May I ask the learned Solicitor-General to look at the drafting of the Amendment again and to drop the word "commencement"and use instead the word "beginning"? We get all sorts of words in the English language in these days that are wrong. The word beginning" has a good Anglo-Saxon root, while the word "commencement" has not. Most people say" in the beginning"and not" in the commencement ", and it would improve our phraseology if we could e only simple words in the drafting of a Bill.
Major Hicks Beach:
I should not like the opportunity to pass without putting on record the fact that I entirely support this Amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, in so far as it prevents retrospective effect of this Act. However much we may support the effect of this Act, it would be quite wrong to make it retrospective, and, from the practical point of view, and I can speak from some knowledge of insurance matters, it would create a very difficult position indeed if it were to work retrospectively. I therefore give my full support to the Amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have not discussed the general principles of this Bill on the Floor of the House. The Bill went through its Second Reading "on the nod ", and was discussed in Committee, and so far today we have been engaged entirely in drafting Amendments in, I hope, an attempt to improve the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House as a small but useful improvement in the law.
It is concerned only with those cases in which a person has been killed in such circumstances that his dependants have a claim against the person who is responsible for the death of the deceased. There are very numerous occasions when this concerns both those killed in industrial accidents and those killed on the highways, and we who practise in the courts and deal with such cases know that death in such circumstances brings great hardship on the fatherless and the widows, and that the claims which they have are of great importance to them.
The Bill attempts to improve the position of such persons in two respects. First, the only people nowadays who can claim as dependants when their breadwinner has been killed are grandparents, parents, step-parents, husbands or wives, children, grandchildren and step-children. If one does not bear one of those relationships to the deceased person, one cannot claim anything for his death or for the loss which one may have suffered by reason of his death, despite the fact that one may have been wholly and absolutely dependent upon him and may be left destitute.
The Bill, as it now stands, by means of Clause 1, extends the class of person who may now claim if they have been dependants and have suffered loss. It extends it to brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, and to relationships by marriage, by half-blood, by adoption and even by illegitimacy, because it is now provided that an illegitimate person shall, for the purposes of this Act, be treated as the legitimate child of his mother and of his reputed father.
Therefore, we find that under the Bill many persons who could not previously claim will now have a claim, and it goes so far as to include the illegitimate child of an aunt by marriage or the adopted child of a sister-in-law. While there may not be many cases in which persons of these remote relationships would want to claim, nevertheless, they may occur, and the intention of the Bill is to create classes of persons wide enough to include anybody in the household of the man who was unhappily killed. Anybody who can trace such a relationship must still show that they were dependent, because the foundation of their claims is that they have suffered severe loss by the death of the deceased.
That is the principal result of Clause 1, and I hope that the House will think that it is a useful improvement, and that we have done something to mitigate the hardship which previously fell on a small class of persons who, because they could not establish a close enough relationship, were unable to claim where they had suffered loss.
The second effect of the Bill is to deal with the position, which we have been discussing this morning, regarding benefits which ought not to be taken into account when loss has been suffered. As I explained in the debate on the new Clause which the House has just adopted, under the law as it now stands, against any loss that may be suffered, a claimant must state if any benefits have been received as a result of or in consequence of the death. There are only two exceptions to that, namely, moneys paid under a contract of insurance and National Insurance benefits. It is plain to the House that, as the result of the discussion this morning, we are extending these to cover also the cases where benefits are received by the dependant because the deceased was a member of a trade union, a friendly society, or because he received gratuities or other sums of money or pensions, which are paid as a result of the death.
All those are now swept in, and many of the anomalies have been abolished which existed previously between whether people were or were not receiving moneys under a contract of insurance, and the general class of benefits which now have to be taken into account has been greatly widened.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) that this is a wedge which initially in 1908 was driven into the general principle that previously had to be taken into account, and it is difficult to find a principle upon which we should define what benefits ought to be, and what benefits must not be, taken into account. I foresee that this matter may require consideration in the future when the operation of this Clause has been working for a little time, when the courts have had time to study it, and when no doubt many cases will have arisen which in this House, in drawing up the Clause, we have not foreseen.
I think that these two small improvements in the law relating to the claims of widows and dependants for the death of their breadwinner will be a benefit. and I therefore commend the Third Reading of the Bill to the House.
I have no wish to detain the House because the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) has given a lucid and precise explanation of the purposes of the Bill, but I might be deemed uncharitable if I did not take the opportunity to congratulate him on the work he has done. The hon. and learned Gentleman said modestly that this is a small but useful improvement in the law. That is putting his claim very modestly indeed, because he is making an exceedingly useful contribution to improving the law.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), who took his opportunity in Standing Committee further to improve the Bill. I also congratulate the Solicitor-General—since I may have been construed to have been a little critical—who has assisted the hon. and learned Gentleman in framing the Bill. This is an admirable example of the use we can take of our opportunities to promote Private Members' Bills, and I wish to do no more than congratulate those who have done so.
