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Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I very much hope that we can now get back to considering amendment No. 12.

Mr. Morris : I shall reply only briefly to that intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since I fully agree with you about relevance. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh approached me--as a Member of Parliament who

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had taken three private Members' Bills to the statute book--about timing. He would have liked to take an earlier day, but delayed in an attempt to secure agreement with the Government.

Mr. Cunliffe : I did so simply because 5 May had been chosen as the date for the Committee stage to begin. To benefit from the flexible approach to the principles of the Bill that the Government were showing at the time and that the Solicitor-General has now evinced, I delayed until the final day for private Members' Bills.

Mr. Morris : By delaying, of course, my hon. Friend reduced his chances of legislating on this important matter.

Let me return to the extension of claimant categories. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that people need to be able to hold to account those responsible for their bereavements. Surely the Solicitor-General will accept the force of that argument when he replies. Accountability is the central issue : if people feel that someone must be held accountable for the death of a close relation, they should not be separated from justice by artificial barriers and distinctions and also, indeed, by the law's delay, which has been strongly criticised by the Lord Chancellor himself.

I hope that the House will reject the amendment without too much more delay today.

The Solicitor-General : The purpose of the amendment is to provide that, in respect of a parent's claim for the loss of a child, the deceased must have been a minor who never married. The

amendment--which we are formally discussing, as you have reminded us, Mr. Deputy Speaker--would retain the current provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, as amended, and the Administration of Justice Act 1982.

In supporting the amendment, I am maintaining what has been the Government's position throughout. I shall return to my

reasons--briefly, because I think that the House wants to proceed to the debate on no-fault compensation schemes--but I should like to make a couple of points first.

ndulgence has been sought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to allow discussion of bereavement compensation levels. I should make it clear, as I didin Committee, that seven years have elapsed since the level of bereavement damages was fixed at £3,500, whether one claimant or 10 sought damages. The Government accept that there is a good case now for considering whether a higher level would be appropriate, and I apleased to tell the House, as I told the Committee, that the Lord Chancellor is to hold consultations on whether to raise the level. Mr. Cunliffe : Will the consultations be with the organisations whichave given me such invaluable help with my Bill? Will public and voluntary organisations, victim support groups and bodies such as CRUSE be consulted?

The Solicitor-General : There is no limit to the categories of interested parties that may be consulted, and I see no reasons why organisations such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentions should not be included among them. I hope that interested persons will read of our debate and that those holding views on how the uprating should take place will make them known. As a result of the hon.

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Gentleman's intervention, they have an opportunity to participate in the consultations. I hope also that appropriate bodies will be approached for that purpose. They may include insurance interests. I refer not only to insurance companies but to those who are insured as motorists or against household accidents, and in all our multifarious roles as citizens.

Once those consultations have been completed, a further announcement will be made about any appropriate increase. We are thinking of a time scale that is not overlong, and hope to make substantial progress toward an announcement during the course of this year. I hope that is of comfort to the hon. Member for Leigh. The debate really concerns categories of claimants. I hope that the House accepts that I have never given any encouragement for believing that the Government will accept any widening of the categories of claimants as opposed to an increase in the level of bereavement damages. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Leigh nodding, because I would not wish there to be any misunderstanding. I have sought to make progress in the other areas that I mentioned in my earlier intervention.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's co-operation and for the constructive discussions that I have held with representatives of the Citizens Action Compensation Campaign. They have been placed in the difficulty that confronts anyone seeking to operate through a private Member's Bill--shortage of time. They took the decision that they considered to be right, but it should not be thought, and it would not be correct to say, that I led them on to do anything other than that which I have clearly described today. I sought to make progress to the utmost of my ability and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in considerable detail.

I turn to my reasons why the amendment should be accepted. The existing clause 2(2) goes beyond anything recommended by the Law Commission or the Pearson Commission. Those two great commissions did not agree. They held different views, just as Scotland did. Nevertheless, neither of those two great commissions, which we asked to apply their minds to the categories of citizens who should be entitled to claim bereavement damages went as wide as clause 2. The amendment will revert to the existing provision in respect of the age of eligible children. The reasons for accepting the amendment are compelling. To proceed without it will give parents the right to bereavement damages whatever the age of their children. Of course difficult judgments have to be made when legislating. If a son or daughter is a few weeks below the age of 18 rather than an adult just a few weeks older, a sad case can be made. Unamended, however, the clause would give parents the right to bereavement damages whether their offspring was 30, 40, 50, 60, or whatever age at the time of death.

