§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 25, at the end to insert:(6) No Order in Council under this section shall impose a limit of liability less than double the corresponding limit or limits contained in the First Schedule to this Act.The object of the Amendment is to ensure that if the Minister exercises the power under this Clause to extend the limit of liability of an airline towards its passengers to domestic flights in the United Kingdom, and also to flights originating in or ending in other territories as specified in Clause 9, the limits which he will determine by Order shall be not less than double the corresponding limits in the Warsaw Convention as amended by The Hague Protocol, that is to say, the First Schedule to the Bill.
In commending the Amendment to the House I shall seek to establish four propositions. First, although in the case of international flights there is a balance of advantage both to the passenger and to the airline, in the case of domestic flights this balance is grievously upset and there is very much less advantage to the passenger than there is in the case of international flights.
Secondly, whereas, in the case of international flights to which the Warsaw Convention, as amended, applies, there is given notice on the ticket that the damages which will be payable in the event of death or injury to a passenger are limited in accordance with the Warsaw Convention, the amount of those damages is specified on the ticket, although in a somewhat roundabout manner, and the sterling equivalent is not quoted; in the case of a British domestic ticket, this does not apply, and the passenger is, therefore, unaware of the limit of liability imposed and, therefore, unaware of the limit above which he would be prudent to ensure his own cover.
Thirdly, £6,000 is a totally unrealistic limit to the damages which can be 1572 awarded for death or injury today, and, fourthly, that there is extremely good international authority for the proposition that the limit of liability imposed in the case of international carriage by air should not also apply in the case of domestic carriage.
One of the principal advantages to the passenger of the limit of liability on international flights is that, in the vast majority of cases where he suffers damage of the nature with which we are concerned, he is saved by other provisions in the Warsaw Convention from having to prove in a foreign court the extent of his damage and the liability of the carrier for it. But in the case of flights within the United Kingdom, and, to a lesser extent, in the case of flights originating in or ending at countries covered by Clause 9, this difficulty is very much less, because there is access to British courts if the accident arises in the United Kingdom. Moreover, if the passenger is sufficiently impecunious he can seek free legal aid to assist him.
I represent that because the balance of advantage to the passenger on a domestic flight is so very much less, the House should consider whether the damages to which he is limited should not be greater, so that the balance of equity is restored.
I should like to quote, if I may, the warning which appears on a British European Airways domestic ticket. It states:Condition of carriageSubject to the provisions of the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, and Orders made thereunder, passengers, their luggage and belongings are carried on the terms contained in the Corporation's General Conditions of Carriage, Regulations, Time-tables and Notices which may be inspected at the Corporation's Offices.I represent very strongly that that is a totally unreasonable and inadequate advertisement to the passenger that the damage he can recover from the airline, except in the most extraordinary conditions, is limited to £6,000 and that if he values himself at higher than that he would be prudent to secure his own insurance. No reasonable person could believe that this notice on the ticket would convey that information. I suggest that unless that information is conveyed it is totally unreasonable to apply an unrealistically low limit.
1573 Is the limit unreasonable and unrealistically low? I have been in correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, and I will, with permission, quote an extract from his letter to me. It is as follows:Out of 78 claims made in the four years 1957–60 arising out of death or personal injuries as a result of accidents to aircraft of one British Airline, 55 were, I am told, for less than £6,000. Of the 23 claims for more than £6,000, only two were for more than £10,000. These were claims not necessarily limited by the Convention, and they are the amounts claimed, not the amounts of damages actually established.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to say whether these cases were all fatalities, or were some injuries?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I very much regret that I have not that information available.
This suggests, prima facie, that in 23 out of the 78 claims to which my right hon. Friend referred, a limitation of liability to £6,000 means potentially that in those cases the injured passenger was unable to recover the full damages which it is alleged he or she suffered. This, surely, is substantive evidence that the £6,000 limit has not been realistic in terms of actual accidents which have occurred.
Cany anyone reasonably believe that today £6,000 represents a reasonable capitalisation of an average passenger's earning capacity? A return of 5 per cent. on the sum of £6,000, if invested, means that an income of £300 a year would be the total income arising from damages of that amount. I think that this is a reasonable assumption, and that is why, in the Amendment, I have endeavoured to ensure that whatever limits the Minister applies in the case of domestic flights, they will not be less than double the £6,000 which is the corresponding figure in the Warsaw Convention.
I do not intend to argue the merits of the £6,000 limit on international flights, because we either have to accept the Warsaw Convention as amended by The Hague Protocol in toto, or reject it, and, in my submission, the balance of advantage is in favour of accepting it.
Lastly, I would refer to the concluding paragraph of Section 41 of Professor Drion's definitive work entitled, "Limitation 1574 of Liabilities in International Air Law," to which I was referred by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation in the letter which I mentioned earlier. It states:If there is any field in which unification of the law on a world-wide basis would be inappropriate it is the field of the amount of damages to be paid in the case of death or injuries, for in few areas local views and circumstances of a social and economic character are of so much importance. Unification of the law as a ground for limitation of liability, therefore, should be rejected.It is often contended by those who seek to limit the power of the courts in this country to give redress to injured parties that it is administrably inconvenient to give the courts such powers. I would represent very strongly that the House should be extremely careful about giving a Minister power to deprive the courts of the ability to award the full damages which a citizen suffered unless the limits set are reasonable limits. If it is argued that limits are essential for domestic air operations, which argument I am not challenging, I think it relevant to remark that the American domestic air operations are not, to the best of my knowledge, governed by any limitation of liability.
In conclusion, I would suggest that if these four propositions which I have made satisfy the House, then the Amendment standing in my name should also commend itself to the House.
§ Mr. Fletcher
In rising to support the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I should like, if I may, to congratulate him on the admirably lucid and cogent way in which he explained the purposes of the Amendment and justified and adduced his arguments in support of it. This is really a very serious matter.
It is, of course, somewhat odd that a Measure of this importance comes before the House as a Private Member's Bill. Perhaps one might be permitted to ask how it is that it is not sponsored by the Government, as was the Act of 1932; because, like that Act, this Bill is intended primarily to give statutory effect to an international convention. But there it is, and I acknowledge that private Members have precisely the same rights as have the Government to introduce Bills of this importance. However, 1575 that does not absolve us from the duty of examining its provisions rather carefully.
In order to appreciate the significance of this Amendment one must consider the background of Clause 10. None of us quarrels with the idea of giving statutory approval to an international convention which governs international carriage by air. But Clause 10 suggests that the Government may, by Order in Council, apply the provisions of the international convention to flights within this country. Therefore, we have to consider whether it is reasonable that the same limitations on liability should apply to domestic flights as apply to international carriage. In my view, the same arguments do not apply in both cases, as the hon. Member indicated in the four propositions which he advanced.
The reason why it is right, in dealing with international carriage, to have an international convention ratified by Statute in the various countries is that if a passenger travels abroad in an aeroplane, whether a British plane or one belonging to a foreign company, and if as the result of an accident he meets his death, in order to recover compensation, his representatives may have to take proceedings in a foreign court. His representatives may be put to very considerable difficulty in proving that in some way the accident was due to the negligence of the airline. Therefore it has been laid down, and is accepted, that if an accident occurs, substantially—I am paraphrasing the provisions in the convention—liability should be assumed. The plaintiff, or the deceased's representatives, do not have to prove liability. But, as a corollary to that, a monetary limit on liability is laid down in the convention. I think that right for international carriage.
When the Warsaw Convention was adopted in 1929, it was carried into law by the Carriage by Air Act, 1932, with which I had something to do. At that time, I thought it reasonable that the provisions of the convention should apply to domestic carriage. But I think the House should appreciate that conditions of air travel, particularly within the confines of the United Kingdom, are very different today from what they were in 1932. Then there was little domestic air travel. Today there is a great deal.