I also take this opportunity to add a few words of my own. I do not wish to discuss Clause 1 except to say how much in agreement with it I am, but I will make some comments on Clause 2, with which I have been primarily concerned.
It was said to me at one time that the Clause which we have now incorporated in the Bill or one to that effect, would be against the interests of the insurance companies. This was not said to me by an insurance company and indeed the matter was first brought to my attention by the director of an insurance company. Whilst it is true that the Clause might in a narrow way be said to operate against insurance companies in two ways, it certainly does not do so in the broad view.
The two ways in which it might be said to operate against them are these. First, insurance companies might have to pay out larger sums as a result of this Bill. Secondly, there is less attraction for a company to turn over its pension scheme to be run by an insurance company now that we have added this Clause to the Bill. So whilst in the narrow view there are two scores on which it might be said insurance companies lose, on the broad view, as I said in Standing Committee, insurance companies thrive on the generally fair attitude towards their clients—indeed, one might say their opponents—that they have adopted down the years. No representations have, in fact, been made to me by people in the insurance world against that Clause.
Again, companies running their own pension schemes should now be aware of, and make known to their employees, the advantage this Bill would bring to their dependants should they suffer a fatal accident. Also, we all, on both sides of the House, are encouraging the provision for old age and the development of pension schemes, so by making them a little mare attractive, we are contributing to commonly agreed policy in that respect.
I conclude by paying my own tribute and adding my own thanks to people who have helped me in my interest in this Bill. First I thank the barrister, not a Member of this House, who encouraged me to go ahead into this difficult legal jungle, and whose guidance I followed, I am glad to say, with success. I also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) who, after an interesting debate in Standing Committee, came to my aid because, without him, we should not have had such a good Bill as we now have.
I must also thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and his Department for a great deal of help, and I welcomed his assurance this morning that the question involved in deductions from damages will be considered in due time by the Law Reform Committee, because we have not come to the end of the road and to a logical position on this subject. Standing Committee C was kind to me and approved my Clause, the House has been kind to me today, and it is a great pleasure to me to see the Third Reading going ahead now.
Before we part with the Bill, I would like to direct some of those barbed shafts of congratulation to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) whose Bill it is, and to congratulate him, in his absence, on the use he has made of his good fortune in the Ballot, because all the good things that others of my hon. and learned Friends have done could not have been done without his essential luck, aid and judgment.
I also congratulate my hon, Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), because it is true that all the lawyers, after much consideration, had despaired of tackling the jungle into which he plunged. Indeed, the original Title of the Bill had suffered some change as a result of that pessimism. My hon. Friend, however, courageously persisted in Standing Committee and by that device, if I may say so without impertinence, became on consecutive days the father of his first child and the father of his first new Clause, a very magnificent bracket in operations.
I should like further, to congratulate both my hon. Friends referred to on their personal charm and success in securing, unpaid, the valuable services of so skilled, lucid, and graceful a performer as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson). I was going to call him a helper, but then I remembered that the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) wants me to use short English words so I will say, an excellent coadjutor. I am very glad to waft this Bill on its way on Third Reading.
In joining in the congratulations which have been bestowed, I think that we should be grateful to the Solicitor-General for correctly ascribing the paternity of the Bill to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke); but I think it would be only fair to say that as the hon. and
learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) has become the adopted father of the Bill, in allowing him to adopt the child the hon. Member for Bristol, West should have been mindful of the words in the Bill itself, that an adopted child
shall be treated as the child of the person … by whom he was adopted and not as the child of any other person.
Perhaps that is why the hon. Member for Bristol, West has so modestly stayed away today. I certainly wish to congratulate them both most warmly and also, once again, the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), who has been the father of the new Clause which has so radically altered, and in my view, improved the Bill.
I suppose that, like the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington, I ought to declare an interest at this stage, because anyone who practises in the common law courts undoubtedly has an interest in this Bill and, with the substantial changes which have been made in this branch of the law, I think that there is no escape from the conclusion that it is bound to lead to further litigation until the meanings of these new terms are established finally by the courts.
The Bill makes two important changes in the law by extending the class of dependents and extending the benefits to be excluded in assessing compensation. On the first, I think that, broadly speaking, what the Bill achieves is to ensure that any member of the deceased person's family who was living in his household or otherwise was his dependant will, in fact, be entitled to claim. The term family "is not a term of art in the law. It was used in the Rent Restrictions Acts and led to an enormous amount of litigation. We know a very closely defined, although in itself wide, class of persons who may benefit. Nearly everyone who could conceivably be considered a member of the family of the deceased will now be included.
