizen Action Compensation Campaign. Many hon. Members of high regard and great reputation supported the Bill.

It is with some regret that I risk placing on record my anger and dismay at the Government's conduct throughout the Bill's passage. I was forced by a lack of time for private Member's Bills severely to curtail the Bill. I did so openly, accepting in good faith what Ministers said to me in Committee, in order to give the Bill the best possible chance of reaching the statute book. I have given the Government every opportunity to agree to what is now a simple measure. I took four clauses out of the Bill to accommodate them and to avoid dividing the all-party support. Through negotiation and mutual respect for each other's view we could have retained a sensible and just portion of the Bill, which would have received the unanimous approval of the House.

The Bill would have a substantial effect on the quality of life of the injured and bereaved. I accept that the Minister has tried to accommodate actuarial problems, but unfortunately he seems to have set his face against extending the categories of people entitled to bereavement damages. That is mirrored by the amendments of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.

Recent disasters have illustrated the urgent need for a review of existing law. One of my constituents died at Hillsborough. He was 18 and his parents will not receive a single penny because of the artificial distinctions in the law. I have since learnt that another family is in the same position. Their son was two months over 18. The problem does not affect only those who have, unfortunately, been caught up in the recent spate of disasters. A pensioner was devastated by the loss of her 40-year-old daughter who suffered from Down's syndrome. She died after a locum doctor had wrongly administered heroin to her as a painkiller. That pensioner's claim is worth £80 for funeral expenses. It is highly likely that legal aid will be withdrawn because of the potential costs of her action. Her barrister has said that she feels that

"the core has been taken out of her life".

The mother feels that the doctor :

"took her life and ruined mine"

That women is being denied access to justice. That is why this issue is so crucial and I cannot understand the lack of compassion displayed about such examples.

People caught in the trap are systematically denied access to justice. In many cases such action is the only way in which people can hold the person responsible to account, but the Minister will not move on this. Why should a child be prevented from claiming for the death of its parents? Surely a child feels such a loss much more than

Column 640

anyone else, as parents mean the world to their children. Some people argue that because a child is financially dependent on its parents it will be able to make a claim. What if the parents are unemployed or chose to stay at home to bring up the family? In those circumstances a child may not be able to claim. Further consideration should be given to the cases that I have described.

My Bill was designed to solve such problems and, by doing so, it would have implemented the recommendations of the Pearson royal commission which was established specifically to examine compensation for personal injury. It recommended that an unmarried minor child should be able to recover damages.

My Bill would also tackle the inconsistency between English and Scottish law. It is absurd that a child who is most likely to feel the pain and suffering that I have described should be prevented from making a claim. The Administration of Justice Act 1982 provides a much wider scope for claiming damages. It states that the spouse, parents, children, a person accepted by the deceased as a child and any person who, immediately before the deceased's death, lived with the deceased as husband or wife may claim.

Why have one law for Scotland and one for England? That is inconsistent and it deprives people of a common form of justice. My Bill would have brought equity to the four countries of the United Kingdom. If the bereaved believe that compensation will help them to recover from the accidental death of a relative that feeling should be recognised.

In Committee we discussed the amount of compensation to be awarded. I am sure that the Minister, with the best intentions in the world, will make a statement and, I hope, a commitment, on the Government's recognition that bereavement damages should be increased. I await to see whether he is prepared, in any shape or form to dot the i's and cross the t's after the commitment has been made regarding the amount concerned. We have received hundreds of letters, especially from the--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. Is not the hon. Gentleman anticipating later amendments? It is hard to relate his remarks to the amendment under discussion.

1.45 pm

Mr. Cunliffe : If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, remember, I mentioned that I had to go through some of the Bill's background to try to illustrate what the amendment meant in the broadest sense of the word, and I shall try to do that.

The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford has referred to the category which we are describing. The Bill's sponsors and I feel deeply about that. There is another category of person which should be included. I know of a case in which a family lost their 16-year-old daughter when a coach jumped a red light and hit a van in which she was travelling. The driver was prosecuted, convicted, fined £500 and had his licence suspended for a year. The mother cannot believe that the claim was worth only £3,500.

I wait with anticipation for the Minister to make some remarks about the stage we have reached and the confusion which has now arisen due to attempts by him and his Department to introduce legislation on the actuarial line. Unfortunately, that cannot be discussed too much in the House simply because of Mr. Speaker's ruling.