1576 In thirty years British European Air ways has developed tremendously its services between London, Manchester, Birmingham, Scotland and Orkney and Shetland, and so there has been a tremendous change and increase in the amount of purely domestic air travel; particularly in the case of British European Airways, but not exclusively so. Thirty years ago there was far more international air travel. That was then the pattern of air travel, but that is not the case today. Therefore, to my mind the first question which arises is whether the international convention should be adopted at all in relation to Clause 10. I am not convinced that the case has been made out—
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I can understand the question arising in the mind of the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that it arises in connection with this Amendment.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It arises only as part of the bigger question. If it is desirable that the Government should have power under Clause 10, I agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton that that power should be subject to certain very important considerations. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member concentrates on one of them, and to that I will devote my argument, although it did not seem to me the only relevant consideration which arises on the broader question.
This is the most important aspect of Clause 10, because if the Clause was operated, if an Order in Council was made, the same limitation on liability would apply to a domestic internal air carrier as applies in the case of international carriage. Why should it apply? The limitation on liability is reasonable if we are dealing with a foreign air line, but is there any reason why there should be any limitation in respect of a British company. There is no limitation on liability at common law. A person who carries passengers, or goods for that matter, whether by air, sea or land, whether by rail or in a horse-drawn conveyance, has no limitation on liability at common law. The liability is absolute for negligence. Regarding the carriage of goods, the liability of a common carrier is far greater than that of anyone else, apart from an innkeeper. Therefore, prima facie, there is 1577 no case whatever, in my opinion, for limiting liability on the carriage of passengers by air.
If there is to be some limit, we should carefully consider what that limit should be. I am prepared to concede, as did the hon. Member for Tiverton, that the ground for imposing some limitation of liability, even in the case of the domestic air carrier, is it releases the dependants or representatives of a deceased person from the obligation to prove negligence, although, of course, in such cases it would be difficult to refute negligence. The sole question, then, is, what should be the limit? Surely it ought to be no less than the representatives of a deceased person, killed as the result of an accident in an aircraft, could reasonably expect to recover in order to provide adequate compensation for the dependants of the deceased. In other words, they should be no worse off than if the deceased had lost his life in a train accident or been killed on the roads.
The dependants of passengers who unfortunately meet with fatalities are entitled to know, it should be a matter of public knowledge, that the monetary compensation will be paid to them in accordance with the ordinary principles of common law, which have regard to the size of the family, the needs of the dependants and the state of life in which the person who was killed had been living. Cases vary according to the conditions of the person who loses his life, but on any footing £6,000 cannot be adequate to cover all cases. It may be adequate to cover some cases, but why should the allowance be limited to £6,000? The hon. Member for Tiverton suggests £12,000. But for this Amendment, I might have put down an Amendment asking for an even higher limit. I am content, however, with the present Amendment because I believe a limit of £12,000 in these cases is far more reasonable than £6,000.
Those of us who, like the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) who sponsored the Bill, have had experience of dealing with these cases in the courts know that on numerous occasion quite substantial damages are recovered for personal injury. The hon. Member for Tiverton has given figures in relation to accidents which have occurred in the last four 1578 years, showing what amounts have been paid. I support the Amendment and I hope the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South will be persuaded to accept it. I hope he will not feel that he is under an obligation to observe slavish obedience to the provisions of the Warsaw Convention when considering conditions of internal domestic air travel.
This seems to be entirely a matter for Parliament. I hope that if the hon. Member is not prepared to accept the Amendment the hon. Member for Tiverton will carry it to a Division, in which I am sure he would have a great deal of support.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I am very pleased to support the Amendment. I agree with much of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) to the effect that there should not be a limit on this compensation. As he explained, there is no limit in accident cases of other kinds.
This Amendment would protect the dependants of any unfortunate people killed or injured in air accidents. It would double the present amount of compensation, which is £6,000, and that would be a decided improvement in view of changing money values. We are now in 1961 and, since 1945, we have seen a tremendous growth in air travel all over the world. In this Amendment we are dealing with domestic air services. We have seen the expansions of services run by B.E.A. to many of the main towns in Great Britain. In addition, large and important independent airline operators are operating services and running charter flights to various towns. There is likely to be an enormous expansion in the next few years. B.E.A., by advertisements in the Press this week, has announced special services to Glasgow.
I had hoped, like my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East, that the Government in the past would give some attention to this matter. We trust that this Private Member's Bill will soon have its Third Reading. With the great changes in air transport and expansion of services, in a short time thousands of people will be travelling by air to our big cities instead of going by road or rail. It is important that their 1579 dependants should be protected by adequate compensation in the case of accidents, and themselves if injured.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East that there is no reason for a limit in the compensation in the case of air accidents. Some people believe that there is more risk in air travel than in other methods of travel, but, when we consider the number of accidents on the road, we know that is not so. There is no limit in the case of road or railway accidents and there should be no limit in the compensation amount for air accidents to passengers. I have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment which will raise the limit to no less than £12,000. I hope that the Government will accept it and that it will be incorporated in the Bill.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for giving me notice that he intended to move this Amendment and of the remarks that he would advance in support of it. I am also grateful to other hon. Members, on both sides of the House, for their interest in this very important point in the Bill. Although I shall ask them to agree with me that this is not a desirable Amendment, I assure them that I do so not without having carefully thought out the various points which have been advanced. I hope that I shall succeed in persuading hon. Members that there are very strong arguments to the contrary which ought to outweigh those which have been put forward for the Amendment.
At the outset, I should say that Clause 10 is a part of the Bill which it is not essential to have in its present form for the ratification of the treaty. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) rightly said that this is a matter for Parliament and that Parliament can reach a decision on it which it thinks appropriate. I certainly shall not be arguing that here is an international treaty and we simply must follow it. I shall rely on what I believe to be the merits of the Amendment. One has to look at the background first. The Warsaw Convention was embodied in the Carriage By Air Act, 1932, to which the hon. Member has referred. The 1932 1580 Act included a Section in substantially the same form as Clause 10.
In spite of that, no Order was made under this provision for twenty years. Application of the Air Navigation Order came into force in 1952, but it is interesting to note the previous position. These things have been rather left at large. Airlines are not common carriers, either of passengers or of goods. Therefore, they are free to limit their liability in such manner as seems appropriate to them and which is recognised by the law. They were advised in the period before 1952 that there was some difficulty about limiting their liability.
I believe, although I have not verified this, that the source of that advice was the case of Nunan v. Southern Railway. They were advised that there were difficulties about limiting the liability and, therefore, totally excluded it. The position until 1952, when the Warsaw Convention was applied to non-international carriage, was that the airlines, of this country, at any rate, totally excluded liability to passengers for death or injury. Payments made were ex gratia. That is obviously not a very happy state of affairs.
It was to remedy that that the 1952 Air Navigation Order was made applying the Warsaw Convention, more or less unchanged, to non-international carriage, so that at present there is the existing limit of £3,000 for death or injury which is a very low limit indeed. The main purpose of the Bill and of The Hague Protocol is to raise that limit to £6,000, or whatever the sterling equivalent may be of the gold francs which are referred to in the Convention.
I mention that because it is the background against which the powers in Clause 10 should be viewed. If, for example, the 1930 Act should be repealed by this Bill coming into force, and no Order were made under Clause 10, we would return to the common law position and the airlines could, and, indeed, would, be forced to exclude all liability. Thus, the common law position is one to which we should not want to return in this respect. The effect of the first Amendment is simply to limit and curtail the power of the Minister and—I am afraid to inform right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, the power of the two Houses of Parliament—to specify 1581 the conditions under which The Hague Protocol should be applied to non-international carriage.
Clause 10 of the Bill, the one proposed to be amended, says, in subsection (1):Her Majesty may by Order in Council apply the First Schedule to this Act,"—that is, the Convention—together with any other provisions of this Act, to carriage by air, not being carriage by air to which the Convention applies,that is, non-international carriage—of such descriptions as may be specified in the Order, subject to such exceptions, adaptations and modifications, if any, as may be so specified".All that one does by amending Clause 10 is to say that no such Order shall name a figure of less than double the figure for international carriage as to limit the discretion which can be exercised by the Minister and endorsed by the House, because this is affirmative Resolution procedure.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I understand that the case of the mover of the Amendment is that there should be a lower limit below which an Order in Council shall not permit this discretion to go.
