§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.9 a.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill, which I think is one of considerable interest to hon. Members of the House, has the particular merit of being an entirely non-party Measure. I suspect that some hon. Members have come here today with more obstetric than traumatic interest in the business and might well speak on the Second Reading debates of the first two Bills on the Order Paper. Nevertheless, I think that we ought to have a fruitful discussion.
I should first declare some sort of interest in this Bill for, like most surgeons, particularly those who deal with injuries to bones and joints, I sometimes get referred to me people who have sustained accidents. It is possible, therefore, that if the Bill reaches the Statute Book, a few more cases might be sent my way. I think that hon. Members will accept from me, however, that my advocacy of the Bill will not be specially strident for that reason.
I turn from specific interests to more general interests. I received a good deal of help in the preparation of the Bill from a former Member of the House, Mr. Niall MacDermot, who was Member for Lewisham, North before the last General Election and who contributed weightily to and helped in our discussions in the past.
Before describing the object of the Bill, I cannot do better than refer to the present state of the law. The present situation is that under the Road Traffic Act, 1960, all owners of motor vehicles 797 are obliged to be insured against third party risks. I refer to Part VI of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. I say "all", but there are certain exceptions which are listed in Section 203 (4). The exceptions are in subsection (4, b) which concerns those persons who are in employment—one does not have to be insured for them; and subsection (4, c), which concerns those persons who are injured in the course of a contractual liability. Neither of these categories is affected by the Bill.
In subsection (4, a), we read:The policy shall not, by virtue of paragraph (a) of the last foregoing subsection, be required to cover—(a) liability in respect of the death of, or bodily injury to, persons being carried in or upon, or entering or getting on to or alighting from, the vehicle at the time of the occurrence of the event out of which the claims arise;In other words, that means passengers. Further, there is a proviso:Provided that paragraph (a) of this subsection shall not have effect in the case of a vehicle in which passengers are carried for hire or reward or by reason of or in pursuance of a contract of employment.It is clear that the Bill which I have the honour to commend to the House simply seeks to enact that subsection (4, a) and the proviso, both of which I have read, shall cease to have effect. In other words, if the Bill reaches the Statute Book passengers from then onwards will be compulsorily insured by the owners of motor cars.
§ Mr. Cronin
I mean motor vehicles as defined in the Act—motor cars, motor cycles and motor scooters.
Hon. Members who have had legal training are no doubt aware that a wife cannot take action for damages against her husband and vice versa, with certain exceptions which do not arise under the Bill. The legal position of spouses will be completely unaffected by the Bill.
I think that we ought next to turn our attention to the mischief which the Bill purports to redress. Exact figures about insurance are lost in the bosoms of the executives of insurance companies. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has some precise figures, but as far 798 as I know there have been no precise figures issued in any authoritative volume to indicate the proportion of motorists, motor cyclists or owners of motor scooters who have insurance to cover their passengers.
I approached the insurance offices associations about this, but, very properly, they felt some delicacy about being involved in any way in a Bill which would increase the scope of their business. It was a very proper sentiment. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, without doubt they will be as helpful as possible, but it is appropriate that they should keep out of the picture at this stage.
From inquiries which I have made, I understand that from 5 per cent. to a half of motor car owners do not have comprehensive insurance policies to cover their passengers. The estimate is between those figures. We must also bear in mind that even where motor car owners have comprehensive insurance policies, quite a few of those policies are not fully comprehensive. Some so-called comprehensive policies restrict liability for injury to the passenger to an arbitrary figure, say £1,000 or £2,000, and it is possible for an injured person to claim damages for more than that. The Bill would, therefore, affect only a proportion of motor car owners, varying between 5 per cent. and a third, who do not have policies which cover their passengers. It will also affect those car owners who do not have fully comprehensive policies.
The picture in respect of motor cyclists and the owners of motor scooters is rather simpler, because it is not the custom for the insurance market to extend any cover at all to pillion riders on motor cycles and motor scooters. We can assume for all practical purposes that the number of motor cyclists or motor scooter owners who have cover in respect of their personal liability for their pillion passengers is negligible. A certain proportion of motor cycle owners have cover for their sidecar passengers, but these represent a very small proportion of the total number of motor cycle passengers, for only a very small proportion of motor cycles have sidecars.
What is the difficulty? I think that most hon. Members are familiar with the position. Let us assume that there 799 has been an accident—it may be a one-car or a two-car accident—and a motorist who has a comprehensive insurance policy is found to be negligent. If his passenger has been insured, then, provided that the passenger is not his wife—or husband, if the wife is driving—the passenger can take an action for damages and can recover damages for any personal injuries sustained.
Next, let us consider where a passenger is travelling with a motorist who has not a comprehensive policy covering the passenger. Assume that the motorist is involved in an accident with another motorist who has a comprehensive policy, and the other motorist is at fault. The uninsured passenger can claim against the other motorist who has been negligent and can receive damages in full if he can establish his case.
The next example is where a passenber is travelling with a motorist who has economised and has not taken out a fully comprehensive policy covering his passengers; in other words, he has merely the statutory third party insurance which covers persons other than his passengers. If the motorist driving that passenger is negligent, then the passenger can recover damages from him, provided that the motorist has the means with which to pay those damages.
Hon. Gentlemen who have had legal training know that there is one very complete and perfect protection from actions for damages, namely, having no money. In law, a man who has no money to pay damages is referred to as "a man of straw". If someone has the misfortune to be injured when driving with what the law calls "a man of straw" who has not got a policy covering his passengers, there is no redress whatsoever. There is no way of obtaining damages.
I will mention some figures to give some idea of the extent to which this mischief is nation-wide. According to the census on 31st August, 1960, there were 5,448,000 motor cars in existence. Assuming that only 5 per cent. had no cover in respect of passengers, it would mean that about: 275,000 motorists are driving on the roads without any cover for their passengers. However, taking the larger figure I suggested, namely, that one-third of all motorists have no cover for their passengers, a little mental arith- 800 metic forces us to the conclusion that 1,800,000 motorists are driving on the roads without cover for their passengers. These are very substantial figures. Even then, they do not include those cases where policies are not fully comprehensive—in other words, where the damages which can be paid in respect of a passenger's injuries are limited.
According to the same source, on 31st August, 1960, there were 1,791,000 motor cycles. It can be assumed that almost every one of those motor cycles was equipped with a pillion seat to take passengers. A very small proportion of that number have sidecars, and only a proportion of the sidecar passengers are insured. Therefore, at least 1½ million drivers of motor cycles are driving on the roads without any insurance for their passengers. The numbers involved, therefore, total about 3 million drivers of motor cars, motor cycles and motor scooters.
To arrive at the number of victims per year we have to use some deduction and conjecture, because the actual figures are known only to the insurance companies, if they are known to anyone. We know from page 3 of the Ministry of Transport publication "Road Traffic Accidents, 1959" that there were 54,300 passenger casualties in motor cars. We know from page 5 that 12,487 of these were injured in one-vehicle accidents. One has to presume, at least in the vast majority of one-vehicle accidents, that the driver can be proved to be negligent in law.
Taking motor cars only and deducting those cases where the cars were driven for hire, where the passengers are spouses of the drivers, and where the passengers can recover compensation from the driver of the other car, we are still left with the position that several thousands of motor car passengers are injured yearly who are unable to obtain any compensation or redress for their injuries.
From the same source—"Road Traffic Accidents, 1959"—we learn that, in 1959, 14,283 passengers on motor cycles and 4,158 passengers on motor scooters were injured, making a total of 18,441. Again, we must deduct from that total a proportion to cover the spouses of the drivers, a proportion who have been able to obtain damages because of the 801 liabilty of the other driver in two-vehicle accidents, and again a very small proportion to cover those cases where insurance has been taken out by the driver. Nevertheless, we must arrive at the conclusion that between 5,000 and 10,000 passengers on motor scooters and motor cycles are injured yearly without any insurance cover and without any form of redress.
That represents roughly the extent of the mischief which the Bill is intended to redress. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Gentlemen will accept that the mischief is very substantial and widespread.
I appreciate that the Bill as drafted presents a few difficulties. I thought it best for the Bill to be drafted in the simplest way so that, if it receives a Second Reading, it can be amended as necessary in Committee. It will obviously require substantial amendment if it receives a Second Reading. I thought it best if today we merely debated whether the principle of the Bill is a just one and whether it is desirable that the principle should be made the basis of law.
Nevertheless, I think I should refer to the difficulties. An obvious difficulty is the cost to the motorist. It is the common experience of all hon. Members who drive cars that to obtain a comprehensive policy covering passengers costs roughly double the economy policy which merely gives third-party cover for everyone except passengers. However, it obviously will not be a severe burden, because the vast majority of motorists as a matter of prudence and common sense have insurance cover in respect of passengers.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The double cost which the hon. Members spoke of covers other risks apart from passenger insurance—for example, damage to the car. It is not right to say that an insurance policy would cost double because of the Bill.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. I want to be as fair as possible in presenting the matter from the motorist's point of view.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
The normal practice is that there is a 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. rebate if pas- 802 senger cover is excluded. The difference is as small as that.
§ Mr. Cronin
That is extremely helpful. I am content to leave it to the House to decide what is likely to be the increase involved for the motorist. I understand that it is not very substantial and the majority of motor car owners accept the extra financial burden very willingly. There is no great problem.
The cost to motor cycle drivers and scooter drivers presents some difficulty. It is not the custom for the insurance market to give any cover at all to pillion riders. People sometimes refer to pillion riders as being uninsurable, but that is rather an unfortunate word. It conveys the impression that it is impossible to insure them at all, but that is not so. Almost everything and anyone can be insured—at a price. Nevertheless, it is obviously important that we should have some idea of what would be the extra cost to motor cyclists.
The estimates I have had vary between £4 and £10 extra on the ordinary cost of the present-day motor cycle insurance—
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I cannot agree with that figure—unless someone is to make quite a profit. I always had a supplementary insurance for my pillion passenger, and it was nothing like as much as that.
§ Mr. Cronin
My own impression of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that his discretion and prudence are such that I would insure him for nothing—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I, too, have made inquiries, and find that it depends very much on age. For the person between 20 years of age and 30 years of age the hon. Member's figures of between £4 and £10 are very apt.
§ Mr. Cronin
One does not know for certain what the figure would be, and I have given rather wide figures. I deliberately erred on the generous side so that no one will get the impression that I am trying to introduce this Bill without full consideration of the cost to those concerned.
If this Measure is given a Second Reading it will obviously have to be amended to exclude certain classes of vehicle. I have in mind such things as 803 agricultural and engineering machinery—which does not take passengers—milk floats, and, of course, solo motor cycles, as they do not have pillion seats. There are a number of categories of vehicle that would properly be excluded. Then there will be the motorist who will say, "I never carry passengers, and I never intend to carry passengers." He may feel that he should be allowed to contract out of the provisions of the Bill, but my view is that the Measure should be so amended as to ensure that no one is allowed to contract out, otherwise the difficulties of enforcement will be enormous.