Column 641

Throughout this period there has been a degree of confusion--I would not say trickery or deceit--which has misled some of us. We thought that there were some aspects of the Bill towards which the Government were sympathetic and would seek to support through some other procedure. My Bill has, in the main, been hijacked all along the line. I am sorry to have to say that I do not believe that, so far, my Bill has been treated under the Queensbury rules. It has been totally decimated. I deeply regret that the Government have sought not to recognise some of the valid arguments put forward by my associates and me in support of the Bill.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in expressing deep sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) on his bereavement this week and our understanding of his difficulties in preparing for today's debates on his Bill. The amendment is the first of a series tabled by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) which, taken together, would kill this important Bill stone dead. They are almost all deeply objectionable amendments and are widely seen as both hurtful and offensive to many victims of extreme adversity who look to this House for hope and for practical help. They include the families of those who died in the Bradford fire, at Hillsborough and in other recent disasters. That the compensation they can expect under the law as it now stands is unacceptable to the British people is borne out by the voluntary offers in the Zeebrugge, King's Cross and Clapham disasters of almost three times the legal maximum. Any figure will be arbitrary, but the House must now listen to what more and more bereaved families are saying to us about the derisory levels of compensation available to them under the law, which this Bill seeks importantly to amend. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has been highly co-operative in his approach to the Solicitor-General's suggestions about changing the original drafting of the Bill. They were mostly extremely painful suggestions to my hon. Friend in that they involved the deletion of important sections of his Bill. He hoped, and was fully entitled to hope, that his reward would be an agreed measure of more limited but still valuable help to people who suffer bereavement or disability with inadequate compensation.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. However, any impression that any deletions from the Bill and the dropping of the first four clauses owes anything to a suggestion from me is mistaken and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that.

Mr. Morris : My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh thought that he was seeking to accommodate the difficulties put to him by the Solicitor-General and some of his hon. Friends. It was not my hon. Friend's intention to remove from his Bill any of its very important provisions and principles which were sacrificed. He felt that he was co-operating with the Solicitor- General. He has made it clear this afternoon that he is angered and dismayed about the loss of very important parts of the Bill as originally drafted. Instead of any reward for my hon. Friend, it is now proposed from the Conservative Benches that this Bill--already seriously weakened by amendments which he

Column 642

felt forced to concede--should either be effectively destroyed or talked out today. The Bill has been boned and boiled down almost to the point of invisibility and is now to be buried.

Mr. Arbuthnot : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris : I will give way later. It is an utterly disgraceful story of contempt for our efforts to help needful people in which the Solicitor-General can surely take no pride.

The Solicitor-General : I shall confine myself to simply saying that the right hon. Gentleman is making unjustified allegations. The central part of the Bill--it is no longer part of the Bill--was dropped by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), for whom I have the greatest sympathy, because of the time constraints which inevitably affect a private Member's Bill which tries to deal with a wide subject on which there is no agreement. It was never suggested that there was agreement on the compensation board. The right hon. Gentleman will have done me the courtesy of reading my long speech on Second Reading in which I made that perfectly clear. I have taken great trouble to meet the Bill's sponsors and discuss this matter. They know and recognise that. It is not right for the right hon. Gentleman to say what he does but I shall expand on that when I speak more fully.

Mr. Morris : I heard the Solicitor-General's speech on Second Reading. It followed my speech on that day and I listened with very great care to all that he said. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh did not want to drop the compensation board. He was reluctant to sacrifice any part of his Bill. My hon. Friend's position was that his Bill was already inadequate to meet all the problems it addressed. He was in fact hoping that the Solicitor-General might come forward with helpful additions to what was being proposed in the Bill. I can tell the Solicitor-General that my hon. Friend in sacrificing very important provisions of the Bill, did so in the expectation that there would be an agreed measure. He hoped to see his Bill, or some version of this very important measure, on the statute book. I am saying now that there is scant likelihood that, at the end of the day, anything will emerge to help the people he is concerned to assist.

It was a humanitarian initiative, which has been frustrated by the debates that we have had here and upstairs. Even as originally drafted, the Bill was but a first step in the right direction, yet it is a step too far for the Solicitor-General and the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.

It must be strongly emphasised in this debate that the Bill, as originally drafted, attracted widespread support from over 50 national legal, medical and voluntary organisations. They include the Haemophilia Society, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, MIND, the National League of the Blind and Disabled and the Spinal Injuries Association. They are all now being told that they were asking too much, and to put up with existing law, with which even judges themselves are manifestly unhappy. Listen again, for example, to Mr. Justice Hirst's challenge to this House. He said, in reference to the Opren case, that both the assessors and the

Column 643

courts had been obliged to base their awards on the levels of damages established by legal precedent, which is binding in law. He went on :

"There is nothing wrong with critics questioning or condemning these levels, so long as they recognise that only parliament can change them. So long as the present levels remain in force, the Courts have no alternative but to apply them."