§ Mr. Fletcher rose—
§ Mr. Fletcher
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if this Amendment is not accepted it would be open to the Government, by Order in Council, to place an even lower limit?
§ Mr. Bell
As Clause 10 stands, it leaves a wide open discretion and when the Order comes to be made, then is the time for hon. Gentlemen to exercise pressure on the Minister. Thus, there is every opportunity at that time, and in whatever circumstances may be prevailing, 1582 to apply whatever course seems best to hon. Members of this House or another place.
The effect of the Amendment is not to say that the Minister must make an Order. If such stringent restrictions were imposed on the Minister he might be driven into the position of saying, "In these circumstances, I do not feel that I can make an Order", and the House would not be able to do much about it. It is not a good idea to adopt that procedure and, on the whole, it has not been the practice of Parliament to write this sort of limitation into a Clause which confers powers on Ministers. Of course, if the House so desires, it can do that, but, considering our normal manner of procedure, I suggest that that would not be a good idea.
I will now deal with the arguments that have been put forward on the assumption that, if an Order were made, it would apply to international limits, and I will not conceal my own view that if an Order is made it should adopt the international limits. The Amendment is comprehensive. It applies to freight as well as to persons, although I realise that the mover was mainly interested in the carriage of persons. I appreciate also that the human element is the main consideration in the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen taking part in this debate.
Since this is the Report stage, one has to look at the form of the Amendment as well as to what is in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton. The Hague Protocol makes no change in the limits of freight compensation from those laid down in the Warsaw Convention, nor is there any pressure for them to be changed. There was no pressure to change them during the conference and everyone is quite happy with existing arrangements. The limit is 250 gold francs per kilogram or roughly £2 10s. per lb. averdupois. If the consignor does not like that, all he need do is to make a declaration at the time of consigning, and pay an additional charge.
Probably most consignors—I would say almost certainly—want a low basic rate for freight and the facility to declare a high value and to make extra payments when they dispatch a particularly valuable cargo. Almost certainly that is 1583 what they want, and that is why they are content with the existing arrangements. Alternatively, they may think that they can arrange private insurance to cover these additional amounts more cheaply than the higher rates quoted by the airline companies.
For example, we do not want the basic compulsory rate to be large enough to cover a consignment of diamonds, because if it were we should have to raise the general level for basic freight. De Beer's would probably prefer to negotiate private insurance to pay for that.
While everybody who is concerned with this arrangement is happy about it, my hon. Friend's Amendment would make it compulsory to alter the arrangement and to double the basic rate of compensation for freight consignments, and I cannot think that that is what the House should do. In drafting the Amendment my hon. Friend has not addressed his mind to that distinction between persons and goods.
I will pass from that, because I do not want to appear to be taking merely technical points, and I turn to the question of passengers. The hon. Member for Islington, East is coming very near to the centre of the problem when he says that he is opposed to any limit being fixed at all. Not merely was he coming near to the centre of the problem, but, unfortunately, he was getting near to the outer boundaries of what is in order. If we try to fix a limit which will take account of any case which may arise, including some extremely valuable lives, we fix a figure which is astronomically high, and we are virtually saying that there should be no limit at all. That is what it amounts to. There is no point in merely doubling the figure, because there will still be people with fancy incomes which are far above it.
My hon. Friend quoted an extract from a letter which he had received from the Minister. This was an extract from a letter which the secretary of the British European Airways Corporation wrote to me in February when I raised this point with the Corporation. It had occurred to me, and I think that hon. Members will agree that we are slightly attracted by the idea of raising the compensation for being killed or injured in 1584 an air accident. I took the point up with the B.E.A. and the secretary sent me the figures. He sent a copy to the Minister, and in that way the figures reached my right hon. Friend. I will read the paragraph in full, because it is a little more than was in the Minister's letter:I find that out of 78 claims"—made against B.E.A.—in the four years 1957–60 arising out of personal injuries as a result of air accidents"—that includes deaths and personal injuries—55 were for less than £6,000"—the claims are not for proved damage—and of these 34 were for less than £3,000. Only two of the 23 claims for more than £6,000 are for more than £10,000…. Thus it seems to me that £6,000 is a reasonable figure to take but, as I have said, any figure must be arbitrary.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the logic of that argument? If there are only a few claims over £6,000, that is an additional reason for supporting the Amendment, not for opposing it.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member is not following the argument. I said that we faced the dilemma of having no limit at all, to cover all cases, or of fixing a limit which will meet the average run of case and leaving the exceptional case to be insured beyond that. Once we have decided to have a limit—and the form of the Amendment presupposes a limit—then we are left with the practical question of where to put the limit to meet the general run of cases and to leave only the exceptional case to be met by insurance. That is the relevance of these figures. They establish that, on the whole, £6,000 is a reasonable figure.
That approaches the question from the broadest possible angle, but there are other considerations which come midway between the technical point with which I started and this broad approach, and they are, I believe, conclusive. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Islington, East have spoken throughout as though the distinction were between international and domestic carriage, but, of course, that is not the position and that is why we are quite differently placed from the United States. There, 1585 broadly speaking, they can say that carriage is either domestic or international, but in this small island we have to look very closely at what is meant by "international carriage" in the Hague Protocol.
It is set out in the first Article of the First Schedule to the Bill. It reads:For the purposes of this Convention, the expression 'international carriage' means any carriage in which, according to the agreement between the parties, the place of departure and the place of destination…are situated either within the territories of two High Contracting Parties or within the territory of a single High Contracting Party if there is an agreed stopping place within the territory of another State, even if that State is not a High Contracting Party.That is complicated enough but, broadly, it means that if one is travelling from the territory of one contracting party to the territory of another contracting party, that is international carriage and any other journey, any journey where the destination is in a country which is not a contracting party, is non-international carriage. For people travelling from Britain, one is speculating, because it depends on who ratifies the Warsaw Convention, but a high proportion of journeys will be of non-international non-domestic carriage, so that the case based on the balance of argument falls to the ground.
The great advantage which one gets under the convention is that one need not sue in a foreign court and prove negligence. Negligence is presumed in one's favour. One can sue in one's own country because of the jurisdictional consequences of the convention. That is the great advantage, and what we pay for that advantage is the limitation. My point is that precisely that advantage applies also in relation to a good deal of non-international carriage, all of which is international in the ordinary sense of the word though non-international in Warsaw Convention terms. There, too, if the convention is applied one is able to sue in the courts of England for an accident which happened abroad and negligence is presumed in one's favour. One will get paid.
That argument is nothing like as strong as it looks. If two different figures were to be adopted, it would result in this position. A passenger in an aeroplane who was travelling from England to the territory of another contracting 1586 party would have the limit of £6,000 if he were injured. Somebody sitting on the seat beside him and going to the territory of a non-contracting party would have whatever limit were fixed in the Order. It might be £12,000.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Does my hon. Friend agree that the same situation exists as regards two passengers on a jet aircraft flying from, say, San Francisco to London stopping at New York, with one passenger getting off at New York and another going on to London?
§ Mr. Bell
Yes, it does. At the beginning of this part of my argument I drew a distinction between a vast continental country like the United States, where domestic carriage constitutes an enormous proportion of the total carriage, and a small country like ours. It can be said, broadly, that a passenger is either on an aircraft going across the Atlantic or the Pacific, or up to Canada, or down to South America, or he is making a domestic flight. There is a tremendous amount of domestic flying in the United States. In this island, on the whole people do not get on a plane at one point and get off again inside the island while most of the passengers go on. That is an important distinction.
My point is that for two passengers sitting beside each other the limit for one would be £6,000 and the limit for the other would be £12,000. It would simply depend on the stopping place or the destination. That is not a very good idea. It would lead to great confusion in the minds of passengers about what they would get if they were injured and what insurance cover they should take out. It would involve them in all the litigation that could ensue once argument started about whether it was international or non-international carriage. If the air navigation Order states the same figure for both passengers, they will not be concerned to litigate about the boundary line between them.