Then there are the bad-risk cases—sports-car driven;, young drivers, very old drivers, those who drive very old cars, those who have frequent accidents, and those who have been convicted of being drunk when in charge of a vehicle. Many of those people are at present driving with only the statutory third-party insurance cover. They would have to pay very substantial additional sums to get comprehensive insurance for their passengers, but in many cases they are not objects of any particular sympathy. Some of us might feel that it would be better if some of them were not on the road at all. It seems fair and just that they should pay proper sums to ensure that other people are properly covered against their driving.
The Bill should also be amended to cover passengers entering, getting on to or alighting from a vehicle, as, apparently, they are legally a class of people separate from other passengers. In addition, the date of the coming into force of the Bill would have to be very carefully considered in Committee.
That covers the main points for amendment, but one additional criticism of the Bill might be that there has been no public demand for it. I do not think that the House would seriously regard that as being any kind of test for legislation. Masses of Bills go through this House of which the public have not been aware, but are yet desirable and very important reformations of the law.
We must consider carefully the principles which make it desirable for a passenger to receive full cover. The majority of passengers entering a motor car or getting on to a motor cycle do not contemplate being involved in an accident, and have no way of knowing 804 whether or not they are insured. For that reason, they should be adequately covered. I do not think that it has ever been accepted as a principle of law that the fact that a person knows that he is undergoing a certain risk excludes him from recovering damages, and there is no question of passengers willingly taking part in the circumstances in which they are injured. Those hon. Members with legal training will agree that the principle of volenti non fit injuria cannot apply here.
I suggest that passengers do not differ materially from pedestrians or from passengers in other cars who may be involved. They are equally innocent and dissociated from the accident. They are victims in exactly the same way as are those whom the law insists should have full statutory cover. If two vehicles having passengers collide, it is obviously inequitable that the passenger of one vehicle should get full compensation for injuries simply because his driver is covered in that respect, while the passenger in the other vehicle gets no compensation because his driver has economised on the insurance policy.
Hon. Members will undoubtedly be aware that there are many anomalies in the present law. For example, if a motor cycle collides with a motor car and, in the subsequent court action, it is found that the motor cyclist is 95 per cent. to blame and the driver of the car only 5 per cent. to blame, the motorist has to pay the full damages for injuries to the motor cycle pillion rider merely because there is no one else to pay them. That is an absurdly inequitable position.
Another argument in favour of the Bill is that it would save a certain amount of public money. It is at present customary for hospitals to make a claim for the expenses incurred in treating road accident cases. Where there is cover, they recover the money, but where there is no cover for the injured passenger there is no recovery of funds, and, as a result of the present state of the law, hospitals annually lose appreciable amounts of money.
Another aspect is that here, to use a rather hackneyed phrase, it is a case of one law for the rich and another law for the poor. In the generality of cases, passengers travelling with impecunious drivers are themselves impecunious, 805 while wall-to-do passengers travel with well-to-do drivers. The well-to-do-driver is usually the man with the comprehensive cover, but the impecunious person is the one who does not have it. That means that it is the members of the low-income groups who receive the greatest injustice as the law now stands.
I have spoken briefly about the general principles of the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind what happens at present and to what extent people suffer who have the misfortune to be travelling as passengers in vehicles the owners of which have not comprehensive cover. For instance, a young man can take a girl out on his motor cycle and, through his negligent driving, cause her to be hideously disfigured for the rest of her life. It is possible for a working man who is a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident to be seriously disabled and have his earnings severely reduced for the rest of his life and for his wife and children to live in poverty.
It is possible for a woman to become a widow for the rest of her life because her husband has travelled as a passenger in the car of a person who has not full comprehensive cover. This sort of thing happens in thousands of cases every year. We in the House have a real duty to do what we can to protect these unfortunate people who suffer completely undeserved misfortune.
We are all familiar with the frightful carnage on the roads year after year. If hon. Members had my experience of the frightful tale of death, mutilation, maiming and disgurement which can be seen in hospitals, they would probably be much more appalled than they are at present. We must do all we can to help the unfortunate victims of our present social system which permits motor vehicle traffic to cause such carnage on our rather inadequate roads. Here is a clear-cut way to be of real assistance to the victims of this yearly carnage. I suggest that the Bill should be given very careful consideration by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 11.42 a.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I wish to intervene only briefly and to speak entirely from the point of view of motor cyclists.
806 As the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) said, it is motor cyclists who are primarily affected by the Bill. Although I have certain criticisms to make of the Measure, I may say at the outset that the hon. Gentleman has done a service by bringing the Bill forward, because it is right that we should discuss a problem which is of great import to a large number of people.
I entirely support the proposition that all vehicle users who carry passengers should be required to insure them up to a reasonable limit. There are sometimes court cases in which enormous damages are awarded and a lot of "sob stuff" is talked about the condition of the person who has been injured. If one is liable to damages of £20,000 or more, it is obvious that insurance will be an expensive business. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the passenger, particularly the pillion passenger, is in quite the same position as the pedestrian. People may think that some motor cyclists are rather scatter-brained, but I assure the House that they are not so foolish not to realise that there is a considerable risk involved in motor cycling. The person who rides as pillion undertakes this risk voluntarily, and I do not think that he should expect to receive unlimited reimbursement for the consequences. I would say that, up to £5,000, insurance should be compulsory, but I would be inclined to make that figure the ceiling.
I am entirely opposed to the amendment which the hon. Gentleman indicated he proposed to make, namely, that it should be compulsory for everyone who possesses a vehicle to insure in anticipation of carrying a passenger. That may be quite justifiable in the case of a motor car, but the majority of motor cycles are insured for one rider only. I have always understood that the average motor car insurance covers the car for any driver. The average motor cycle insurance covers it for the owner only. It is an expensive business to amplify one's policy for a second rider. It is a very expensive business to amplify one's policy for any rider. That is why most motor cycles on the road are insured only when they are being ridden by the proud owner.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised that point, 807 because it needs amplifying. I indicated that probably it would be desirable to have an Amendment to exclude motor cyclists who have no pillion seat on the motor cycle. That would probably cover the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
With great respect, I do not think that I agree with that, because most modern motor cycles are bought with a double seat. It is asking too much to ask people to have the bicycle modified in some way when they purchase it.
I was about to say that there is a sizeable number of motor cyclists, even more moped riders, and a certain number of scooter riders who never take a passenger as a matter of principle. I was not one of those. I always took passengers if the circumstances were favourable, but many people never do that. It would be quite unreasonable to put them to the expense of additional insurance.
I now turn to the question of what that expense would be. I can only quote from my own motor cycling experience. About eight years ago I decided that I would take out a supplementary insurance to cover pillion passengers. When riding one's motor cycle in fine weather it is surprising the number of unexpected people who thumb a lift. The curious thing is that most of them are quite indifferent about where one is going. All that they want is the ride. When they get to the other end, they stand on the other side of the road trying to find a motor cyclist who is going back again. It therefore struck me that it would be as well if I were covered by insurance.
As the hon. Gentleman indicated, there is no future—at least, this is so in my experience—in trying to persuade an insurance company to cover this risk. I never succeeded in doing so. What I did eventually was to get insurance through ordinary Lloyds brokers. I cannot remember the exact premium, but it was between £2 10s. and £3 for a limit of £5,000. I had that insurance for years. If an unknown person asked me for a lift, I said, "Are you worth more than £5,000? If you are, you cannot have a lift." That, I think, is a practical compromise and not an unduly expensive one.
808 When I interrupted the hon. Gentleman as he was quoting some figures, several of my hon. Friends murmured something about age. A criticism which I have of insurance companies is that they have this extraordinary illusion that a young rider is more dangerous than an older rider. Despite the elaborate figures which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was kind enough to obtain in connection with my Road Traffic (Driving of Motor Cycles) Bill in the last Session which completely dispelled the illusion that age as such has any bearing on accidents, this myth still persists. If the hon. Gentleman's Measure became law, it would be a very expensive myth for the average youngster starting his motor cycling career.
As a veteran pillion rider, I infinitely prefer travelling on the back of a motor cycle driven by a young person than on one driven by somebody of my own age, because I find that the young are quicker and more alert. This was borne out to some extent in the statistical analysis of accidents that was produced in the Committee stage of my Measure last Session. I think that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will bear that out.
I would simply ask the hon. Member for Loughborough whether he would consider amending his Bill in such a way that it would make it quite clear that motor cyclists would be required to insure only if they intended to carry passengers. I do not see that that would be more difficult to enforce than the existing law on insurance.
One cannot tell simply by looking at a driver whether he is insured or not. One can only tell if he is stopped and the police ask to see his insurance certificate. The same would apply exactly to a motor cyclist carrying a pillion passenger. I cannot see that such a provision would make any difference to enforcement, because enforcement depends upon a demand by a police officer to see the insurance certificate and its subsequent examination. I support the Bill in principle—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Is the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion that the passenger insurance for a motor 809 cyclist should be indicated on, his insurance certificate and that if he gives a lift to somebody without having that insurance he should be subject to all the penalties of the law for driving uninsured?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Yes, that is precisely what I am suggesting. If the Bill were amended in that way I would certainly support it, but I would not support any general requirement to compel all motor cyclists to insure in anticipation of carrying a passenger.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I support the Motion to give the Bill a Second Reading. The proposition has been admirably explained in a very lucid speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). The fact that he has indicated that if the Bill is given a Second Reading he is conscious that it will require certain Amendments in Committee is no reason for deterring the House from giving it a Second Reading. He has been wise to draft the Bill in a sample form, and it is convenient, on Second Reading, that we should ventilate some of the details that will obviously require consideration in Committee. But in principle it seams to me right that compulsory insurance by the driver of a motor cycle should be extended to his passengers.
As far as I can recall, compulsory insurance for motor vehicles was adopted under an Act of 1929. Even then the theory of compulsory insurance was not a novelty in our law. For example, it had been applied for a long time to employees. It seems to me that in principle if a person is enaged in some occupation which is likely to cause danger and injury to third parties it is not enough that he should be liable at law.
It is necessary and desirable in the public interest that he should be insured against that risk, so that if he turns out to be impecunious or unable to satisfy his common law liability, the victim will have the added satisfaction of knowing that full compensation will be paid by an insurance company. The main question here is whether there is any good reason why that which applies to the driver of a motor vehicle should not be extended to the passenger. I can see no good reason.
810 My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough referred to the dreadful carnage on the roads, a problem which appals a great many of us. I believe that it was argued in 1929 against the principle of compulsory insurance that that in itself might tend to make drivers more careless. As a result of knowing that they would be relieved of financial burden if there were an accident, drivers would tend to conduct themselves in such a way as to increase road casualties. There may or may not have been something in that argument. At any rate, it was not regarded as valid for depriving the public of the benefit of compulsory insurance.