There will still be numbers of people, however, who, properly speaking, would be dependants of the deceased who will not be entitled to claim, perhaps the most obvious and meritorious being his ex-wife. She perhaps has divorced him and has been receiving money under a maintenance order on which she has been living ever since she obtained her divorce. She undoubtedly was a dependant of the deceased, but she is not within the class of persons entitled to claim. Nor, of course, is a man's mistress. There will still be many dependants who cannot claim, but I think the most meritorious will be able to do so.
We have discussed at some length the extension of the class of benefits which are to be excluded when assessing compensation. Probably it is the intention of us all that primarily those benefits should help persons of small means. For the most part they will be, but it is perhaps right to comment that there may well be cases where very large benefits indeed will be excluded from the assessment of compensation. One has only to think of the managing director of a large company who has rights under some superannuation scheme by which a very substantial sum will be payable on his death to his widow—running, as some of them do—into many thousands of pounds. The widow may be enriched by that, but, nevertheless, as the result of the new Clause, as I understand it, that will be left out of consideration.
As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Hitchin, the Bill may result in insurance companies having to pay out very substantially increased sums by way of damages. We say "insurance companies," because in nearly all cases the defendants in this class of claim are insured, but we should remember that there are still cases of uninsured defendants of this kind. Those cases which result from accidents on the highway are, of course, always covered by insurance, because there is compulsory insurance. Even where a person has broken the law and has not insured the claimant is still protected by the provisions of the Motor Insurers Bureau Agreement.
In those frequent cases where people die as a result of accidents in employment, usually payment is made by an insurance company, either on an employer's liability policy or an occupier's liability policy, or a policy of that kind. Regrettably, sometimes cases occur where small employers have not insured. They are either faced with ruin by the claim or, alternatively, they are such men of straw that the claimant receives no compensation to which he or she is entitled. It would be out of order to develop the theme, but it points to the fact that one of these days we should perhaps consider whether or not there should be an extension of the principles of compulsory insurance into the field of employers' liability.
I do not think that the insurance companies need have any reason to complain if they find themselves having to pay out more as a result of the Bill. It was pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington, in an extraordinarily interesting speech in Committee, that the historical origin for this exemption of certain benefits was action taken by insurance companies which were insuring passengers against risks of railway accidents. In a series of Private Bills they managed to get the benefits of their insurance policies excluded from the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Acts. That certainly has come home to roost now because, quite rightly, we have seen fit to extend this class of benefits to many other kinds of benefits.
There is another reason why the insurance companies, not only will not want to, but will not, complain. The greater the liability to pay compensation which we in Parliament impose, the greater likelihood there is that people will insure against those risks. If insurance companies find that they have to pay out greater sums by way of damages, I do not think that they will be very slow at the next annual renewal of policies to increase premiums. One way or another, I do not think that insurance companies will suffer, but many dependants will benefit as a result of this Measure.
Major Hicks Beach:
Both my on. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) have referred to the position of insurance companies under the Bill. Perhaps, as a director of a big insurance company for a very long time, I might be allowed to put on record that, so far as I am aware, insurance companies are not in the slightest worried about the terms of the Bill.
Approaches have not been made to me on that subject. The only comments I have had from those engaged in the insurance world have been that they welcome the Bill. Insurance companies, whatever the public say, want to have a contented clientele and to serve the public well. So far as I know, there has been no criticism of the Bill from any responsible insurance company.
I was very glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Learnington (Mr. John Hobson) say that he would give us a careful and detailed account and survey of this Bill on his Third Reading speech because there had been no discussion on it on the Floor of the House. I welcome that statement very much, because I am on record as having said on previous occasions, and I shall continue to say, that I think it is wholly wrong for legislation to go through the House simply "on the nod "without an opportunity for discussion. I am sure that I am speaking for all hon. Members when I say we welcome the approach of the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington in this matter when he said that it was his duty to give a full, fair, and clear explanation, as indeed he did.
As regards usurping the position of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) in seconding the new Clause, may I just mention that I did not usurp it; it was thrust on me. I should like to congratulate him, and I am pleased to say that his action in Committee is worthy of congratulation because by his vigorous action he was largely responsible for getting the new Clause through. He has my full support in this matter and every possible congratulation.
We must not, as has been said, forget the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). He told me how sorry he was that it was impossible for him to be here today. He certainly is to be congratulated not only on his luck, but his tact and skill for the way in which he has got even the Parliamentary draftsmen to support him. This, I venture to say, is no mean achievement.
The Bill has my full blessing and I want to place on record that so far as insurance is concerned it has the blessing of the insurance companies also.