The same passenger would have different figures according to whether he booked straight through on an international journey or whether he booked for the first half of his journey and got off then and rebooked for the second half, because if he booked straight through it might be international carriage, or it might be international 1587 carriage depending on whether the ultimate destination was out of the convention countries. If he broke his journey, it could have an effect according to the nature of the country in which he broke his journey. If the air navigation Order tries to draw a distinction between international carriage and non-international carriage in the terms of the convention, there would be three categories of people to deal with and there would be even worse confusion.
The position would be intolerable in the matter of freight, because if part of a cargo was to be off-loaded in one country and part of it in another the part which was off-loaded in the first port of call might be non-internationally carried. The part which was off-loaded in the next country would be internationally carried, both in foreign countries. All this would have to be sorted out and the proper declaration made on the first consignment of the freight and the appropriate surcharge paid on each parcel.
I hope that I have said enough to show that a quite impracticable complication would arise if this small country tried to operate two different systems side by side according to whether the carriage fell within the exact terms of the Warsaw Convention, or whether it depended upon our own air navigation Order. For those reasons, I ask the House not to accept the Amendment.
I hope that hon. Gentlemen on both sides who have supported it will think again when they realise its nature and understand that in any case we, the Government and Parliament, have complete discretion in Clause 10 as it stands to make any Order that we see fit when the time comes. Therefore, all one would be doing now would be anticipating a future debate and cramping and limiting ourselves and the Minister to one solution, considered rather quickly this morning. Further, freight is covered inadvertently.
I ask my hon. Friend, having raised this subject and provided us with this very valuable debate, to withdraw the Amendment so that the Bill can stand as it is.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
We have all listened with the utmost interest, and 1588 some of us with the utmost disappointment, to what the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has said. I had hoped that in the light of the arguments adduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) he would have seen fit to accept the Amendment which, as he spoke, seemed, and still seems, eminently reasonable.
We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South for promoting the Bill. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and others, it is a Measure which is rather unusual for a private Member to introduce. It is a very important Measure and its predecessor was introduced by the Government. A Measure of this kind should have been introduced by the Government some time ago. Unfortunately, it has fallen to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South to introduce it. We are all delighted that it is here and that we are likely to see its passage into law at no distant date.
I tried to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South. As I understood him, he was against the suggestion made by his hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton to double the lower limit, because it might be of such a large amount as to prevent the Minister who is to make the Order in Council from so making it. He used that argument. I know that it can be said to be a form of blackmail, but the hon. Gentleman did not mean it in that way.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I said that, if we were to make the conditions too stringent, the only effect would be to prevent the Minister from promulgating them.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
That is one of the points I wanted to make in my brief observations. The hon. Member seemed to think that £12,000 was too high. As the hon. Member for Tiverton pointed out, we must bear in mind the change which has taken place in the value of money and 5 per cent. on £12,000 would bring in only £600 a year. That is not a large sum by way of compensation for death or very serious injury, bearing in mind what is paid by way of ordinary wages nowadays.
Therefore, many of us think that £12,000 is a reasonable sum, and I had 1589 hoped that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South would think so, too. It is astonishing that the argument should be advanced, that, if we make the lower limit £12,000, it will in some way inhibit the Minister who has to make the Order in Council and prevent him from making it because he thinks that the sum is so outrageous. The real inference from what the hon. Gentleman said is that the Minister would not make the lower limit £12,000 in any case. That is an additional reason for us to keep the Minister up to scratch and ensure that when the Order in Council is made the lower limit is of such a sum as to be reasonable in the eyes of most of us.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South mentioned the carriage of goods. He said that the sum put in might be unreasonable in that case. Is that argument valid? As I understood him and as I read the Warsaw Convention, it is possible for the Minister—in fact, the Clause gives him powers—to vary the limits for different classes of loss. What might be reasonable for a passenger might definitely not be reasonable for goods.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
This limit is not a sum which a carrier has to pay out for loss or damage. It states his maximum liability. He is not under any obligation to pay more than the value of the baggage.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I was about to make that point, but the hon. Member has made it for me and I shall not repeat what he said.
I do not wish to detain the House, except to express the hope that if the Minister intervenes he will come down on the side of the angels, if I may describe the hon. Member for Tiverton and other hon. Members as angels, and support those of us who think that this is a very reasonable Amendment which should be incorporated in the Bill.
I should like to reiterate what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East, that if the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South seeks to take the Amendment to a Division, many 1590 of us, I hope the majority of us, will vote in favour of it in the hope that it will be carried.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I have just emerged from the process of putting a Private Member's Bill through the House. Consequently, I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), whose feelings, I am sure, were like mine. I hoped that my Bill would go through with the utmost ease. I am certain that he will agree that those of us who have doubts about the Clause are animated by the desire to make the Bill as effective as possible to meet the demands of today.
Air travel is, of course, increasing at an exceptional rate. This applies not only to the passenger side, but also to the freight side. A few weeks ago, I was in an aircraft, which, in 1957, carried the Queen to Canada, and which is now being devoted entirely to the carriage of freight. That is an indication of the tremendous change which is taking place in the use of air travel and the speed of that change.
I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South had to say about the proposed Amendment, which has my full support in its purpose of trying to raise the lower limit to £12,000. The hon. Member, if I followed him correctly, did not seem to be opposed in principle to that idea, but he said that it would limit and curtail the powers of the Minister. He went on to say that the Minister has complete discretion as to the amount of compensation that can be inserted in the Order. His fear seemed to be not the amount of money involved, but that we would curtail and limit the powers of the Minister and affect his discretion.
The hon. Member then went on to say that we could influence the Minister in the direction. I assume, of inserting £12,000 into his Order. What is the purpose of those of us who believe that £12,000 is necessary except to bring pressure to bear upon the Minister to insert that sum? The hon. Member would, therefore, seem, as I have said, to have no objection in principle to the amount or to its insertion.
The only way in which we can bring pressure to bear on the Minister in framing the Order is at this moment, through 1591 the procedure in the House. I do not know of any other way. In this House, we have often to consider Orders. Since I have been in the House, we have dealt with thousands of such orders and never once have I discovered any means whereby I could bring influence to bear on the Minister in the framing of his Order other than through the procedure afforded by the House.
Today, we are asking the Minister seriously to consider the insertion of this sum. I agree with the hon. Member that it is with persons that we are most concerned. It may be true enough—I have no knowledge to the contrary—that those engaged in the carriage of goods are satisfied with the present position of insurance cover. The Minister, however, knows perfectly well that as this traffic grows they may not continue to be satisfied with the present provisions.
I am chiefly concerned with the passengers because I make frequent use of air travel. When I heard the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) read out the conditions of carriage from a ticket similar to the one which I shall be using this evening, I grabbed mine to make sure that the words he was using were the words on the ticket. All that the hon. Member has said about the conditions is absolutely justified. I have been travelling by air for fifteen years and this is the first time that I have read that particular passage.
That shows, I think, our confidence in the aircraft which carries us, or perhaps that we may have a fatalistic attitude at heart and insurance may not seem to be so important to a person who is in the aircraft. It is noticeable that a disaster has never affected the number of persons who travel by air. As a matter of fact, after every disaster the number of people using aircraft seems to bound upwards. The hon. Member gave us figures which he had obtained from British European Airways and pointed out that only two persons, or their relatives out of 78 concerned had claimed more than £10,000, and 55 had claimed less than £6,000.
At an airport today one sees an increasing number of people taking out the private insurance which is offered. It may well be that one factor influencing claims today is that the claim 1592 covered by the ticket is fortified by the personal insurance which the passenger has probably taken out just before his journey. I think that we should keep that in mind.