My hon. Friend did not deal with that matter, but I do not think that it could possibly be argued today that the driver of a motor car is likely to be more careless or less careful in driving his car if he is compelled to insure his passengers as well as third parties. I should have thought that to be axiomatic, but it is a relevant point for consideration. The only reason why anyone could object to the Bill would be if they thought it might do anything to increase the appalling fatalities and injuries that result from motor accidents. I do not think that it can.
If there are accidents, passengers in a car driven by a motorist are just as likely to be victims as third parties, and the whole object of the Bill is to give victims of such accidents this protection. The principle is intended to apply not only to the passengers whom a motorist ordinarily carries, but also to motorists who respond to appeals by hitch-hikers for lifts. Therefore, today we find ourselves in the curious position that, whereas I suppose the majority of motorists have their own protection under a full comprehensive cover that protects passengers, a minority do not and they are content with the bare minimum statutory insurance protection. The result is that if one is a passenger qua passenger one does not know whether one is protected by the driver's complete comprehensive cover or not, because the ordinary person does not ask.
I am from time to time a passenger in a motor car. I have been a hitchhiker in the past, but it never occurs to me or I suppose to anybody else to inquire whether the driver of the motor car has full comprehensive cover or not, 811 although I suppose that a prudent person would ask that question. Since it never is asked, members of the public qua passengers ought not to suffer from that hazard of not knowing whether or not the driver his full cover. On principle, therefore, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.
As for the details, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough has pointed out that if the principle of the Bill is accepted it will not extend to the husband or wife of the driver, as the case may be, for the reason that if one drives a motor car and one's wife is passenger and she is injured, one is under no legal liability to pay. Therefore, it is not a risk that one can insure against. I do not think that that need deter us from accepting the principle of the Bill. It seems to me that the risk which the wife or husband takes is a fair matrimonial risk.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Would my hon. Friend also agree that it is necessary that the contract of insurance should be plainly described in the insurance document, and that those taking out insurance should not have to take legal proceedings to compel an insurance company to pay according to the contract? Is my hon. Friend aware that some of my friends have complained to me about insurance companies who would not pay in full?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I was aware of that point. With great respect to him, it is an important point, but hardly relevant on a Second Reading debate. It is the sort of point which, I would very much hope, would be taken in Committee.
There are two other appropriate observations I wish to make. In considering what possible objections there could be to this Bill, there is the question whether it would impose an unreasonable additional burden on the motorist. We have heard various figures quoted. Leaving aside motor cyclists for the moment, the differential between the statutory cover and comprehensive cover is not very great. Therefore, in the case of the motorist I do not think that there would be any hardship.
In the case of the bad risk or dangerous driver there may be a more 812 substantial differential if the Bill is adopted. I should not think that that would be a disadvantage. If one result of the Bill is to make it more difficult for the dangerous driver to get insurance coverage, or if the additional premium that he has to pay is high, that is not a disadvantage. I have always taken the view that the best method of reducing the number of road accidents is to inflict more severe penalties of all kinds on motorists who cause accidents. That goes for penalties if they are found guilty in a court of law and, equally, for financial penalties in respect of additional premiums which they would be required to pay to obtain the statutory cover, without which they could not drive again.
I appreciate the difficulty with regard to motor cyclists. They are in a different category. It seems to me quite reasonable that a motor cyclist who is prepared to say that in no circumstances would he carry a passenger on his pillion—whether he has provision for a pillion or not—should be able to contract out and to say, "As I shall not take any pillion passengers I should not have to insure against injuries to pillion passengers." I think that a motor cyclist should have that option. If he wants to take a pillion passenger he should be insured, but if he prefers to say he will not I cannot see any necessity for him to insure against the possibility of an accident. Such details can be considered in Committee.
I congratulate my hon. Friend in introducing the Bill and I hope that it will have a Second Reading.
§ 12.3 p.m.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
I must begin by disclosing my interest in this matter. I am a director of an insurance company and perhaps I should say I am deputy chairman of a very big insurance company which handles a very large volume of accident insurance of this type.
The insurance world is certainly not against the principle of the Bill. There are, however, some practical difficulties which I think the House should know, and to which it should give careful consideration.
Anyone who is a good and safe driver can get comprehensive cover at normal 813 rates and the only time it is not given is when the person concerned has a bad driving record.
I was most interested in what the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said about loading the premiums of bad drivers. I believe—and I think that the insurance world as a whole will accept this—that insurance companies have a very important duty in this respect. They should be quite relentless in loading the premiums of bad and dangerous drivers. It is a responsibility which they should receive every encouragement from the Government to accept.
Having said that, I wish to dwell on the practical side and the chief question, that is that of expense. I think that will be accepted on both sides of the House that it is a fact—and it is the pride of the insurance world—that motor car insurance premiums in this country today are around the lowest in the world. We regard that as an achievement which we want to maintain. If this increased cover is to be given in compulsory insurance, particularly to motor cyclists, there will be a very big increase indeed in the amount of the premiums.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that if these premiums were applied to motor cyclists, the premium paid by motor car drivers would necessarily be increased pro ratal
Major Hicks Beach
Clearly, I am now replying in only my own capacity. In my view, there would have to be a very substantial increase as far as motor cyclists, but as far as cars I do not think there would be. As I said, any good driver can get a comprehensive policy without any difficulty at all.
Following the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, East if the insurance companies are encouraged to keep bad drivers off the road I do not think that there would be a large increase in premiums covering motor cars owned by good drivers, but those covering motor cycles would be substantially increased. We have not the figures available and I want to be quite open about it. As the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) said, one cannot give comprehensive figures to the House on that particular subject.
What concerns me is the price. Generally, I am inclined to the view— 814 and I am not speaking for the insurance world—that from a practical point of view motor cycles and scooters should be excluded from the Bill. Otherwise, young motor cyclists may be driven off the road by the big increase in premiums which will be necessary. I am not in favour of doing that. Many of us rode motor cycles and I do not think that motor cyclists as a class, although they are rather apt to be maligned, need to be criticised as much as they are. I should not like to see motor cyclists with reasonable records, out of the market, if I may so express it, by the implementation of the Bill.
From the practical point of view I feel that the exclusion of motor cyclists from the Bill is worthy of consideration by hon. Members. Subject to that, I would not oppose the Bill being given a Second Reading. There is a lot that needs to be gone into and I think the hon. Member will have quite a number of Amendments to deal with in Committee. I certainly wish the hon. Member for Loughborough the best of luck. He has played a very useful part in our discussions here in bringing this matter forward, because it has been under consideration by insurance companies for a number of years. As I said earlier, the insurance world is not against the principle of the Bill and if it can be put into practical terms I am certain that it would welcome it.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Hon. Members will agree that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) has brought an important matter forward and has done a public service.
As I understand the existing law, it makes insurance compulsory for passengers in buses and taxis and for those in employment such as chauffeurs, but for no one else. So many passengers in motor vehicles are thus excluded from compulsory insurance altogether that it is quite impossible to oppose the principle of this Bill. I certainly do not.
By the same token, this will, in practice, make compulsory insurance rather more expensive for the ordinary motorist, and much more expensive for the motor cyclist. The risks run by pillion passengers on motor cycles have hitherto always been regarded as so great that I thought they were very nearly uninsurable at a 815 reasonable premium. Therefore, we ought to be quite clear what we are doing if we give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope we shall give it a Second Reading, but we ought to do it with our eyes open.
We shall be doing something—it is right to do it, and probably necessary—that will be very unpopular with some motorists and with almost all motor cyclists. We shall be forcing motor cyclists, particularly, to pay the sort of premium which, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) indicated, may actually force them off the road.
§ Mr. Cronin
I think it is agreed that the maximum premium for motor cyclists would probably be about £10 a year. That sum can be paid quarterly. Therefore, it is a little unrealistic to say that motor cyclists are likely to be forced off the road.
§ Mr. Fisher
That is all very well, but £10 a year may represent a heavy increase for a young motor cyclist. The hon. Gentleman admitted that there is no public demand for the Bill, and one of the reasons may be that people do not usually ask to pay a great deal more than they have hitherto had to pay.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham said that the cost of our motor insurance today is about the lowest in the world. The Bill goes much further, I believe, than any other foreign country has ever gone in its legislation for compulsory insurance, and I do not know what effect it will have. It may well have the effect of making our motoring insurance the most expensive in the world, certainly for motor cyclists.
I do not agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend says about leaving motor cyclists out of the Bill. I should have thought that that would be to leave out the very category of people who most need insurance. At any rate, that is what has been said today, and I cannot support his suggestion. I appreciate that there are difficulties about the premium, but it is unrealistic to suggest that we should leave out the people for whom, as far as I can gather from the initial speeches, the Bill is principally devised.
There are relatively very few car owners who do not insure their passengers anyway, and most of those who do 816 not insure the risk are, I suppose, people who do not normally carry passengers at all. I am not clear whether such people are to be allowed to opt out of the Bill. Whatever people may say, I should have thought that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred people who say, "I intend never to carry a passenger. Why should I pay the extra premium?" would, sooner or later, pick someone up.
§ Mr. Fisher
He would, but I am not concerned so much about the large proportion who will not be discovered. I am concerned about what happens when people escape this liability by saying that they will never carry a passenger but then do carry a passenger and are involved in an accident and make an insurance claim.
§ Mr. Paget
Is not that precisely the position with regard to compulsory insurance at the moment? Back in 1929 the question was asked, "How does one enforce it? "In point of fact, one enforces it because if somebody is found to be driving uninsured he is automatically suspended for twelve months and may go to jail. The motor cyclist with a pillion passenger may be stopped at traffic lights or stopped for exceeding the speed limit and may be asked to produce his insurance policy. If he has not got his passenger covered, he is then automatically suspended for twelve months and may be heavily fined and may find himself in jail. Surely the situation is exactly the same as at present.
§ Mr. Doughty
Perhaps I might point out that one cannot get a Road Fund licence without disclosing one's certificate of insurance. This point could easily be covered by those opting out having a different coloured licence for their motor cycle.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are liable to get into confusion if we have several simultaneous interventions.
§ Mr. Fisher
I think that the answer given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) is a fair one. One has, after all, to produce a certificate of insurance when one asks for a motor vehicle licence, and it is surely a safeguard that one 817 would have to produce the certificate of insurance in this instance.
Various other anomalies have been mentioned—less important ones, I admit. There are commercial vehicles, which do not normally carry passengers but may do so sometimes. Are they to be within the Bill or outside the Bill? I imagine that the road hauliers would object if they had to pay passenger insurance when they do not want their drivers to pick up passengers anyway. There are also agricultural vehicles, farm tractors, caravans and all sorts of other types of vehicles. It seems to me that during the Committee stage of the Bill a good many exceptions will have to be considered, and it may be rather difficult in some cases to draw the line between vehicles which are used for carrying passengers and those which are not.