The amendment would re-instate the present law, which introduces a proviso that is in two parts. The children in respect of whom a claim is made must be minors, and they must be minors who never married. A minor who married will have developed less close links with his parents because the centre of his affection will have been his new family. That point was brought out by my noble and learned Friend the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, when that aspect was debated in Committee on the Administration of Justice Act 1982, col. 1298 of the House of Lords Hansard for 30 March 1982.

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2.15 pm

It is also important to emphasise that children may have a loss of dependency claim. I do not wish to prolong the debate on this amendment because I know that hon. Members want to deal with the next one. For those reasons, I ask the House to accept the amendment. Amendment agreed to .

Clause 4

Compensation without proof of fault

Mr. Arbuthnot : I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 2, line 41, leave out

for personal injury arising out of a road accident'

and insert

to which this section applies'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments : No. 32, in page 2, line 42, leave out arising out of a road accident'.

No. 20, in page 2, line 42, leave out a road accident' and insert

an accident which has occurred owing to the presence of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road'.

No. 21, in page 2, line 43, leave out shall be compensated' and insert

the user of the vehicle shall be liable to make compensation'. No. 31, in page 2, line 45, leave out subsection (2).

No. 22, in page 2, line 45, leave out exceeds a level which' and insert

is for a sum greater than £1,000 or such higher sum as'. No. 23, in page 2, line 46, after or', insert

is in respect of a type of accident'.

No. 24, in page 3, line 2, leave out from secure' to subsection (1) above' and insert

that the user shall not be liable under subsection (1) unless there is in force in relation to the use of the vehicle a policy of insurance in respect of third party risks.'.

Mr. Arbuthnot : Amendment No. 29 deals with the definition of a road accident, among other matters. Clause 4 introduces the concept of no-fault compensation. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Leigh, (Mr. Cunliffe) who suggested that the Bill has been hijacked. Whether or not one likes the concept of no-fault compensation, and I do not, one must accept that the wording of the clause should be clear. It suggests that there should be no-fault compensation in the case of minor road accidents. In Committee the hon. Member for Leigh said some very telling and critical things about it, with which I entirely agree.

Mr. Cunliffe : The hon. Gentleman says that I said some very critical and telling things about it. In what context does he suggest that I made those comments?

Mr. Arbuthnot : I was just about to repeat one of his remarks--that the clause contained no definition of a road accident. That is a crucial criticism of it. The Bill provides that injury in a road accident will be compensated for differently from all other injuries, regardless of whether the person injured was entirely or partly to blame for his or her injuries. The whole point of the clause is that fault should not be involved. It may sound bizarre when set out in that way, but that is the aim of the clause.

The Bill contains no definition of the phrase "road accident". If road accidents are to be treated entirely differently from other accidents, it is important for us to be

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sure which accidents are involved. It is important for us to know whether an air crash becomes a road accident if the aeroplane lands on a road. If a tree falls on a road and injures a pedestrian, is that a road accident? Presumably it might be if the tree fell on to a road, but not if it did not. Presumably, if the pedestrian is in the road it is a road accident, otherwise it is not. If a falling tree causes a car to crash, presumably that is a road accident, but if it has a similar effect on a tractor in a nearby field it is not a road accident. Those examples illustrate how important it is that the phrase "road accident" should be defined, and how absurd the whole concept of trying to differentiate is.

I am sorry that my amendments do not go further towards clarifying the clause. I do not think that they achieve a workable or suitable balance, but they are better than nothing. One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. My own preference would be to have no-fault compensation, but I have said enough and I know that the hon. Member for Leigh would like to express his views.

Mr. Cunliffe : I hope that the speech by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) was not motivated by the fact that he is a member of Lloyd's. The insurers are very much involved in the legislation that we have discussed and which might be forthcoming. I would ask him in the best possible way whether he has a direct interest in the matter.