I am myself opposed to that form of insurance. I never use it. I might even regard it as being unlucky now. I have never participated in it because I regard it as exploiting the air passenger, and I think that it ought not to be permitted. Such insurance is, in my judgment, a Government function, and the Government ought to be providing the security at the increased level suggested in the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I assure the hon. Gentleman that if he ever takes out one of those insurance policies it will not in the least affect the claim he makes if he is killed or injured. I speak of him making the claim because, if he is killed, he will make it through his legal personal representatives. Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I have no doubt that he will be keeping a very close eye on them. These insurances—
§ Mr. Rankin
That is a very depressing intervention. I merely suggested that the fact that an individual has been privately insured may affect the amount of the claim. I do not know, and I imagine that the hon. Gentleman cannot say definitely that it does not. It may affect the attitude of those who are left behind, because, if there had been no private insurance, their claim might have been for £10,000, for all we know. I do not know where we could find statistics to enable us to decide one way or another.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Is not that system already in operation with regard to motor cars? If a person has personal insurance and he is unfortunate enough to meet with an accident in a car, there is no question but that he draws his private insurance irrespective of what he may obtain as a result of the car accident. He draws it irrespective of the motor insurance.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry if I did not make plain what I meant. The fact 1593 remains generally that, since persons have, as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South has admitted, been claiming up to £10,000 and more, it is clear that at least a fraction of the travelling public feels that the proposed limit of £6,000 does not meet the requirements of those using air transport. It is an argument in favour of raising the limit. The hon. Member has said that he is not opposed to the insertion of the higher sum if the Minister so decides when framing the Order. I hope, therefore, that he will accept the Amendment.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I appeal to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), even at this stage, to reconsider his attitude. He has introduced a very important Bill. I am sorry that he has, as it were, dug his toes in—perhaps out of amour propre; I do not know—and I hope that he will, on reflection, realise that he should, as a practising lawyer himself, accept that there is much to be said for the point made in the Amendment. Those of us who have had on occasion to try to assess the amount of damages for which we should apply in cases of injury have frequently found ourselves in serious difficulty in regard to the amount set by the Warsaw Convention.
The real question is: what is the amount of damage sustained by the person or his family when an accident occurs? In ordinary circumstances, as the hon. Member knows, the court comes to a decision and, unless the defendant is not in a position to pay, the amount considered reasonable is accordingly paid. Insurance is taken out against that.
In the cases we are discussing, negligence is presumed to be present. I can understand it being argued that, after all, if a company runs certain flights, it is in some difficulty if negligence has to be presumed and, consequently, some sort of limit ought perhaps to be provided for lower than the correct amount which ought to be paid. But what we ask is that when an accident occurs the amount assessed by a judicial body or by agreement should be the amount which the sufferer is entitled to obtain.
I cannot see what the argument is against that proposition. Either it is 1594 right, in a case of negligence—and negligence is presumed—that the sufferer should be compensated according to the amount of damage he has sustained, or it is wrong. If it is right, we should so provide. Why should those who suffer be called upon to bear a part of the damage for the suffering incurred in consequence of the negligent action of someone else? There is no question of contributory negligence in these cases, and there cannot be. The proposition is accepted judicially, and all lawyers have accepted it completely. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South is asking for a limitation to be set on an accepted rule of law that a person suffering is entitled to damages. Whom is he trying to protect?
Let us come to the next point at issue; and I hope that the Minister will accept it, because it is undeniably the law. Whether it be goods or personal injuries, the hon. Member is driven back to saying that it is not right for people to be made to pay as much as they ought to pay. He cannot say that in the ordinary cases because, in fact, the individual has to pay. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that there is an international arrangement, and one understands the reason for that arrangement. I am not too happy about a limitation in the case of an international arrangement but, as he himself has said, the limitation is imposed in the case of international obligations because other nations have agreed to accept the jurisdiction of courts other than their own and, consequently, they are not in a position to argue about the amount of damages which it is right to pay. Various countries have different approaches to the question of the amount of damages which ought to be payable. They base their views on principles or decisions which may be different from those which prevail in our courts. One can, therefore, understand a limitation being applied in such a case.
However, in our own internal affairs it would be ridiculous to try to maintain an unreasonable rate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) was quite right when he referred to the case in which only two people are involved. If only two are involved, a sum of over £10,000 does not impose such a tremendous hardship on the carriers of the passengers or of the 1595 freight because their insurance rates will not be unduly affected. The hon. Gentle man may not accept the principle that I put forward. He might say, "Why not let the passengers or the people who consign the goods pay this money?" All that my hon. Friend has got to do is to put a few pennies into a box and he can get an insurance policy when he travels. But he does not even bother to do that. Consequently—and this is the tragic position—in cases where these accidents occur and where travellers are injured, their relatives are deprived of any amount in excess of the maximum which is payable, at present up to £6,000—
§ Mr. Bell
I only interrupted so that nobody outside the House should be misled. When the Bill becomes an Act it will not come into force until there has been further ratification of the Warsaw Convention. Therefore, it is desirable that the public who read about this debate shall know that for some indefinite time to come the amount will still be £3,000.
§ Sir B. Janner
So much the more deplorable. I do not think it is unreasonable to introduce a Bill whereby the amount shall be increased from £3,000 to £6,000. It is important that people should not suffer through the negligence of others and through no fault of their own. That is the important point—through the negligence of others, which is presumed.
The only question that remains is whether a £12,000 limit is unreasonable. I may be asked whether there are cases in which people have suffered to the extent of £12,000 or whether there are likely to be such cases, and my answer is undoubtedly "Yes." Two cases have been reported in which people have suffered to the extent of over £10,000, and as traffic continues to increase we shall find that these cases are bound to increase in number. I cannot understand how anybody can deny these arguments. I hope that in the circumstances the hon. 1596 Member will be persuaded that we are right.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
It is very clear from the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has raised points of substance which have been reflected in the anxiety displayed in a number of speeches. As the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said, my hon. Friend put his case very cogently. He was also supported forcefully by the hon. Member for Islington, East.
At the same time, I must say that I concur in what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). I am sure the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) is not right when he says that my hon. Friend has been guided in this matter by amour propre. One of the reasons that we have been able to secure for this important Measure such a fair wind in the Second Reading and in Committee has been that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South has gone to a great deal of trouble to explain the provisions clearly and lucidly at every stage and to enter into discussions with hon. Members.
I think, though, that this amendment raises considerable difficulties. There is a lot of force in the argument that different levels of liability for other than international flights will produce anomalies which are regrettable, and perhaps litigation as to what sort of flight it was—whether it was a domestic or an international flight. One can think of a number of examples. It might be thought anomalous for a fare-paying passenger to be subject to a lower limit of liability than, say, a gratuitous passenger, or a stowaway, or a deportee travelling other than of his own volition.
It is true that this anomaly, if it is an anomaly—and that is open to argument—has existed in other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton has referred to the United States. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South pointed out, until 1952 when the Carriage by Air (Non-international Carriage) Order was made, the same anomaly existed in this country. The position in the United 1597 States is somewhat different so far as air travel is concerned. There is a good deal of force in what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South said about that.
The first point I want to make is that a good deal of argument is reflected in debates and discussions among international organisation as to whether it is a good or bad thing in principle to have these different levels of liability. At the same time, I think there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton said when he pointed out the view expressed by Professor Drion in his work "Limitation of Liabilities in International Air Law", that the unification of law as a ground for limitation of liability should be rejected. That is not all that the Professor had to say on the subject. He wrote a great work of some several hundreds of pages showing that that was not the only factor that had to be borne in mind.
§ Sir B. Janner
I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. If, following that argument, there should not be variations of limitation of liability, then he should be advocating that the liability ought to be more than £12,000 in this country so as to correspond with compensation in other cases, such as the railways.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am not now prejudging the issue. Many people say that different levels of liability for other than international flights create anomalies and difficulties and, perhaps, increased litigation. At the same time, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton that to found a limitation of liability on unification of the law, or merely for technical convenience, is not sufficient. But Professor Drion wrote his book, weighing all the legal difficulties in relation to these limitations of liability. He came to the conclusion that a limitation of some sort was justified, first, because of the general effect on fares, and, secondly, because of the ability of the more valuable passengers to insure.