I have heard no mention this morning of the possibility of collusive claims being made. I do not think that this can be ruled out. People do some very strange things in order to get money, and they do so especially when the source of the money is something rather impersonal, like an insurance company. We cannot rule out the possibility that a driver may positively incite his passenger to make a claim.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Is there not also the possibility that a driver may arrange collusively with his passenger to be run over by his motor cycle?
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not quite follow that intervention. However, I appreciate that my hon. Friend comes from Ireland.
Although the Bill is, apparently, a short and simple one, it seems quite certain that it will entail a long, rather complicated and difficult Committee stage. I certainly shall not oppose its Second Reading, and I do not imagine that any hon. Members would do so. However, it is no use thinking that if we pass the Bill it will be either easy to operate or particularly popular with motor cyclists, who will be asked to pay much more as a result of it.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened in 818 the debate at this unusual stage, because I feel that hon. Members may care at this moment to hear what the Government feel about the Bill. I should like to give what other information I can on some of the points that have already been touched upon to enable the House to come to a decision in due course.
I should like to classify what I have to say under four headings. First, I should like to say something about the present law. Next, I should like to turn to the changes that the Bill would make. Thirdly, I should like to discuss the need for the changes. Finally, I should like to say something about the scope of the changes and their consequences.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), whom I congratulate on utilising the opportunity which the Ballot has given him by introducing a useful Measure of this kind, has already described in broad terms what the present law is. It is contained in Part VI of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which repeats certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, on motor insurance. Those provisions have since remained unaltered.
Section 201 of the 1960 Act requires users of motor vehicles to be insured or to have security against third-party risk. Section 202 contains certain exceptions from those requirements, and for the purpose of our discussion today these are not relevant. But Section 203—the Section with which this Bill is concerned—sets out the requirements that there must be in respect of policies of insurance.
Subsection 4 of Section 203 is the important one. It states the liabilities which a policy is not required to cover. Section 203 (4, a) says that the policy of insurance is not required to cover liability to passengers, but there is a proviso stating that passengers carried for hire or reward—for example, in a bus—or in pursuance of a contract of employment must be covered.
I have tried to paraphrase the somewhat technical language of the statutory provisions. Put more simply, it means that the motorist or motor cyclist is not obliged to have third party insurance for his passengers, unless they are being carried for hire or reward or under contract of employment. That is the situation with which this Bill seeks to deal.
819 The effect of Clause 1, as the hon. Member for Loughborough has said, would be to repeal Section 203 (4, a) and the proviso to the subsection. One query which I should like to put to him is why he has chosen, in Clause 1, to use the expression… so far as they relate to the carrying of persons in or upon a motor vehicle …It seems to me that the circumstances described in Section 203 (4) of the 1960 Act would be far more likely to give rise to the risk of injury to a passenger than actual carriage—for instance, getting into or alighting from a vehicle. There is greater risk, in many ways, of people being hurt while getting into or alighting from a vehicle than if they are actually inside it
§ Mr. Cronin
I can give the hon. Gentleman the explanation quite simply. I bear absolute culpability in this respect. It is, to some extent, the fault of our procedure that a private Member must produce at: short notice a Short and a Long Title of his Bill, and can then draft the rest of the Bill at leisure.
I subsequently learnt that the Long Title of my Bill, which refers to passengers in a vehicle, did not cover passengers entering or getting out of a vehicle. It will, therefore, be necessary to change the Long Title of the Bill in Committee in order to cover that point.
§ Mr. Hay
We are obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. He was in a difficulty that all of us who have tried to promote Private Members' Bills have met.
It is clear, broadly speaking, that the consequences of the Bill would be that motorists and motor cyclists would have to extend the scope of their compulsory third party insurance in order to cover passenger risk. It may be convenient if I refer to these passengers, who are not at present covered by statutory provisions, as free passengers—that is to say, passengers carried for nothing.
The House might like to know why this distinction between free and other passengers was made in the 1930 Act. It was apparently considered by Parliament that a distinction should be drawn between a person who voluntarily became a passenger in or upon a vehicle and an innocent bystander not in or on 820 it. It was assumed that the passenger, because he chose to ride with the driver, must be taken to have voluntarily accepted the risks in so doing. I think, as the hon. Member for Loughborough said, that lawyers will recognise the well-known principle volenti non fit injuria.
Ever since then, that has remained the reason why no action has been taken to change the position. The House might well think—and this is a matter for the House to decide—that in the entirely changed traffic conditions which predominate today, thirty years later, this is no longer a realistic standpoint to take, though I think that the logic of the distinction is quite unimpeachable.
Before leaving the legal technicalities, I must add that the provisions of the 1960 Act do not affect the Common Law liabilities of the driver to his passengers for any negligence of which he may be guilty. The effect of the Bill would simply be to make it a statutory requirement that that liability should be compulsorily insurable.
The consequence would be that if a motorist or motor cyclist did not have in force a policy of insurance covering him against passenger risk of this kind, and then carried passengers—for however short a time and for whatever good reason—he would be committing an offence and, under Section 201 of the 1960 Act, would be liable to conviction and penalties which would include, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, disqualification from driving under Section 194.
I have tried to deal with the present law and to summarise what I understand to be the changes which the Bill would make. I now come to the question of whether there is need for such changes. The Ministry of Transport, I must tell the House at once, has absolutely no information available which would show that there is an overwhelming need for such changes.
We just do not know how many people have suffered injury as passengers without being able to obtain compensation simply because a negligent driver did not insure against this risk. The hon. Member for Loughborough said he thought there had been probably hundreds and thousands of cases a year. We have no evidence whatever to show 821 that that is so. It is true that from time to time we read reports in the newspapers of very hard cases, with which one entirely sympathises—cases in which people are injured but cannot recover damages because the driver is, as the hon. Member for Loughborough said, a man of straw. But we have no evidence that there is, in this matter, a grave social problem which needs urgent attention by Parliament.
I do not say this in any unsympathetic frame of mind, but I consider that this is a relevant factor which the House should take into account when deciding whether the need for legislation is proved.
§ Mr. Cronin
The hon. Gentleman will, I know, be anxious to ensure that the House has a fair picture of the situation. He says that the Ministry of Transport has no evidence of the mischief to be redressed here, but he must also make it clear that this does not indicate in any way that the mischief does not exist. From the figures which I gave, drawn from the Ministry's tables, it must be clear that thousands of people are suffering injury without any compensation as a result of the present law.
§ Mr. Hay
I certainly want to be fair, and I thought it would be only fair to say to the House that we have no information on this point. Speaking for myself, however, it seems to me that the figures which he gave were a little exaggerated. But this really is a matter for a personal viewpoint. I may be wrong. There may be a large number of cases. What is clear is that there is no statistical information upon which one can say: "This is why Parliament should take this step."
§ Mr. Mellish
Of course, we have some figures. In 1959, 1,680 motor cyclists were killed and about 130,000 injured. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us if he has any estimate of how many pillion riders were included in these figures? They are the motor cyclists who are not insured. If we could have those figures they might provide us with the information we are looking for.
§ Mr. Hay
I have the casualty figures for 1959. Among moped riders there were 5,431, motor scooter riders 18,129, motor scooter passengers 4,158, motor 822 cycle riders 54,669, and motor cycle passengers, 14,283.
These are big figures, but they cover all types of accident and all types of injury, and I have no information about how many of the passengers injured on motor cycles, mopeds or scooters were unable, because of the absence of cover, to recover damages. We just do not know. That is what the argument is about, and I must tell the House that we do not have this information.
§ Mr. Mellish
Would it not be a fair comment to say that every one of those seriously injured would have a case for compensation?
§ Mr. Hay
No, that is where the hon. Member is wrong. They would have a claim for compensation, but in the present situation, since this type of liability to passengers is not in practice covered by the insurance companies for motor cyclists, they would not have the right of recourse to the insurance companies. They would be able to go against the driver or rider behind whom they were seated when the accident took place, if he was negligent, but they would not have the right to go to the insurance companies and automatically obtain damages.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but this is extremely important, and, indeed, it is the crux of the whole Bill. I am a little hurt that he should suggest that my figures are exaggerated. I refer him to page 5 of his Ministry's own publication, when he will see from the tables that in 1959 in one-vehicle accidents—and he will agree that a one-vehicle accident must mean that the driver would have been found negligent in law in the vast majority of cases—there were 1,491 passengers on motor scooters killed, seriously or slightly injured, and 4,400 passengers on motor cycles, killed, seriously or slightly injured, giving a figure of 6,000 people who were killed, seriously or slightly injured as a result of one-vehicle accidents, in which in the vast majority of cases the driver must have been negligent and, in the vast majority of cases, could not have been covered by insurance.
§ Mr. Hay
The difference between the hon. Member and me is whether in fact in the vast majority of these accident 823 cases the driver was necessarily negligent. I think that it is true that the majority probably were—but not necessarily, because there are all sorts of other reasons why accidents take place. They occur because of bad road conditions, defects in vehicles not due to the immediate negligence of the driver, and so on. One would have to work out the figures very carefully even to reach an estimate, because the Ministry's accident figures are based on reports from the police and those do not, and cannot in the nature of things, say what the reason for or cause of the accident was. All they do is report the circumstances in which an accident took place. However, we do not want to take up a lot of time on this subject. I have said the principal thing I wanted to say—that we have no concrete evidence to show that there is any need for a major change of this kind, and that I cannot point to figures to show the need.
It is important to look at the consequences and repercussions of the Bill and the amendments and modifications which would have to be considered if the Bill received a Second Reading. It has already been said that about 70 per cent. of all motorists have passenger cover. That leaves about 30 per cent.—this is private cars, of course—without this type of cover. As has been said, the majority of owners of commercial vehicles, which are equally covered by the Bill, do not insure against passenger liability, because their vehicles rarely carry passengers. Many firms have strict rules against the drivers of their commercial vehicles taking passengers at all.
I then come to the motor cyclist, and, as we know, this is the class of motorist most likely to be affected by the Bill. It has been said, and I confirm from my own inquiries, that as a matter of practice the motor insurers do not offer cover for passengers of motor cycles and scooters, because they regard the risk element as too high to make it a commercial proposition. I am told that passenger insurance cover is available for motor cycle combinations but is rarely asked for. That brings me to the major dilemma which the House has to decide.
Should the Bill as drafted cover motor cyclists, or should they be excluded?
824 On the one hand, the fact is that the numbers of motor cycles, scooters and mopeds are rising very fast, and all the accident statistics—and at any rate there is no argument about this—show Chat the risk of death or injury as a passenger of a motor vehicle is greatest if one is a passenger on a motor cycle, and particularly a pillion rider. By and large, passengers of motor cycles are young people, whom we ought to be particularly anxious to help. The owners and the riders of motor cycles are often themselves young people without very much money to meet claims of this kind.