Mr. Arbuthnot : The hon. Gentleman is well aware that I am a member of Lloyd's. I have said throughout the proceedings on the Bill that the insurers will not suffer from such a measure. The insurers will do very well out of the measure as they will simply get more business. In a sense I am speaking against myself in suggesting that the clause is not a good idea. The clause is not directly related to the insurance industry, so there is no direct need for me to declare an interest. Although I am a member of Lloyd's, I do not think that it affects my judgment.

Mr. Cunliffe : I have pointed out that in any new scheme that was introduced and inaugurated by the House, considerable time would be given for such companies to assess values, increase premiums and so on. We have discussed the matter. It was part of my Bill that the compensation advisory board would not administer any decision for about two years. That would have provided the various organisations involved with a breathing space.

It is important to understand the principles of a no-fault compensation scheme. To some extent I would welcome such a principle being established, as it would set a precedent in parliamentary history and legislation if no- fault compensation were to get a toe in the door. Many organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal Society of Medicine would welcome some form of no-fault compensation scheme. I take some small credit for the fact that my Bill has prompted the Government to initiate a feasibility study which I believe is to be forthcoming and to accept that there is a case for considering no-fault compensation.

No-fault compensation schemes abandon the rule that an injured person has to show that someone was negligent in order to maintain compensation. It is simple and straightforward.

Mr. Alfred Morris : My hon. Friend referred to a feasibility study on no-fault liability. He has studied the

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New Zealand scheme and others across the world. Does he agree that this moment is not for feasiblity studies but for action to relieve palpable suffering on the part of bereaved and disabled people?

Mr. Cunliffe : I am glad that my right hon. Friend has mentioned the New Zealand scheme. It is a similar scheme. It provides compensation for personal accident victims, regardless of fault. The scheme came into force on 1 April 1974. It is working. It abolishes claims for personal injuries arising directly or indirectly out of accidents and substitutes a right to compensation from a statutory corporation known as the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Mr. Arbuthnot : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a man in New Zealand, who was trying to escape from prison and fell off the perimeter fence and broke a leg, was given compensation from the Accident Compensation Corporation?

Mr. Cunliffe : I was not aware of that. The Chamber is a fount of knowledge. The purpose of our dialogue in this place is to acquaint hon. Members with knowledge and facts. The hon. Gentleman referred to an extreme case. We are talking about a principle that, in the main, has assisted hundreds of thousands of people with their legitimate rights to compensation. One can always quote the one-off selective case. Other schemes have different methods of calculation. We might have discussed that this morning when a point of order was raised about actuarial assessments. It is clear that the New Zealand scheme provides compensation benefits based on low earnings. The aim is to cushion losses and to encourage people to return to work or to be able to achieve at their highest possible level.

The source of funding is always debated in no-fault compensation schemes. It is a bone of contention in the House. There is a genuine attempt by the majority of hon. Members to try to get recognition of the principle of "no fault" embodied in our legislation. Funding is the most controversial aspect of the matter. In New Zealand there is a compulsory payroll levy on employers and the self-employed, a compulsory levy on motor vehicle owners, and general taxation which goes into a fund for non-earners, apart from those who are injured on the roads.

The House will obviously need to examine various elements. The first is minor road accidents. We could reduce the timetable in our courts by ensuring that speedy decisions and awards are made in disputed cases.

I know that the average time for bringing a personal injury case to court if it is contested is between three and five years, especially for children aged between seven and 11. If one were to take several thousand, or possibly 100,000 people out of that category, some benefit would follow. I should welcome that. Indeed, it was a point that I made strongly in Committee. It is premature if all the organisations involved have not been consulted. That was not the case put forward in Committee. We have a clear responsibility--

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Friday next.

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Private Members' Bills


Order read for resuming adjourned debate in Committee on Question proposed [5 May], That clause 2 stand part of the Bill.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Debate to be resumed what day? No day named.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day? No day named.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 20 October.


Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day? No day named.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [7 April].

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day?

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : With the permission of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Objection taken. Second Reading what day? Second Reading deferred till Friday next.


Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day?

Mr. Simon Hughes : With the permission of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill--

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Objection taken. Second Reading what day? Second Reading deferred till Friday next.


Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day? No day named.


Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day? No day named.


Order for Second Reading read.

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