Third-Party Insurance (Government Motor Vehicles).

Oral Answers to Questions — United Kingdom and United States. – in the House of Commons on 3rd March 1942.

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Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Tamworth

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give time for a discussion of the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Tam-worth division, relating to the Crown Proceedings Bill.

[That this House, in view of the increasing frequency of injuries inflicted by servants of the Crown upon its subjects, for which redress cannot be obtained, and in order that the Crown shall become liable to be sued in tort, urges the Government to introduce forthwith, as a Bill, Clause 11 of the draft Bill, prepared by the Crown Proceedings Committee at the request of Lord Chancellors Birkenhead and Haldane and presented in 1927.]

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

My right hon. Friend does not consider that it would serve any useful purpose to give time for the discussion of the hon. Member's Motion, since the Government do not propose to introduce legislation upon the lines of Clause 11 of the draft Crown Proceedings Bill. The belief in the need for such legislation to protect the subjects of the Crown is based upon a misunderstanding of the present position. It has for many years been, and is now, the invariable practice of the Crown to accept the same responsibility for the acts of its servants as falls upon a private individual, and as is covered by third-party insurance in such cases. That is to say, for any act done by a servant of the Crown in the execution of his duty. In all such cases the Crown provides the funds required to satisfy any judgment which may be obtained against its servants, who are liable to be sued in respect of the act committed. Fresh legislation would not materially alter the redress available to the subject, and might, in view of the safeguards that would have to be introduced to cover particular aspects of the question, diminish the security which the injured persons obtain by reason of the present practice.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Tamworth

Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree that at present it is the Crown, and not the court, which decides whether or not a servant of the Crown was on duty at the material time?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The question as to the occupation of the servant at the moment of the accident may be one for the determination of the court or not. It is difficult to say except in precise circumstances.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Tamworth

Should it not always be a matter for the determination of the court, in view of the fact that it is a vital issue in a large number of cases?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The issue is not a vital one as regards the responsibility of the person driving the vehicle in the case in question. The responsibility is not upon the vehicle, but upon the driver. It is for the court to decide the responsibility of the driver.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

When a soldier is taken to court, and has no means to meet the liability which may have been incurred, is it not an injustice upon the victim of the accident that he should be unable to recover damages? Surely the Crown should consider the matter from that standpoint?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The Crown does consider the matter from that standpoint. If the person is acting completely outside its authority, the Crown cannot accept responsibility. As in all other cases, the responsibility is on the individual.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley

Could it be left to the court to decide whether a person is on duty or not at the time?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

It may be left to the court to decide that question. It depends on the evidence that is given. As a rule, the Crown accepts the evidence that the soldier is acting within his duties if that is the state of affairs.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Is not a soldier always on duty, particularly if he is in an Army vehicle?