It might therefore be said that motor cycles ought to remain included because this is where the risk is greatest and the need for cover is greatest, too. On the other hand, there is no doubt that premiums would have to be charged at a high rate for this type of cover. I understand that there is literally no underwriting experience by the companies which enables them to assess the extent of the risk. The premium would depend on a number of factors. For example, it would depend on the type of the machine, its size, its cubic capacity, the age of the driver, the area of intended use. All those things are normally taken into account, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) knows, in assessing premiums.
I would have liked to have been able to give the House an authoritative measure of the likely increase, but I am afraid that in the time available I have not been able to obtain firm views on this subject from the insurance interests, but I have reason to believe, from conversations I have had and from inquiries I have made—and it is also commonsense—that motor cyclists' premiums would rise substantially. I was interested to hear what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham, with his experience in the matter, had to say about this subject. It is a matter for decision by the House whether motor cyclists in those circumstances should be included or excluded.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
My hon. Friend has evaded the most practical solution, which is to allow motor cyclists to contract out. I think that a large number would contract out and the man who wants to take only his 825 wife as a passenger would not be affected.
§ Mr. Hay
My hon. and gallant Friend has interrupted as I was coming to what he has in mind.
I turn to the consequences of the Bill. We have to consider how in practice insurers would deal with the case of the motorist who wanted to carry a passenger only occasionally. As drafted, the Bill would require insurance cover only while the passenger was actually being carried. I am advised that it would be quite impossible for the insurance companies to make cover available to meet such occasional or "on demand" cases. It would be necessary for each vehicle owner to decide at the outset of his policy period whether or not he ever intended to carry passengers, and he would have to secure his cover for it accordingly. The probable result would be that many owners, and particularly motor cyclists, would decide at the outset not to carry passengers at all and so avoid the need to pay higher premiums.
However, later on, perhaps on the spur of the moment, perhaps deliberately, perhaps in an emergency, perhaps in temporary forgetfulness of the law and the terms of their policy, they might carry a passenger. If an accident then happened which involved the passenger, no insurance would cover the driver's liability The driver would be liable to conviction and disqualification from driving. At present, if a liability arises which ought to have been covered by compulsory third-party insurance but is not in fact covered, it is met by the Motor Insurance Bureau under the terms of an agreement with a previous Minister of Transport.
If a new class of compulsorily insured passengers were to be created, in our view it would be necessary to consider carefully whether they could be brought within the scope of this or some similar arrangement, and what the total effect of this might be on insurance arrangements and premiums generally.
All this, I think, leads to the conclusion that if the Bill is given a Second Reading it must be amended—as I think the hon. Gentleman intimated he was prepared to do—to prevent contracting out of this kind.
§ Mr. Fletcher indicated dissent.826
§ Mr. Hay
I think that that is an inescapable conclusion. I think that one is bound to say that this would have to come out, but perhaps that is a matter for debate in Committee.
If one accepts that contracting out should not be allowed, it raises another problem which I must put to the House. If the Bill is amended to require every vehicle to be covered for the risks to free passengers, what do we do about the owners of motor vehicles who quite genuinely do not carry passengers, or, what is more important, those vehicles which are not designed to carry passengers? I have in mind the vehicles that have been mentioned such as certain industrial plant, dumpers, and scrapers. Also, agricultural plant, such as balers, combine harvesters and things of that kind, and vehicles such as tractors, milk floats, and other vehicles which are clearly not designed to carry passengers but which on occasions might well be doing so.
It will be difficult to draw up a comprehensive list of which vehicles ought to be included and which ought not to be. The difficulty to which this situation may give rise will have to be carefully examined. Unless a solution to it can be found by amendment—and I think that it will be an extremely difficult and onerous task to work out such a list, a list which would have the effect of excluding the possibility of contracting out without unduly penalising the owners of vehicles which ought not to be brought within its scope—I must frankly tell the House that the Government would be bound later to oppose the Bill.
I am not terribly optimistic about the possibilities of finding such a list, but we will do our best if the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading. We will try to draft appropriate Amendments, but we must be clear at the outset that there are bound to be a great many anomalies and differences of opinion as to which vehicles should be covered and which should be exempt. I think hon. Members on the Standing Committee might well find that they have a great deal of work in front of them.
I pass to some of the further consequences. Reference has already been made to the possibility of collusive claims, that is to say, where the driver who is not strictly speaking negligent 827 in law nevertheless admits liability to the insured passenger and the insurer would be bound to meet that.
Next I come to the level of premiums. It is clear that premiums have to rise for all types of motor vehicles. I cannot at this stage give any precise estimate of the extent to which premiums would rise, except this, that the present minimum cover given to satisfy the requirements of the Road Traffic Act range from about £9 to £15 by way of annual premiums according to the size of the car. I am told that if the Bill becomes law the additional premium to cover passengers' risks would amount to between £2 and £3 a year.
As regards motor cycles, the premiums vary widely according to the size of the vehicle, and so on, but they range between £3 10s. and £5 10s. But this is for the minimum Act cover only, the ordinary insurance against third party risks, and one cannot gauge what the rise in premiums would have to be to cover passenger risks because there is no underwriting experience of this.
I hope that gives the House an idea of the figures involved. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham said, it is one of the prides of our insurance world that British motor insurance premiums are about the lowest that one can find anywhere. I am sure that none of us, by what we do in connection with this Bill, would want to put motoring out of the reach of the average person by so arranging things that insurance premiums would have to rise to such a level that it makes it virtually impossible. These problems may not be very severe, but I must come quickly to some important considerations.
§ Mr. Paget
One point which probably concerns all hon. Members is the question of contracting out. Could not that be got over in a simple way? As has been said, to get a Road Fund licence one has to produce one's certificate of insurance. In the Road Fund licence which has to be stuck to one's car or motor cycle, could not there be a statement about whether one could carry passengers or not? That would seem to cover it.
§ Mr. Hay
That might be so. One could probably work out all sorts of 828 machinery for doing this, but I think it avoids the point. The point is that the object of the Bill is to ensure, in the interests of the passenger, that he is covered by insurance. If that is one's objective, I do not consider that the sort of machinery which would ensure enforcement of this is terribly relevant. As I see it, what one has to do, if one accepts the principle, is to say that everybody must be covered, subject to certain exceptions, namely, vehicles that cannot carry passengers, and we have to work out such a list.
§ Mr. Paget rose —
§ Mr. Hay
I am putting my point of view and, no doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman will elaborate his point of view if he catches the eye of the Chair. Perhaps this is a matter for investigation in Committee, but I have made clear our attitude.
The insurance companies fix premiums and the amount of cover by reference to the driver's record. If he has a number of accidents and claims, the premium can be progressively increased or cover reduced. This helps in the campaign for greater road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham mentioned the necessity to support what the insurance companies do in this regard, and my right hon. Friend has already asked insurers to keep this point very much in mind.
If this power of the insurance companies to withdraw cover for free passengers were no longer available as a consequence of passing the Bill, I think it would be debatable to what extent the insurers would be restricted in their efforts to encourage better driving by penalising bad or careless motorists.
I think that the House would like to know the practice of other European countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) asked about this. To our knowledge, in only three countries is insurance cover required for all free passengers. These countries are Denmark, the German Federal Republic, and Sweden. In Denmark, a liability limit of £1,500 is set. In Germany the limit is £10,000. In Sweden the maximum is £45,000, but with a limit of £15,000 for any one passenger. In the Benelux countries, Czechoslovakia, France and Switzerland, a free passenger 829 must be covered, but members of the family of the owner, or the driver, are excluded, and the extent and degree of relationship is defined in different legislation in various complicated ways. France excludes free passengers on motor cycles, whether they are riding on the pillion or in a sidecar.
Countries that follow our pattern are Austria, the Irish Republic, Finland and Norway, and all these countries exclude free passengers from the scope of compulsory insurance. If the House decides to pass the Bill, it will be for consideration whether some of these qualifications that I have mentioned in foreign legislation, like the position of members of the family, and the maximum limit of liability, should or should not be incorporated. Again, this might lead to longish arguments in Committee.
I have sought to give the House as clear a picture as I could of the problems the Bill raises and the consequences that would have to be considered from the Government's viewpoint. I do not think that they are all Committee points, but points of substance which are fundamental to the decision which the House has to take today. We now have to decide whether, after thirty years, there is a sufficiently strong case to extend compulsory insurance to cover the free passenger; whether that case, if it exists, is met by the Bill as presented and, if so, whether the foreseeable results of the Bill are acceptable. That is a matter for the House.
This is not a Bill which the Government would have sought to introduce. We are not convinced that there is a sufficient weight of evidence to make out an overwhelming case for an alteration of the existing law, or that a large number of members of the public suffer hardship because the present law is defective. That is the Government's view, but if, after this full debate, the House decides that the case for the Bill is made out, the Government will not seek to oppose it, although we must reserve our right to propose what Amendments appear practicable and possible to deal with the undoubted defects that I have mentioned.
Our attitude may reasonably be described as one of open-minded neutrality. Although we have considerable doubts, we are nevertheless prepared to leave the decision to the House.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
One point which surprises me about the Bill is the Government's attitude towards contracting out. I can appreciate their having a case for saying, "This will be difficult to enforce", but when they say, "Apart from the difficulty of enforcement, it is wrong in principle," I find their argument utterly incomprehensible. What principle makes it wrong to say that a gentleman who is not carrying passengers need not be insured against injuries to the passengers he is not carrying, does not intend to carry, and is not allowed to carry?
§ Mr. Hay
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman so early in his speech, but I did point out that it might be that, by inadvertence or design, forgetfulness or even in an emergency, a man might at some stage—perhaps only for a short distance—carry a passenger. If he does so he is at once in breach of the terms of his policy, and he is also liable to conviction and disqualification. That is why we think that it would be better to have a blanket cover for everybody rather than the possible risk which I have referred to.
§ Mr. Paget
We come back, then, to the point of enforcement. As the hon. Member says, doubtless there will be cases of persons breaking the law. But I do not suppose that we have ever made a law which somebody has not broken. What will be the consequence of someone breaking this law? The passenger will be in no way worse off than he would be if we did not pass it. He will be in exactly the same position. It seems a very odd argument to say that we should not pass this Bill because of the conceivable circumstances that by reason of a breach of the law a passenger would find himself in the same position as he is now. It seems the most curious Alice-in-Wonderland argument.
There seems to be a very simple method of making enforcement very effective. In order to obtain a Road Fund licence a person has to produce his insurance certificate. If that certificate provides that he can carry passengers a licence disc of one colour can be given, and if it does not, a disc of another colour. If a policeman sees a man on a bicycle with a pillion passenger behind him and with a disc 831 of the wrong colour on his vehicle, he can pull that person in very quickly Motor cyclists will soon become aware of the consequences of such action.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
This is a very great problem. I have lived in country districts, as I am sure has the hon. and learned Member. At 6 o'clock at night a young fellow may decide that he will take his girl friend to the public house, which is only half a mile away. He may think that in the dark a policeman will never see that his licence is of the wrong colour. There may be an accident in which the girl is injured, and she will not be covered by insurance. That is the case for everybody being covered, and that is the difficulty we have to face.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I may be wrong, but is not this an obvious matter for Motor Insurance Bureau cover in the future? Is not this a case where it will have to be decided whether the injured person should be covered in that way?