The Professor had in mind that, if there were no limitation, there would be unlimited liability without proof of negligence, as the law stood, and that would mean that air carriers would have to make provision, by insurance for 1598 liabilities, at a level which would not apply to the majority of passengers, and this would tend to put up costs and fares. Then, there is the ability of a more valuable passenger, such as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) to insure if he wishes. He does not have to, but if he does, then it does not affect his general right to damages.
§ Mr. Hunter
I cannot quite follow the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is usually so clear. Surely the number of air accidents is but a fraction of the number of road accidents, and that is something which should be taken into account in considering limitations of liability.
§ Mr. Rippon
The hon. Gentleman must address himself to proof of negligence. This leads to the point raised in this debate about whether or not £6,000 is a reasonable limit. One can see the arguments both for and against it. We must not, however, look simply at the figures for claims. Those figures do not relate to awards, and we cannot tell how far the claims alleged not merely negligence but reckless conduct. If there is reckless conduct on the part of the carrier, or his agents or servants, then article 25 of the Convention operates to deprive the carrier of the limitation on liability. It may be that we could analyse these claims a little more fully to see their basis, but I cannot give the additional information for which I was asked earlier in the debate.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton will not press this Amendment, and that the House will allow him to withdraw it. The Amendment was only put down yesterday.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is important that the Parliamentary Secretary should not do an injustice to the hon. Member for Tiverton. It is clearly stated that the Amendment was handed in on 19th April, not yesterday.
§ Mr. Rippon
I thought that I had amended my words and that it would be fair to say that it appeared on the Order Paper yesterday, although it was put in the day before.
1599 As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South has pointed out, this amendment raises questions about its form. It is a difficulty that the Amendment covers, as it stands, both freight and passengers. We can of course, discuss this matter further. The House has not exhausted its rights. The limit of liability for flights not covered by the Convention must be fixed by an Order in Council, which is subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. At the same time, I appreciate the point put by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan that hon. Members want an opportunity to discuss the contents of the Order.
One way of dealing with this matter would be for me to undertake to circulate to hon. Members who have shown an interest in this matter a copy of the draft Order, which would give them the opportunity to see whether it is reasonable or not and is meeting the points which have been raised. I undertake to bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend and to weigh carefully the arguments which have been put forward. Although all the argument today has been one way, a good deal of thought must be given to the question of how far it is desirable to create, once again, the anomalies we removed in 1952.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman proposes to circulate a copy of the draft Order only to those who have spoken in this discussion. It is more than probable, since £12,000 seems by the Government to be unreasonable, that a lesser limit will be in the Order, and it is unlikely that we will be entitled to make representations for a higher amount. What happens, except that we are offered this courtesy?
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
What about hon. Members who have not spoken in this discussion?
§ Mr. Rippon
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has put a fair enough point. I was not suggesting that we should limit this facility simply to those who have spoken today. Probably the most effective way of dealing with it would be to do what is done on other occasions—to put a copy in the Library.
It is desirable for further consultations to take place, not only with hon. 1600 Members but with the Air Corporations and other carriers, to ascertain whether the view is still that these anomalies are undesirable. It is reasonable to consult with those interested if the House has it in mind to make a considerable change in the law.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Is my hon. Friend prepared to give an undertaking that, if this Amendment is withdrawn and the Minister submits an Order which includes the sum of £6,000, and the House rejects that Order, the Minister will then introduce another Order embracing the limit of £12,000? Thus, if the House lost its opportunity today to insert the £12,000 limit, the Minister would give it another opportunity of doing so. Unless he did that, we could reject his arguments for the Order but could not amend it.
§ Mr. Rankin
It would be playing right into the hands of the Minister to help to withdraw the pressure which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South has said that we are putting on him about the figure of £12,000. Without imputing to the Minister any motives which are not consistent with good Ministerial practice, when the draft Order comes before the House, he would ensure having sufficient hon. Members behind him to be able to put his will into practice.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The House is now in the position that the Amendment has found considerable support but has been resisted by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who is in charge of the Bill. The Minister has expressed sympathy with the spirit of the Amendment and has pointed out certain technical disadvantages. He has made an offer which we ought to examine, although I do not regard it as satisfactory. His offer is that before the Government make an Order requiring an affirmative Resolution he will circulate it to those hon. Members who are interested and will put a copy in the Library.
That does not go far enough. The Order would be put forward with the backing of Her Majesty's Government, and although there could be a debate the Whips would be on and, whatever the view of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and other hon. Members opposite, they 1601 would be obliged to support the Government.
We are now dealing with a Private Member's Bill on which private Members on both sides of the House are entitled to express their opinions as private Members, and this is essentially a matter on which they should. I hope that the matter will be tested in a Division so that the Government can appreciate the views of the House, unless the Minister is prepared to say that if the Amendment is withdrawn he will not propose any Order which does not contain a provision for liability for passengers double that in the international convention.
I appreciate what he said about freight, and I imagine that my hon. Friends are not so much concerned with freight, and my suggestion would give him the protection which he wants in that respect. If he would give the House an assurance that in any Order liability for passengers will be £12,000, I would be content, but otherwise I would not be a party to assisting the hon. Member for Tiverton to withdrawing his Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Mr. Bell—a question. I use the word "question" because I think the hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Before the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) winds up, may I make a suggestion? The Bill has to go to another place, and I understand that the Minister's chief, and, I hope, only, objection is that the Amendment does not differentiate between passengers and goods. Could not an Amendment be made in another place which would satisfy the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South and my hon. Friends and the many hon. Members opposite who have supported the Amendment? What we want to do is to lay down the liability about passengers in the Bill and not in an Order which is subject to change from time to time.
§ Mr. Rippon
I certainly undertake that consideration will be given to framing an Amendment of that kind, but I do not think that I can give a formal undertaking 1602 to make such an Amendment. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Islington, East for his helpful suggestion, but he will appreciate that it would be wrong to pass an Amendment precisely in this form. I am reluctant to give an undertaking even though it limits the liability to passengers, because there are wider considerations arising out of the anomalies which I have mentioned. We have also to bear in mind that in 1952 the House deliberately decided to remove those anomalies and to have no differential levels between international and domestic travel.
In those circumstances, it seems reasonable in the light of what has been said to have consultations with the interests concerned so that they can have an opportunity of putting their point of view. I fully appreciate what has been said, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will appreciate the strong feeling which has been expressed. I was trying to do all I could without giving a formal undertaking, which it would not be right for me to give. What has been said will be carefully borne in mind to see whether the matter can be dealt with by an Amendment in the House of Lords, or in the Order. It would be quite wrong for the Government to push through an Order which was contrary to the sense of the House if, after further consideration, it was found that there were no arguments to put in the balance against those expressed today.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It might be convenient if the House accepted this Amendment, enabling the Minister then to have his consultations and to make any consequential Amendment which he may wish to propose in another place.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I believe that my right to speak is technically inexhaustible when the Bill has been to a Standing Committee. I think that that is correct for the hon. Member in charge of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps I ought to make the position clear. Standing Order 52 says:When a bill has been committed to a standing committee, or has been so committed in respect of some of its provisions, then, on consideration of the report of the bill or such of its provisions as was so committed, the rule 1603 against speaking more than once shall not apply to the Member in charge of the bill"—but that is not the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell)—or to the mover of any amendment or new clause in respect of that amendment or clause.As the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South is not the mover of the Amendment and is not in charge of the Bill, he can speak a second time only by leave of the House.
§ Mr. Bell
I am much obliged. I feel sure that the House would have given me leave to speak, but, as a matter of courtesy, I wanted to answer the points which have been made.
I have the greatest sympathy with the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made. Indeed, the fact that I wrote to B.E.A. as early as February shows that that is so and I am certainly not resisting the Amendment in any pernickety wish for meticulous consistency, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) once described as the hobgoblin of little minds.