That was widely read as a direct challenge to parliament to untie the hands of judges. My hon. Friend's Bill--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman's speech is wide of the terms of the amendment before the House, which deals with the exclusion of unmarried minors from the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Morris : I am of course going to speak about exclusions. I wanted to remind the House of the very important statement made by Mr. Justice Hirst. He was delivering a pointed challenge to the House. It is a statement that deserves a reply from the Solicitor-General as well as from me.

In regard to amending the extensions of the categories of claimants I believe, with my hon. Friend, that it is totally unacceptable for the Minister to have refused to budge on this issue. His stance has clearly encouraged the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford to table what can only be described as amendments which aim to destroy the essential principles of my hon. Friend's Bill. As my hon. Friend said, recent disasters have illustrated the urgent need for a review of the existing law.

Mr. Arbuthnot : I hope that, on reflection and on re-reading my speech on Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman will realise that I needed no encouragement, and that I did not think that the Bill met the concerns that he, quite rightly, now expresses.

Mr. Morris : I speak with some experience of sitting on both sides of the House. I am certain that the Solicitor-General's stance must have given encouragement to his hon. Friends. After all, they support the Government. I regret very much that we are in the position now of losing a measure that is extremely important on humanitarian grounds.

The Solicitor-General : The right hon. Gentleman must take stock. Nothing to which he can point suggests that I encouraged the dropping of the first four clauses of the Bill or that I encouraged any extension of the categories of people who are entitled to claim bereavement damages. My position is that which the House agreed after a full debate in 1982, at which time the right hon. Gentleman was a Member. I have always upheld that position and I have never given any sign that the Government would broaden the categories. I have always said that we thought that the categories chosen in 1982 were right. I have had no suggestion that the clauses were dropped on the understanding that we would broaden the categories, and I know that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) would not make any such suggestion.

2 pm

Mr. Morris : I said that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh did not want to lose any part of the provisions in the Bill as originally drafted. I shall give way to him, so that he can explain his attitude on this important matter.

Column 644

Mr. Cunliffe The signal was quite clear. At one stage we were told, in essence, that the Government would steamroller the Bill if the compensation advisory board was kept intact. It was suggested that we could discuss other elements of the Bill that would give some recognition to the principles that I have been trying to establish. For example, on the question of bereavement damages, the Solicitor-General constantly said that the Government would consider uprating them. That is why I asked in my speech whether he would dot the i's and cross the t's on the financial awards that the Government would be prepared to accept.

The question of time arose in Committee because this is the last Friday when private Members' Bills can be debated. If I had chosen to debate all the clauses, the Government would have adopted the tactic of talking me out. I thought that the Government were showing some sympathetic signs, and with respect to both the Solicitor-General and my right hon. Friend, I certainly did not think that there was any confusion. Although no assurances were given, there were certainly suggestions that the Government would be helpful. Indeed, the word "helpful" was used constantly during our discussions.

Mr. Morris : The Solicitor-General has heard what my hon. Friend has said. He clearly had the impression that in trying to co-operate with the Solicitor-General he would arrive at an agreed measure. My hon. Friend has not dissimulated in any way. He is a passionately concerned about those who could have been helped by the Bill as originally drafted.

The Solicitor-General : May I join the strands together? I said that I hope to be extremely helpful to the hon. Gentleman in three ways, and I am sure that he would acknowledge that. First, I said in Committee that we would consult with a view to uprating the level of bereavement damages, which has not been updated since 1982. When I come to reply to the debate on these amendments, I intend to confirm the Government's position on that.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman and I together considered ways to make a small but significant advance in the use of actuarial tables approved by the Government Actuary for compensation claims. It is only the understandable rules of the House that prevent us from dealing with that matter today. In fact, through the kindness of Mr. Speaker, we raised that matter earlier on a point of order. When I reply to the debate, I shall, within the rules of order, briefly clarify the position.

Thirdly, we hope to make some progress on a feasibility study for a no- fault compensation scheme for minor road accidents. I hope that there will be a little time available to debate that.

I have always sought to use this valuable private Members' legislative time to be as constructive as possible, but when I have not been able to do that, I have always made the position absolutely clear. I hope that hon. Members will accept that.

Next Section

  Home Page