§ Mr. Paget
I quite agree that we may have the Bureau system. On the other hand, we may not. All I am saying is that it seems a very odd reason for voting against the Bill to say, "How ghastly if, at night, when somebody is going to a public house, his wretched passenger should be put into a position in which he is now, and in which all passengers will be if we do not pass the Bill." It is a grotesque argument.
§ Mr. Paget
Does the hon. Member think that a girl friend who goes on a motor bicycle to a public house at night even thinks of the question whether or not she is covered? Let us be realistic about this. It seems hypocritical nonsense to me.
Another very odd and curious argument is to say that the risks here are so large that they are uninsurable and we therefore ought not to pass the Bill—because if we did it would make it too expensive for people to submit passengers to the risk of injury and 832 maiming. If that is to be the result, I welcome it.
I have practised at the Bar for many years, and I should think that I have taken part in many thousands of actions in which I have seen the physical and financial results of lives ruined by accidents. If the driver of a motor car makes a mistake he may bend the wing of his car, but if a motor cyclist makes a similar mistake he will probably bend his leg, or his passenger's leg. That is the grim consequence we find in this matter. I am not in the slightest bit loth to make this operation a little more expensive, if the result is to exclude some people from the roads.
If people are going to take this sort of risk with their lives—and it is not entirely a private risk; we have recently been talking quite a lot about the cost of the National Health Service and of the education service, and this risk involves an appalling wastage of public money, apart from anything else—they will be taking a greater risk, generally speaking, relative to the oldness and cheapness of the machine in which they are travelling. If a person has to carry this sort of insurance he will be subject to pressure from the insurance companies to make his machine safe—perhaps to fit the kind of fender which I have seen fitted to some bicycles, which take the first force of a collision and provide something to hit before the rider's leg is hit.
One is, in fact, creating a financial interest in favour of greater safety which may get highly effective results. I really hope that the Government will be a little more co-operative, a little more imaginative, and will apply their mind during the Committee stage to trying to make a success of the Bill rather than trying to find reasons why it should not work. I feel that from every point of view it is a Measure which merits the co-operation of the Government.
§ 1.0 p-m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) on bringing forward this very interesting Bill, dealing with a principle which we all have at heart, and for the interesting way in which he has done so. We have all had experience of this kind of problem when there has been a bus 833 strike or a railway strike and when we have given lifts. On those occasions we have been asked by the Government to give lifts and to display inside the car a notice saying that the passenger travels at his own risk. Of course, in the case of a certain number of motorists and motor cyclists that is true, although a large number of motorists are insured for this risk.
Speaking as one who, in one way or another, has been connected with motor legislation for a quarter of a century, I think that any Bill connected with motor vehicles is one of the most complicated that one can possibly have. Many people think that all vehicles running on the roads are motor cars. Of course, there are all kinds of other vehicles, buses, lorries, commercial vehicles, agricultural vehicles, and so on, which have to be taken into account. Therefore, one question which I wish to pose is whether as yet we have sufficient information to enable us to legislate on this complicated subject.
First, we must not assume that every passenger would be insured if the Bill became law and that he would automatically recover from an insurance company if he were involved in an accident. All sorts of accidents take place. A motor cyclist riding along the road may be driven into a ditch by a vehicle which runs away. It would not be the motor cyclists's fault. There would be no negligence. In such a case I do not think that the passenger would be able to recover from the insurance company. I shall be interested to hear what the lawyers have to say on that point, but I believe that to be the case.
The real difficulty in this matter is not the motor car, but the motor cycle. It really comes down to the question of the premium and what the working boy would have to pay to cover his girl friend who rides on the back of his motor cycle. A day or two ago I made a perfectly innocent inquiry from my own insurance company asking what my son, who is 21, would have to pay in London for insurance cover when riding a 250 c.c. motor cycle. I was rather horrified to learn the high premiums that have to be paid by motor cyclists even at 21 years of age.
The figures were as follows. If he took out only a third-party policy and 834 was an experienced motor cyclist with two years' experience he would pay only £4. That is all right. But if he wanted a comprehensive policy the premium would be £15. I imagine that the great majority of working boy motor cyclists do not take out comprehensive policies but only insure for third-party risk, costing £4 or £5.
If the motor cyclist is under 21 years of age the premium goes up by 50 per cent. and if he is under 18 years of age it goes up by another 100 per cent. Therefore, we are getting into figures around £30 for an 18-year-old motor cyclist, which is a very serious matter indeed. The insurance company went on to say that it would not, of course, automatically insure all passengers or even any passenger. It might cover a named passenger. I asked what the rate would be for a named passenger and I was given the astounding figure of 45s. for every £250 covered. That is a premium of £9 for every £1,000 cover for a passenger. On this basis my hon. Friend's figure of £5,000 cover would cost a motor cyclist £45, so obviously there would have to be a very severe limit.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) shakes his head. I agree that this is an individual case, that companies are very loth to insure passengers and that, therefore, if such insurance were compulsory for everyone the premium would be lower.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot arrive at the higher premium by simple multiplication.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
It seems to me that the figures which my hon. Friend has quoted bear no comparison with the figures in the sum which, in fact, I did myself when I insured for this purpose. Perhaps my hon. Friend's insurance company was consulted at the wrong time. It obviously did not want the business.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
My hon. and gallant Friend is a very well-known motor cyclist and known to be a really responsible person. He would get the lowest possible premium. But the lad of 18 or 21 with, perhaps, no motor cycling record at all and with not very 835 much experience, or with even a bad record, would, I am afraid, be very heavily loaded if he carried a passenger. That is the difficulty which we are up against.
It is perfectly obvious that if the Bill is to get its Committee stage there would have to be a very low limit on passenger cover, and if what is suggested is to be a working proposition. I should like the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), when he speaks, to deal with the point of how the working boy will react to this proposition. A lad of 18 would have to pay £10 or even £15 to get such cover.
Another snag, as I see it, is the case of the middle-aged man, a very responsible type, who buys a small motor cycle or a scooter on which to go to work and who never intends to carry a passenger. He again, presumably, would not be allowed to contract out. If that is so, then he would have to pay an extra £5 or £10. If such a man is allowed to contract out, then everybody must be allowed to contract out. We are then up against the difficulty of the large number of people who would contract out, but who would yet be tempted to carry, say, a brother, a sister or a girl friend on the back of a motor cycle for a few hundred yards, and, possibly, have an accident.
The other kind of provisos which would have to be inserted in the Bill would probably cover the lorry driver who is not permitted to carry passengers. British Road Services do not permit passengers to be carried. Presumably, B.R.S. would not be forced to take out cover for passengers when to do so is against the law or against their own rules. A further complication, of course, is that there is no legal claim as between a husband and wife. These are the sort of points that would have to be dealt with.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Loughborough that a great deal more thought must be given to the matter and a great deal more information obtained before the Bill can have a successful passage through Committee. I am not opposing the Bill, but, as I have said, I have had some experience of the matter. A great many interests are involved. Even the motor cycle industry may be affected, because its production 836 might go down very considerably if it were made difficult for a boy to afford to ride a motor cycle.
All these interests will come into the matter. Hon. Members will be lobbied by the various interests. I foresee that the Bill will have a very difficult Committee stage unless its provisions are drawn in very moderate terms with very severe limitations and unless a great many provisos are inserted in it to let out all the legitimate cases which ought not to be covered by the Bill at all.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I should like to add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) on introducing the Bill. I have on many occasions read his reports in particular cases from a professional point of view, and I congratulate him on those as well.
I gather that the attitude of the Government is one of benevolent neutrality towards the Bill. I ask them to go further and give some benevolent assistance in the matter. The Government have the information, the figures and the technical advisers who can say what would be the consequences of any particular Amendment. I ask the Government to put that assistance at the disposal of the promoters of the Bill so that during the Committee stage discussions Amendments may be made which will make this a really worthwhile and workable Measure.
§ Mr. Hay
Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend did not hear me when I said that that would be the case if the House decided to give the Bill a Second Reading. We shall do what we can, by proposing Amendments, to see that improvements are made and to deal with the problems which I mentioned in my speech.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that that would include giving drafting help? That would be very useful.
§ Mr. Doughty
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) could himself assist in that way. I am glad to hear what has been said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary about assisting the passage of this excellent Bill.
837 Several points have been raised in the discussion with which I should like to deal. It is said that nearly all car owners are insured in respect of their passengers, so that the provisions of the Bill concern motor cyclists almost exclusively. I do not believe that that is true for the reason that there is growing up, I am glad to say, a very large business in car hires. Anyone who has not a bad record can hire a car to drive himself. This is a highly respectable business which is increasing, especially in the provision of self-drive cars for tourists.
I do not wish to be unfair to any company or business, but I do not think that I should be wrong in saying that the vast majority of people who hire cars in this way, although they pay some insurance premium, would find that their insurance amounts only to the minimum third party insurance required by Statute and did not cover a passenger.
People who hire cars in this way may be wholly ignorant of the fact that, should their passenger be injured through their fault, they remain liable in law and with no insurance cover to indemnify them against the damages for which they may be liable. That is a matter which should be a little more widely known. With regard to the small increase in the premium in respect of those who hitherto, very unwisely, have taken out only the minimum amount of insurance, the few extra pounds that they would have to pay is as nothing compared with the good that such premiums would do for those who might be the victims of accidents and become maimed for life.
Motor cyclists have been mentioned frequently in the debate. The difficult question arises whether they should be allowed to contract out. Powerful arguments were advanced by the Parliamentary Secretary, but there is one way which I suggested earlier in an intervention—I am glad that it was followed up by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—by which it could be overcome. Anyone who applies for a Road Fund licence must produce a certificate of insurance upon which it would be clearly stated that cover does not include a passenger. For such people a Road Fund licence of a different colour—or bearing a distinctive mark, such as a purple band— 838 could be issued. This would be exhibited on the motor cycle where it could be seen by any potential passenger. And any policeman would be able to see whether, at one end of the vehicle, there was exhibited one of these licences, but, at the other, a passenger was clinging on.
I agree with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, that these are the very people who suffer severe injuries. If, when driving a car, one is involved in a collision, usually all that is damaged is bits of metal and it may be that no one is hurt. But if a person is unfortunate enough to be a motor cycle rider or a pillion passenger—neither position have I the slightest intention of occupying—what gets hit is that person's knee or leg and he is lucky if he is able to retain the limb. People ought to remember that.
I cannot follow the argument that when people are allowed to drive such lethal weapons, and expose themselves and others to terrible risks, they should not be asked or forced to insure against those risks because it may cost them a few extra pounds. One cannot compare that with the thousands of pounds of which victims of accidents may be deprived because the person at fault did not insure, in order to save a few pounds.
