I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to render void or illegal certain exclusion clauses or other exclusion terms or conditions in contracts for the performance of services, including contracts with car parks or garages.
At present, whether someone is hiring, garaging or travelling in a car, removing furniture or dry-cleaning or laundering clothing, it is fairly certain that the people to whom he pays his money will seek to exclude their legal liability, in whole or in part. They will include in their contracts terms which protect them in the case of trouble arising, whether through their negligence or for any other reason. These so-called "exclusion clauses" are a scandalous anomaly. Unless a court certifies that such a particular clause should be upheld, any exclusion clause in a contract for the provision of services for reward should be void.
I take first the terms and conditions of National Car Parks Ltd., which is one of the biggest organisations in the country providing parking facilities. The first of them reads:
The company do not accept liability for loss of or damage to any motor vehicle or its accessories and equipment or any article or articles contained in or on the vehicle howsoever caused including whether caused by the Company's servants or agents and including without in any way limiting the generality of the foregoing any loss or damage caused by the negligence fraud or other dishonesty of the Company's servants or agents.
In other words, a driver pays a great deal of money to park a car and, if the company's servants steal or lose it, the company accepts no liability.
The terms and conditions of National Car Parks Ltd. go on in item 3:
The Company do not accept liability for injury sustained by or death caused to the Holder his servants agents or passengers howsoever caused.
No term of this sort should be allowed to remain in existence.
Later, we read:
The Holder agrees to indemnify the Company in respect of any claim made by a third party arising out of the negligence of the Holder his servants agents or passengers.
In other words, a car owner has to indemnify National Car Parks Ltd. while the company accepts no liability.
Item No. 12 reads:
No person has any authority to vary or alter these conditions in any way unless such variation or alteration is in writing under the hand of the Company's Secretary"—
a very unlikely eventuality.
I am grateful to "Action Line" of the Daily Express for providing me with details of a specific case involving the company. The mechanism of an exit barrier failed. The barrier crashed on to the roof of a car, denting and scratching it. On receipt of the owner's complaint, National Car Parks Ltd. wrote the following letter:
Thank you for your letter of 22nd September, informing us of damage to the roof of your Ford Cortina at the above car park … We are very sorry to hear of the damage, but we must draw your attention to the enclosed copy of the Company's Terms and Conditions of parking which clearly state that we cannot accept liability for incidents of this nature. An extract from this document is printed on the parking tickets and a notice drawing attention to it is displayed on the car park. We feel sure that the damage which your car has sustained is covered by your insurance policy, and we would suggest that your best recourse is to contact your Insurance Company who, without doubt, will be able to help you and we are therefore returning your estimate for their attention.
In other words, a car owner in this position is expected to claim on his own insurance company, thereby losing his "No claims bonus", while National Car Parks Ltd. loses nothing, having taken the car owner's money. What is more, very often the company insists on a driver leaving his key in the ignition of the vehicle.
London Transport Executive hides behind a similar condition. I have a copy of one of its letters which, in my view, no public authority should have written. It says:
I … was very sorry to learn that your new car had been damaged. Whilst I regret this unfortunate incident I must confirm my representative's comments that this is not a matter for which the Executive can accept any liability. The conditions applying to use of the Car Park are clearly displayed at Pinner and I would draw your attention to Condition No. 3 which states: 'The motor vehicle shall whilst oil the premises of the Board be at the entire risk of the owner and the Board accept no responsibility in respect of loss or misdelivery of or damage to motor vehicles, the contents thereof, or accessories thereto, or in respect of any injury to the occupants, by whomsoever caused and whether occasioned by negligence or otherwise. The Board do no
undertake to supervise vehicles left in the Car Park'. I regret, therefore, that I am unable to be of assistance to you and return, herewith, the estimate for repairs to your vehicle which I would, with respect, suggest that you now place in the hands of your Insurers.
Public authorities should lead the way in the provision of safeguards for customers. They should not rely upon exclusion clauses like that.
I am greatly obliged to the Royal Automobile Club for a list of troubles experienced by some of its members. It reads:
1. The member's car was driven into a wall by one of the car park's employees causing £250 damage.
2. A car driven by the member collided with a half-concealed rock in a car park causing £28 damage.
3. A car park employee operated an automatic lift and allowed it to descend and eject a vehicle which collided with the member's car causing £48 damage.
4. Corrosive fluid dropped from the roof of a car park causing substantial damage to the paintwork of the member's car.
5. The exit barrier descended on the roof of the member's van causing damage estimated at £8.
6. The exit barrier descended on the roof of the member's car causing £7 damage (the work being carried out by the vehicle owner who was a garage proprietor thus reducing the amount of the claim).
Exemption clauses in the parking contracts were used to justify rejection of all these claims. There have been many more.
The same is true with tour operators. Recently, in the Mayor's and City of London Court an exclusion clause was upheld in a case where a lady had lost her entire baggage as a result of the negligence of the tour operator's agents in Italy.
These clauses are often applied by contractors—people who contract to provide services. I have a document used by a highly reputable company, G.K.N. Sankey Limited, provided for me by the Consumers' Association. May I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the print is so dim that you could not read it without an enormous magnifying glass.
I have another document, again from a company of good repute, Leasco. This is in the tiniest print in the world. Ripley, in "Believe it or not", would have delighted in this, like the Bible written on a postage stamp. Yet this is a contractual document.
Godfrey Davis (Car Hire) contracts contain the following:
Lessor shall not be liable for loss of or damage to any property … Customer hereby assumes all risk of such loss or damage and waives all claims …".
Another is Avis. They are all much the same. Most of the contracts ask the hirer to sign saying that he has received the goods in good condition. No hon. Member should do so. He should add the words:
To the best of my knowledge and belief.
I have inserted these words many times, and firms have tried to say that they would not hire vehicles to me. But they always give in if the hirer is firm and insists. Do not sign these documents without reading them.
Another firm called Jafvans has similar provisions in its contract.
Contracts of sale are being dealt with and I like to think that that is to some extent as a result of the pressure coming from back benchers and as a result also of a Ten-Minute Rule Bill which I was given leave to introduce in the last Session. The Government have now undertaken to introduce legislation which will effectively ban exclusion clauses in contracts for the sale of consumer goods. For that I am pleased. However, this will not extend to the provision of services and it is for this extension that I ask.
I appreciate that if leave is given we are still a long way from the Statute Book. But in the meantime I trust that some of these companies whom I have named—and I am sorry that I could not name hundreds more because of the time—will delete the exclusion clauses from their contracts. I have had hundreds of letters from all over the country, and I hope that business concerns which provide services, having felt what I hope will be the unanimous view of this House, will voluntarily change their exclusion clauses, so making this legislation unnecessary.