But the difficulties of accepting the Amendment are insuperable. My hon. Friend was good enough to give me notice that he was to put down the Amendment, but he will appreciate that that was only yesterday and that there has not been much time to consider such an important innovation. The present liability was laid down in the 1932 Act and it would be combined with further action under Clause 10. I have been slightly hampered about considering the Amendment because it was put down at a late hour, and in consideration upon Report one cannot deal with the intention behind the Amendment, but only with its actual drafting. On the whole, it is preferable for Amendments of this fundamental character to be considered in Committee when there is leisure to deal with them and when something can 1604 be done to put them into proper form for Report.
That being so, I must say to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that the form of this Amendment has insuperable objections to it at this stage. We obviously cannot do this in relation to freight. It would be very damaging indeed to double the maximum liability for freight, negligence being presumed. Inevitably, it would follow that the insurance cover of B.E.A. and the others would be substantially increased in cost, and it would inevitably follow that they would have to put up their basic freight rates. There is no doubt about that, and that is not a thing which we ought to do in a rather hurried way and on 24 hours' consideration. I think that point is a most serious and important one. The ramifications of this matter are very considerable, and this ought to be properly considered and not done in a hurry like this in a way which cannot be untied when the Bill is through.
I thought that my hon. Friend had made a very helpful suggestion. The procedure under Clause 10 is familiar to all of us, especially to the hon. Member and myself, who are both members of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. This is the affirmative procedure under which, in the words of Clause 10(5):An Order in Council under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament:As I understand it, from what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was saying, and perhaps he will listen and correct me if I am wrong, I thought he was offering to circulate a draft of the draft to hon. Members who have shown themselves particularly interested in this matter. After that, the draft itself will, of course, be laid before Parliament and placed in the Library, and be available to all hon. Members, until in the fullness of time the affirmative Resolutions are introduced.
We have to act responsibly in a matter of this kind, and I am fully conscious of the fact that, as an unofficial Member, I am introducing a Bill which, after all, will be quite an important part of our general law. We have to be very responsible and relaxed in our approach to it and not do a thing like this just because we all feel that £6,000 is a bit low. I 1605 appeal to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members to accept the offer which the Minister has made that he will circulate an unofficial draft of the draft to us beforehand, so that we are able to consider it and let him have our views upon it before the formal draft is settled and laid before the House. We all know that once the formal draft is laid the Government Whips will be on, and while we can all have our say, we may or may not be very effectual in what we say.
§ Mr. Willey
I rise only to raise a point on the aspect concerning us as Members of Parliament. I do not very much like undertakings being made, and I doubt whether it is necessary. I do not for a moment doubt the good intentions of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I do not ignore the fact that he is in a difficult position because of the short notice which he has had to consider this matter. I think he obviously has to have consultations before the Government can declare their position.
I do not like being faced with this difficulty of the circulation of an unofficial draft in advance of a draft for consideration, because this is taking the matter outwith the House of Commons. If we have an opportunity to keep it on the Floor of the House, I think we ought to do it. If we have no such opportunity, we should welcome such an invitation from the Parliamentary Secretary and say that we would certainly consider the matter, and thank him for affording the opportunity to consider the matter and try to affect his mind.
It is important when we are considering matters like this that we should consider ourselves primarily as Members of the House, bearing in mind that we do not like delegated legislation in so far as it can be avoided. Delegated legislation has the disadvantage that the House has no opportunity of making an Amendment. It is quite clear that what everyone here is concerned with is an Amendment. 1606 The Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the Bill have indicated that although they are sympathetic with the Amendment at present before us, they would like to amend it. As Members of the House, we would like to have a say in any Amendment that should be made, but the issue really is whether we have an opportunity for safeguarding our position so that we can speak to that Amendment.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has said that I had indicated that I would like to make an Amendment. That is not so. What I have indicated, naturally putting the other side to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary put, we should get into difficulties if we tried to amend it. I have said that I myself only heard about the Amendment yesterday, and so did the Minister, and it is very difficult indeed to give proper consideration to an Amendment of this character on such short notice.
The ideal system, of course, is for an Amendment like this to be put down in the Committee stage, when one has time for thought, consultation and eventual decision on the Floor of the House. We have not had that opportunity here, and we must do the best we can in the circumstances which have arisen. Since such delegated legislation is inevitable here, because this has to be done by Order in Council, the best way would be that we should try to avoid the inherent disadvantage of delegated legislation, which is that it cannot be amended, by the Parliamentary Secretary circulating a draft, which we can see and on which we can comment. I feel that that is the best way out of the difficulty.
§ Mr. Willey
This is the very point that we are discussing, and of course I agree with both points which the hon. Gentleman has made. Perhaps I expressed myself too dogmatically, but all I was wanting, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, is to have a further opportunity to consider it and, no doubt in the light of that consideration, to express myself further in this House.
The question is whether we are driven to rule out the possibility of further discussion in this House. I do not think 1607 we are. The best course for us to take would be to allow this Amendment to be accepted. The Government have expressed their view about it, but they have not had the opportunity to decide their minds about it. We know that if we take this course there will be further consideration in another place, when the Government will then have the opportunity of declaring their views. If their views, as I think we may assume, were accepted by another place, an Amendment could be accepted and we could have that Amendment from another place laid before us later and then have a further discussion in the light of the further consideration by the Government and hon. Members.
I should have thought that in a case of private Members' legislation we should take that course. If this were a Government Measure, the difficulty would be that the Government would be expressing a view by accepting such an Amendment, but this is not a Government Measure. It is a Private Member's Measure, and I am therefore making this express appeal to the hon. Gentleman that we should take this course, accepting the position that the Government were not committed and were merely expressing a view which was widely shared on the first consideration of this Amendment.
None of us would assume from that that the Government were in any way committed. If they felt themselves that is was unsatisfactory, and, having heard the discussion, it would very likely be the view of the Government that we should have an opportunity at a later stage to consider this matter again and probably be persuaded by the Government that such an Amendment should be made.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. There seems to me to be almost insuperable objection to accepting this Amendment. We all know it to be in the wrong form. [Interruption.] We do, because it covers the two items. I am sure it is not the practice of the House to accept Amendments which are known to be wrongly drafted, and to say "Never mind, we will have another debate about this in the House of Lords." 1608 2.0 p.m.
If what my hon. Friend has suggested is not preferred—although I think that it offers the best solution now—the better course would be for the Amendment to be withdrawn and reintroduced in a better form in another place. This could be done. We should then have a further opportunity of dealing with the matter here, without the objection—which is a powerful one—of having accepted, at extremely short notice, a very important Amendment which we know cannot be added to the Bill, at any rate in its present form. I commend to the House the suggestion which my hon. Friend has made as probably being the better course, although we could not in any way object if the second course of withdrawing the Amendment now and introducing it in another place, with better drafting, were adopted.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The hon. Member said that there was an objection to the drafting of the Amendment. I am sure that he is wrong. The draftsmanship is quite in order. The quarrel of the Government is with regard to its substance—the question whether it should apply to freight as well as to passengers. It could be argued that it should apply to both, and if it should be so desired by Parliament the draftsmanship is perfect. It is not correct to say that in accepting the Amendment the House would be accepting something which was wrongly drafted. On the contrary, as far as I can see, it would be accepting something which we all want in part and which would be susceptible of change elsewhere in relation to the other part, relating to freight.
The paramount consideration here is the question how the House can best retain its fundamental rights of control over legislation. It seems to me that the best way of ensuring that objective would be for the House to accept the Amendment, the Government not being committed to it, and then for the Government to use their influence in another place to make any modifications they might desire after the necessary consultations. Then, when the Bill come back from another place, we would have an opportunity of reaching a decision on merits, when considering the Lords Amendments.
1609 When Bills come back from another place on Fridays, Bills with Lords Amendments have precedence over all other Private Members' Bills. In that way the rights of the House of Commons will be ensured, and in that way alone. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will not withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
The Question is, That those words be there inserted in the Bill.