Is a pillion passenger to hobble about with one leg for the rest of his life because of a lack of insurance? That is an argument with which I fundamentally disagree, and if the too youthful or the too reckless motor cyclists are put off the road, I should not regret their departure.
§ Mr. Doughty
I have not yet finished my speech.
I certainly welcome the Bill. I do not agree with the reason which originally resulted in this insurance exception in other legislation—that it is open to persons to refuse to go on a motor cycle, or ride in a motor car, whereas a bystander has no compensation if he is run into by a car. How many people who become passengers in 839 a motor car ask whether the driver is property insured? I may do because I am a cautious person, but, even so, how do I know that I have been given the right answer, or that the person who has taken out the policy knows and understands the full terms of it? Although that argument is a legal one, I think that any lawyer would very quickly reject it on the grounds of common sense.
I am glad that this loophole in the law may at last be closed. I certainly hope that it will be. The question whether excavators or combine-harvesters should be included is one which we can decide in Committee.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) for the mistake about his peroration and the fact that I rose somewhat prematurely to make my speech.
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) on the Bill, and also on the excellent way in which he introduced it. The Measure will certainly have my support. It has been made clear that the principle, envisaged in original legislation, confining compulsory insurance merely to someone in another vehicle or to some other road user, and excluded the passenger in the insured vehicle, is an anomaly which ought to be and must be rectified.
The question has arisen whether there is a need in this case. I should have thought that the need was clear beyond any reasonable doubt and that even on the figures given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary a prima facie need had been shown, as well as from the very reasonable figures given by the hon. Member for Loughborough. Speaking from personal experience—I must disclose my interest as a solicitor—I think that the cases one comes across seem to be increasing because of the growing number of motor cyclists on the roads.
I recently had a case in which a girl of 18, just fourteen days before her marriage, was a pillion passenger on a motor cycle ridden by someone who was not her fiance. They were involved in 840 an accident and she sustained very serious injuries; I should estimate the damages at between £4,000 and £5,000. It would be difficult to establish liability on the pant of the driver of the car with which the motor cyclist was in collision. The motor cyclist, a boy of 18, earning £5 a week is obviously no mark for that claim. I could give a score of such examples. They would not necessarily prove anything, but I think that they add colour to the problem.
A point brought out by other hon. Members—I do not want to weary the House with it—is that it is clear that the effect on motor cars would obviously be small, perhaps 10 per cent., or even less. Perhaps we ought not to over-concern ourselves with the additional premium if there is to be some recourse for the person injured in a motor crash.
The real turning point in the debate, on which the whole hub of the problem depends, is that of the motor cyclist, and whether or not he should be entitled to contract out. There is no doubt—it has been admitted on both sides of the House—that a substantial increase in premiums would arise for motor cyclists, but, as has been well said, there is no individual right to contract out of the wider principle of insurance.
I certainly disagree in degree with the hon. Member for Loughborough on the question of contracting out. The question is whether we can devise machinery which would be workable. It would seem that if we made definite provisions the first should be that in a case where contracting out was allowed there must be no pillion seat on the motor cycle. That, I suggest, would remove some of the elements of temptation to take someone as a passenger on a short journey. That is very important and quite essential if the principle of contracting out is to be accepted.
Another point put by several hon. Members is that a special form of disc should be provided, perhaps of a specially distinctive colour. One might also consider increasing penalties for a criminal offence in order to make a further detraction. Another measure which obviously would follow is that the claim must be clearly understood. Where someone does not obey the law, but takes the chance of carrying a passenger to a "pub" in the evening, or taking a friend 841 to work and is involved in an accident and not covered although he should have been, that must come within the Motor Insurance Bureau. I think that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary brought that out clearly. I hope that I am not incorrectly stating the case he put forward and that he will correct me if I am wrong. His argument was that this would throw an additional burden on the Motor Insurance Bureau, which might indirectly place additional burdens on motor insurance companies.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
That is a valid argument as far as it goes, but it is not necessarily a full argument. If we have adequate measures to deal with people who break the law—such as the employment of a coloured disc, severer penalties and removal of the pillion seat—those to a large extent would remove the possibility of widespread and expensive claims on the Bureau. Those seem to be the main points which have arisen in the debate.
I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that the Ministry will co-operate with the hon. Member for Loughborough in devising adequate machinery for contracting out.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) who, I thought, drew attention very clearly to the difficulties which the absence of such a Measure as this causes. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) did the same.
We all know the tragedy which can arise when people who are uninsured are involved in accidents and suffer mutilation for life. One does not have to go into that. I suggest that as a question of equity there can be no doubt that compulsory insurance of passengers is right. In 1929, arguments were advanced against any form of insurance on the ground that if people were insured and protected by insurance companies the degree of care they would exercise would be reduced. That has been shown to be incorrect. If a person drives carelessly or dangerously, and is involved in an accident, he knows perfectly well that his insurance cover will be withdrawn.
842 One of the problems is the entire ignorance of the general public about insurance. Not one in twenty realises that when he gets into a motor car it may well be that he is not insured and that if there is an accident, whether it is due to the negligence of the driver or not, he may not be able to recover damages. How many people take the risk and danger of taking a passenger in those circumstances? The damage to a passenger in an accident is a very different thing from the damage to a motor car, not only from the human but from the financial point of view. The most expensive car on the market costs roughly £8,000 or £9,000, but the average claim for damage for write-off is probably £700 or £800. Compensation for injury is very much larger than that and often can run into many thousands of pounds.
As many hon. Members have said, the question of compulsory insurance falls into two categories, that for motor cars and that for motor cycles. Although I am not an expert on insurance, I agree that it is very much easier in the case of cars than of motor cycles. Many hon. Members have suggested that motor cyclists should be able to opt out of insurance, but that should depend on whether the motor cycle is fitted with an appliance for taking a passenger. If it is a solo machine not designed for taking passengers, it should be excluded, but if it is fitted with a device for taking passengers I do not think there can be any question of excluding it except on the grounds of cost, which would extend throughout the whole range of insurance.
The premiums may be affected particularly in the case of the inexperienced driver wishing for the first time to own a motor cycle, or for a person who has had a series of very 'bad accidents. I am not so much concerned about the second category. Such a person should pay the premium. It may be a good thing if it acts as a deterrent and keeps such people off the road altogether, but I think that there is a case for a young man who, perfectly reasonably, wants to start using a motor cycle. In his case, the premium might be increased very considerably because of the risk the insurance company is taking.
Another important point raised in the debate has been about passengers entering or alighting from vehicles. That, 843 also, deserves attention. When the hon. Member for Loughborough drew up the Bill he left it very wide, and I think that it is possible that this provision could be included.
Hon. Members have raised the question of the total sum to be covered. Two serious dangers arise here. The courts are apt, in assessing damages, where an insurance company is paying, to feel that the individual is not paying; or, if there is a ceiling of £10,000, they feel that they can award up to that amount. I am not sure whether we should fix a ceiling to the amount of cover which a passenger can obtain. In my view, it should be a liability measured entirely by the extent of damage which the unfortunate person has sustained and should not be limited to a stated sum.
Another suggestion was that the driver of the vehicle should have the right to contract out. Many excellent devices have been suggested, particularly by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, one being that the colour of the licence could be varied, but I am not sure whether it would be a good thing to introduce these into the Bill. The average person would believe that he was protected. I am not sure that it would be a good thing to include in the Bill provision for a differently coloured licence or some other device.
Mention has been made of the special risks which insurance companies have to bear, such as those arising from the age of the driver, his youthfulness, his experience, the type of machine, and so on, and I am sure that to a large extent these will influence the premiums. There is no doubt that this will result in increased premium payments, and it is for the House to decide whether the results achieved are worth the price in increased premiums.
I pay tribute to the work done through the Motor Insurance Bureau. My right hon. Friend or his predecessor had some negotiations on this subject, and a large number of unfortunate accidents have been covered by this agreement, so well made between my hon. Friend's Department and the Motor Insurance Bureau. Nevertheless, I do not agree that this is the extent to which liability should be limited and I am sure that ethically we ought to include the unfortunate passenger in the insurance.
844 The hon. and learned Member for Northampton mentioned the question of enforcement. The colour of the licence, if we had a dual type of insurance, could well indicate whether the person was insured, but it has been suggested that on a dark night a passenger getting into a vehicle might not see the colour of the licence. May I point out that the passenger runs an equal risk when he gets into a car through not knowing whether the driver is insured at all. The risk is identical in the two cases.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The main point of the coloured disc would be to make it easier for the police to detect a driver who is carrying a passenger when he is not properly insured. That is the main value of it, rather than to give knowledge to the passenger.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is an important point. The differently coloured disc obviously would serve a dual purpose. It would give the passenger an indication whether the vehicle was insured and it would be a ready reckoner whereby the police could see whether the vehicle was insured for carrying passengers.
I do not think that there is an insuperable difficulty about having two types of licence, but I believe that if one produces a quarterly insurance and, at the same time, applies for an annual licence, one can get an annual licence. This means that there is a defect in the checking of insurances. If I paid £12 10s. for an annual licence and produced an insurance which was valid at the time that I paid for the licence, I believe that an annual licence would be granted, although the insurance might well run only for another three months. That will have to be remedied in Committee if we are to have this dual form of licence. If a person produces an insurance which covers passengers for only the next few months, we must ensure that a licence is not granted for a time exceeding the cover of the insurance.
I hope that when the Bill is sent to Committee one point which will be included is that no passenger or driver of a motor cycle should get any compensation if he is foolish enough not to wear a helmet. This is a protective step which any sensible person ought to take, and if 845 anyone suffers head injuries as a result of his own negligence when not taking it, I feel that he is not entitled to the court's protection.
I hope that the House agrees that the compulsory insurance of passengers is desirable, but a great deal of work will have to be done in Committee on exactly how the machinery will be carried out. The effect, which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary brought out, over the whole range of insurance will obviously be very great. Most of the difficulties will be among elderly drivers and inexperienced drivers, because their premiums will obviously be increased substantially. It is for the House to decide whether the increase in insurance premiums all over the range of motor vehicles is a worth-while payment to protect the innocent passenger who is being driven in a motor vehicle, and who sustains severe injuries for which no compensation can possibly be recovered from the driver, from any third party or from the insurance company.
We should give earnest consideration to the Bill today, but should go into very much more detail about the cost in Committee.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I have complied with what I think are the general wishes of the House and kept my speech to the last of the speeches in the debate. This has an advantage, because the last three or four hon. Members who have spoken, since the Joint Parliamentary Secretary intervened, have been very illuminating.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), first, on his luck in the Ballot, and, secondly, on his initiative in the presentation of the Bill. The Bill is certain to be given a Second Reading, but whatever happens to it subsequently, what he has done above all else is to set in train a machinery which must lead to an investigation into this matter in much more detail and which at the end of the day must produce a result, unless the Government are very difficult about it and are determined to turn their back on any amending Bill of this kind. My hon. Friend must be thanked by the House for that.
846 When he promoted the Bill it meant that many people such as myself had to do some research and to go into the Library and to find out about the subject. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is lucky; he has people to do the work for him. They have provided him with a first-class brief, as they invariably do, and he has been able, in his most efficient and courteous manner, to present it to the House in such a way that we believe that he did it all himself.
In my researches I discovered that there has been no amendment to the Road Traffic Act on this subject since 1930. It is incredible that we have to go back all those years to see the attempts which were made to try to alter the situation. I discovered that a Committee was set up in 1937 known as the Cassel Committee, which went into the whole question of compulsory insurance. It was set up by the Board of Trade, and it took into account the question of compulsory insurance of motor vehicles, considering many aspects, including passenger injuries.
The Committee made a great many recommendations. Unfortunately, the war held everything up, and not until 1945 were arrangements made between the insurance companies and the then Minister of Transport by which the Motor Insurance Bureau was established and an agreement was reached between the insurance companies and the Ministry on this matter. It is an interesting reflection that the institution for the Motor Insurance Bureau is the only recommendation of the Cassel Committee to be implemented, although the Committee concluded its work in 1937.
I put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary, but not for any reply. One day when he and his Department are not doing anything, they might look again at the whole question of compulsory insurance and the recommendations made by that excellent body, the Cassel Committee. As the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) so rightly said, in the early days of compulsory insurance all sorts of profound reasons were advanced against it. There was always the great argument about cost. It was said that the cost would be prohibitive. It was argued that it would be an infringement of the liberty of the citizen. It was said that people should have a choice.
847 All these arguments have been advanced so often before, but Parliament has decreed through the years—both Conservative and Labour Governments—that there are certain things in which the public have lost any rights. It has been accepted that they should not have the freedom to kill or injure without insurance at the end of the day for the dependants of those who are killed or for the injured. It is as straightforward as that. Within that orbit, by introducing the Bill my hon. Friend has high-lighted a complete anomaly in the present law.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us that it is estimated that about 80 per cent. of those who drive cars have comprehensive insurance.
§ Mr. Hay indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Mellish
I do not want to argue about figures. Seventy per cent. or 80 per cent. of those who drive cars have comprehensive insurance and are covered. If nothing else resulted from the Bill other than that the remaining 30 per cent. or 20 per cent. had to insure against the risk of passengers being injured or killed, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough will have rendered the country a very great service.
There can be no justification for people who drive a car and can afford to do so not having this insurance. I assume that all those who drive cars can afford to. They must understand that they must pay insurance to cover the risk of any damage they might do to passengers. There may be a minority who will object to paying. We all know that some motorists try to get their motoring just about as cheaply as possible. Those who do that are often those who can afford to pay much more for their motoring.
It should be stated publicly that we cannot, on the one hand, talk about motoring being made cheaper and, on the other, talk of measures to deal with parking, etc., which will result in motoring being more expensive. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that we must be careful about this, because the resulting increased premiums will make it very difficult indeed for motorists. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) spoke of a lad having to pay £10 a year extra for a special 848 premium to be insured against these risks.
What are the Government doing, with the support of the Labour Party? They are making motoring very expensive. We have no alternative. If motorists want to park their cars, they have to pay extra for it now. There are parking meters. The public must make up their minds on this issue. To enable traffic to move, it will now be very expensive to own a car. It is fair to say that with more cars and motor cycles on the roads the danger to others is immense. We must face the fact that premiums will rise and people will have to pay more in insurance.
There is no political point in this. It is an obvious fact. I do not believe that the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Twickenham on cost should be a deterrent. I, too, have been in touch with insurance companies. I will not name them, but I have been in touch with one or two. The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) knows much about these subjects, and the insurance companies with which I have been in touch confirm exactly what he says. There are no hard and fast figures. The companies would not even quote them to me. A "character" the hon. Member for Twickenham met gave him specific figures which suited his arguments, so he quoted them. The reputable people I spoke to told me that they just did not know as regards the argument about motor cycles.
It is obvious that, if there were a law and motor cyclists were compelled to pay a premium such as this, pro rata the premium would be much lower for everybody. I may be wrong about that, but it seems to be an obvious point of view. If several million motor cyclists were paying, it would not be terribly expensive.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the cost to the motorist for the type of insurance we are talking about would be about another £2 or £3 a year. I do not believe that any person who is driving a car could not afford to find that. Indeed, he would have to if I had my way. I should make it part of the luxury of having a car. Having a car today is a luxury, although sometimes when I am driving mine down the Old Kent Road I find it a terrible hardship, in 849 spite of the Minister's great efforts to improve our roads.
My hon. Friend was very fair and admitted that this is a one-Clause Bill which, in effect, throws up ideas. If there is good will and if the Parliamentary Secretary accepts that we on this side will work with him and his Department, we shall not get bogged down in Committee. We have some good lawyers on this side who are expert at drafting Measures of this kind. I understand that the proposals contained in the Bill have been considered by a number of people outside the House who are experts in this field. I am certain that we shall not be bogged down and find ourselves in too much difficulty in Committee. If there is good will in the Ministry of Transport, in the sense of direction being given, the Department will find the answers, and will produce Amendments in Committee to implement the principle behind the Bill.
I do not deny that motor cyclists in themselves are a very great problem. There is no question about it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) got involved in an argument in this respect. I am one of those who believe that if there is to be compulsory insurance, so be it. I do not believe in working out methods by which everybody can contract out, and I put that on record immediately. There are some obvious examples of those who would not be covered by such legislation as this. That is a different matter. I take my stand on the principle that, if there is compulsory insurance, it should be so. It is wrong in principle to try to find legal arguments as to how people could avoid compulsory insurance, and I shall oppose any such arguments in Committee.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
For what reasons would the hon. Gentleman oppose it if a scheme could be evolved?
§ Mr. Mellish
I should oppose those who wanted to contract out of such a scheme. Compulsory insurance is right in principle, and it should apply to all. One argument which was advanced was that there are some vehicles which are not manufactured to take a passenger. It was said that one motor cycle is not manufactured to take a pillion rider and the rider of such a machine obviously should not pay this insurance. Once 850 efforts are made to try to find such exemptions, one gets bogged down. It would be most impracticable to work the scheme.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
If a vehicle is essentially a one-person vehicle, it is most unreasonable to expect the owner to insure for a risk which he cannot possibly take.
§ Mr. Mellish
It may well be that such vehicles as tractors and milk floats could be exempted. I was trying to answer the argument which has been advanced that some persons will never carry passengers and therefore should not pay this insurance. This argument was advanced on the freedom-of-the-individual principle.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
It may be possible to devise a scheme to cater for people who take a chance, are injured in an accident, and then find that they have no redress. If a scheme can be found through the Motor Insurance Bureau to avoid such persons being placed at a disadvantage through having no insurance, would the hon. Gentleman support a system of contracting out?
§ Mr. Mellish
I shall not depart from the principle. I believe in compulsory insurance. If it is brought in, it should be for all, with the few exceptions of milk floats, etc. However, I do not want to become involved any deeper in this argument on Second Reading. It would be difficult in Committee on such a Bill to implement what the House desires. I concede all that.
With good will shown by the Parliamentary draftsmen, the intention of the House being known, we can find a solution. It is as straight as that. But, if I may say so, I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary rather gave the impression to hon. Members—he certainly conveyed it to me—that there was not a lot of good will in the Ministry of Transport for the Bill. He said that there was a sort of benevolent neutrality on the part of the Ministry.
My experience has been that a Private Member's Bill has little chance of success unless it deals with the welfare of wild fowl or some other bird or animal. In that case, the Government smile, and say, "That will be no trouble at all." Those who are very fond of wild fowl, or whatever it may be, then give the Bill their pontifical blessing, there is a Committee stage lasting about 851 a quarter of an hour—and a Private Bill is on the way to the Statute Book. There are, of course, rare exceptions, like Sir Alan Herbert's Measure, but they deal with great issues of the day.
A Bill like this has no hope at all without good will on the part of the Ministry. Hon. Members can think what they like, but private Members' time and Private Members' Bills become myths unless the Ministries concerned back them for all they are worth. I therefore ask for a little more enthusiasm from the Parliamentary Secretary than he has so far shown, with his talk of benevolent neutrality—
§ Mr. Hay
I went a little further than benevolent neutrality. I said that our attitude was one of open-minded neutrality, and I went on to say that we would assist in any way we could if the Bill was given a Second Reading, but that we were prepared to leave the decision entirely to the House. That, surely, is pretty good, coming from any Ministry.
§ Mr. Mellish
I have been here long enough to know that unless Ministers say that they will support a Private Member's Bill in its entirety, and will support it in Committee, it has little chance of going through. I quoted the Parliamentary Secretary as speaking of "benevolent neutrality," but I gather that he used the expression "open-minded neutrality"—and that is even worse. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary is enthusiastic about it, this Bill has "had it," and that would be a great pity.
If the Bill's principle became law, every motor car driver would be compelled to have compulsory insurance cover for the passengers at an additional cost, probably, of about £2 a year; and every motor cyclist who had a pillion rider would be compelled to pay—I will accept the figure quoted by the hon. Member for Twickenham—an extra £8 or £10 a year. If the principle is right, that is money that ought to be spent.
I believe that the figures given in the debate have been overstated, and that they may prove to be much lower, but, in Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary should be in a position to give firm figures. They can be obtained. Those insurance companies to whom I have spoken—and the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham had the same experi- 852 ence—had not done any real research and were in no position to give figures. We have all had a letter from the R.A.C. and the A.A. saying, in effect, that, while not opposing the Bill as such, they have no real information about the additional cost involved, and that that is what is worrying them—
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Gentleman moved rather quickly from the very contentious point of contracting out. It is clear from the course of the debate that several hon. Members on both sides would, if the hon. Gentleman had his way and motor cyclists were left in the Bill, vote against it on Third Reading. Would the hon. Member still press for that even then?
§ Mr. Mellish
I have been brought up in a world of compromise—in the trade union movement. There one goes in for as much as one can get and comes out with what one finally gets. What we do on Third Reading is quite another matter; I have made my point on Second Reading that compulsory insurance is just that. If we are to find lots of reasons why people cannot or should not be compelled to 'take out this form of insurance, we ruin the whole thing. In all the earlier Acts, reasons were always advanced why one section or another should not be included. I do not admit the validity of that.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that as far as the Ministry knew there was no great need for this Measure. It is extraordinary how these Ministers of the Crown can change when the reverse position obtains. In the proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Licensing Bill I asked why the Government were introducing such legislation when there seemed to be no great public need. The Government replied, "Ah, this is not a question of need—there is honesty and justice in the case, and this should be done."
I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should have a chat with his colleagues in the Home Office, when he will see that here, too, there is something to be done that is honest and right. Let the Ministry of Transport do it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).