§ Order for Third Reading read—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have, of course, had a long debate on the Amendment of which we have just disposed, but if there are hon. Members who wish to discuss the more general provisions of the Bill I certainly have no wish to curtail the proceedings, because this is an important Measure and one which makes substantial changes in the law.
The main effect of the Bill is to enact into law The Hague Protocol of 1955 to the Warsaw Convention which was embodied in the 1932 Carriage by Air Act, and the method by which the Bill proceeds is by repealing the 1932 Act and enacting the Warsaw Convention, as amended by The Hague Protocol, and
§ As many as are of that opinion say "Aye." To the contrary "No." I think that the "Ayes" have it.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 29, Noes 30.1609
|Division No. 142.]||AYES||[2.4 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Benson, Sir George||Janner, Sir Barnett||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Weitzman, David|
|Cooke, Robert||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Darling, George||Kimball, Marcus||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Lawson, George||Whitlock, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Willey, Frederick|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Hall. Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mulley, Frederick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hunter, A. E.||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Mr. Rankin and Mr. Willis.|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pym, Francis|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Prior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho|
|Braine, Bernard||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon, Martin|
|Burden, F. A.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Renton, David|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kirk, Peter||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Leburn, Gilmour||Vane, W. M. F.|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Longden, Gilbert||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Wade, Donald|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Finlay, Graeme||Page, Graham (Crosby)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Peel, John||Mr. Bell and Mr. John Hall.|
§ scheduling it to the Bill. That is in the First Schedule. Hon. Members will notice that it is printed in English and French, which constitutes not an innovation but a return to the practice of about five centuries ago, though the French, on this occasion, is not Norman French. The reason why that is done is because only the French text is authentic, and the other texts, the English and Spanish ones, are not of the same binding effect.
§ The same was true of the Carriage by Sea Convention. That was only printed in English in the 1932 Bill, but it was found that at least on one occasion questions arose as to the meaning of the English words, and the courts decided that to interpret the English words in the Schedule they were entitled to refer to the French original of the convention, even though that was not scheduled in the Carriage by Air Act, 1932.
§ There seemed to be objections in principle to having the wording of a British 1611 Act of Parliament interpreted by reference to the French master text of the convention which did not appear in the Act at all. Mr. Justice Devlin thought that he was entitled to do that, and it is now established as something that can be done in the English courts. Therefore, in view of that precedent, it is clearly desirable that the French text should be, as it is here, actually scheduled to the Bill and by the terms of the Bill made to prevail if any conflict should be detected between the two versions.
§ It is clear from the debate which we have had that the most important provision of the Bill is that which raises the maximum sum which can be recovered for personal injury from £3,000 to £6,000. There are no changes in relation to the maximum for freight which remains at about 50s. per lb. avoirdupois. But in the case of freight there is a small change in as much as the maximum at present is calculated on the whole consignment so that if one package of a consignment is lost the maximum applicable is that which is calculated on the total consignment. That was rather odd, and in the protocol that is now changed and the maximum is calculated upon each parcel.
§ In the past, there have been stringent rules about what is printed on the ticket. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) referred during the debate on the Amendment to the very perfunctory notice on his own ticket, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) also did the same. There is a reason why it has been somewhat brief, which is that the rules in the present convention about what is printed on tickets are extraordinarily strict, almost like the old common law in this country, and because a very small error would deprive the airline of the whole protection of the convention. It would lay the airline open to unlimited liability, and that, naturally, has made operators rather nervous of printing anything in extenso.
Therefore, when the Air Navigation Order, 1952, was made it provided for a modification in the Warsaw Convention and said that there need only be a brief reference to the convention on the ticket. That will not be necessary in future because the protocol mitigates the extreme severity of the old rule and the
only statement which it absolutely requires to be printed on the ticket is that near the top of page 8 of the Bill, in paragraph (c), which states:
a notice to the effect that, if the passengers journey involves an ultimate destination or stop in a country other than the country of departure, the Warsaw Convention may be applicable and that the Convention governs and in most cases limits the liability of carriers for death or personal injury and in respect of loss or of damage to baggage.
§ As long as that warning to the traveller is printed on the ticket, that his compensation may well be limited if he is going outside the country, then the protection of the convention attaches to the airline. That, of course, is the really important one. Some minor error in the stopping places will no longer invalidate the application of the convention. Therefore, if the Minister should now see fit to make an Order under Clause 10 of the Bill in relation to non-international carriage, that undoubted defect at present existing need not continue any further. That, I think, will give some consolation to my hon. Friend.
§ It would not be right at this stage that I should go through the whole Bill and all it does, but I would mention another change made concerning liability for passengers. There exists the possibility, where there is wilful misconduct on the part of the operator, that the passenger can recover unlimited damages. "Wilful misconduct" is the phrase at present in the convention. In the protocol that will be changed to much stronger wording, to almost international causing of damage by the operator. I will not trouble the House with the exact words, because in so far as the practice of the English courts is concerned no appreciable difference will be made. In our courts wilful misconduct has always been interpreted as wilful misconduct.
§ One understands that American juries have taken a creative view of what constitutes wilful misconduct in their desire to award large damages to the victims of air accidents, and a much tighter form of words has been drafted in the hope that it will tie the hands of American juries. I am informed that that is the object of the exercise. Those who are most knowledgeable about these matters have doubts whether the hands of American juries will be tied by any form of words but that is the reason why it has been done.1613
§ In conclusion, I refer to Clause 10, which We have discussed at some length because it extends slightly the scope of the parallel section of the 1932 Act by allowing the air navigation Order, and so the convention, to apply to gratuitous carriage and to carriage undertaken by a carrier not a scheduled airline. Until now gratuitous carriage was not covered, and that led to some remarkable anomalies as well as to the fact that any carriage by the Crown would automatically not be included. Under Clause 10, by an Order in Council those gaps can be closed.
§ There are many detailed alterations, but I do not think that it would be right to detain the House with them now. I think that I have indicated the main ambit of the Bill as it emerges on Third Reading, and I hope that the House will speed it on its way to the Statute Book.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
We on this side wholeheartedly support the Bill, but I have two observations to make. First, we regret very much the limit set in Clause 10, in view of the fact that the value of money is now derisory and will obviously fall still further. Secondly, the Bill will now go to another place. I hope that the Minister will take note of the very narrow majority which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) won in the Division which has just taken place and see to it that what I think is the Government's view as regards passengers is embodied in the Bill in another place.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher
We all agree that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has rendered a notable service in introducing a Bill, which, normally, would have been a Government Bill, dealing with an important aspect of the law. As the House will have seen, and as the public will see, the most controversial aspect of it is Clause 10. We are happy that the international convention as amended should be adopted in this country and should apply to international carriage.
As I see it, the upshot of the debate which we have had is that the Government are impressed by the views which have been expressed about the desirability 1614 of there being a higher limit of liability for domestic air travel than exists under the Convention. I assume that one of the reasons why the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) was defeated was that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South and the Minister pointed out that when the Government come to make the Order in Council it will be open to them to fix the limit at whatever figure they desired. They will not be tied to the figure of £6,000. If they like, they can fix it at £12,000, or £15,000.
The Government, therefore, have complete freedom to do what they regard as reasonable and sensible. Many hon. Members who supported the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South in opposing the Amendment were mindful of the fact that when the Government came to make the Order in Council they would still have power to give effect to the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Tiverton and supported by this side of the House. I have no doubt that the Government will bear that in mind and I sure that those who are interested in the matter will look forward to seeing the draft of the Order in Council when it comes to be made.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Rippon
The fact that we have had a Division on the matter does not obviate what I said earlier, that, when bringing in the draft Order, we shall have regard to the views expressed today. I say that without commitment to the merits, because we want an opportunity to consider them in more detail.
I add my congratulations to those offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for the skill with which he piloted this very useful and, in some ways, complicated Measure through the House. I am sure that the Bill has had an easy passage, except with regard to the point on Clause 10, because of the way in which my hon. Friend so clearly explained at every stage the object of the Bill. Unlike some members of our profession, he brought light where hitherto there was darkness.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.