§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Order of the Day read for the consideration of; the Commons Reason for disagreeing to one of the Lords Amendments and the Commons consequential Amendment to one of the Lords Amendments.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend I beg to move that the Commons Reason and the consequential Amendment be now considered.
§ Moved, That the Commons reason for disagreeing to one of the Lords Amendments and the Commons consequential Amendment to one of the Lords Amendments be now considered.—(Lord Derwent.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [Note.—The references are to Bill (122) as first printed for the House of Lords. The Commons Reason is printed in italics.]
§ LORDS AMENDMENT
§ Clause 2 page 2, line 21, leave out ("one") and insert ("two").
§ The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:—
§ Because the Amendment would increase the aggregate liability of the proprietor of an hotel in the case of loss or damage to property brought to the hotel to a figure unreasonably in excess of the existing law.323
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I rise to move that this House doth not insist on the Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed. I regret, and I know that your Lordships will regret, that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, cannot be here to-day to deal with what I hope will be the final stages of this Bill, as he has piloted the Bill so ably up till now through your Lordships' House. Unless the House wishes otherwise, I do not intend to go into the merits or demerits of your Lordships' Amendment—it has been argued very fully twice —but I should like to go briefly into the history of this Amendment. When this Bill came to your Lordships first from another place, the maximum liability under Clause 2 of this Bill for an hotel proprietor towards any one guest was £100. That was the figure, incidentally, recommended by the Law Reform Committee and that was the figure which the other place had found to be a suitable figure.
On the Committee stage of the Bill in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, moved an Amendment to increase the amount of £100 to £200. This Amendment was resisted by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. It was taken to a Division and the Amendment was negatived by a majority of three votes. On the Report stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, introduced a similar Amendment. It was resisted by my noble friend and again taken to a Division, but this time the Amendment was agreed to by a majority of three votes. So that, when this Bill went back to the other place, the figure of £200 had been inserted in the Bill instead of the original £100. The Commons have now disagreed to your Lordships' Amendment after further debate, and they have stated that they think that £100 was the proper figure to put in the Bill. I would suggest to your Lordships that, as the views of your Lordships are apparently so evenly balanced and as the other place have twice given their view in the same direction that £100 should stay, this is a suitable opportunity for your Lordships to agree with the other place.
§ Moved, That this House doth not insist on the Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Derwent.)324
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, as the mover of the Amendment in this House which was carried, I do not propose to ask the House to insist upon the Amendment which we proposed and carried, but I think a word or two is opportune on this subject. This is not a question of high principle; it is a question on which any Member of your Lordships' House is competent to express an opinion when he has heard the arguments. I agree that this House was evenly divided on Committee stage. There was a majority of three against the view of this Amendment. On the Report stage there was the same majority in its favour. The composition of the vote was not a Party one in any sense. I think it would not have been carried at all but for the votes of noble Lords on the other side. It was carried against the advice of Her Majesty's Government and against the very weighty advice of the noble and learned Viscount. I think it is the only time that this House has not accepted his advice in toto. I say that this is a matter upon which we are perfectly competent to express a view and quite as competent as another place to do so. Therefore, on the face of it, there is no reason whatever why their view should prevail. This is not a matter on which the mandate of the country has been obtained. It is a simple issue and we could, if we chose, insist upon having our way. I do not rise in order to discuss the Constitution but I think we should be perfectly within our rights if we said, "We have carried this and we think we are right."
But I rather resent the language and the atmosphere in which this measure was discussed in another place. Members in another place were asked to reject this Amendment on three grounds. The first was that we did not understand the background—in other words, that we did not really know what we were talking about. I have expressed the view, and I am sure your Lordships will agree, that, whatever else one may say about it, the issue was a perfectly simple one. It is not very easy not to understand it, and I am sure that your Lordships did understand it. There may have been a good deal of background, but really the background was quite irrelevant to the decision at which we arrived.
The second ground was that it was against a recommendation of the Law 325 Reform Committee. So it was: but then I hope that your Lordships will often vote against the advice of a committee if your Lordships feel so disposed. After all, we are the legislators. Committees advise us and, generally speaking, we accept their advice; but there are times when we are perfectly entitled to consider their advice and to reject it or to modify it. Your Lordships have taken advantage of this freedom on this occasion and I am sure your Lordships were right so to do. It is very healthy for committees to find that we do not swallow every word that they recommend and that we have a mind of our own.
The third reason that was offered was that the majority was such a small one. Of course it was a small majority, but, after all, if we do not act on the views of the majority we must act on the views of the minority. I think the fact that it was earned by a majority after further consideration on Report is an indication that this House really wanted this Amendment. I rather deplore the fact that this sort of language should be used about the efforts of your Lordships' House. Within our very limited lights, we try to do our best to act as a revising Chamber, to scrutinise Bills and to put forward our views. The other place is entitled to disagree with us, especially, as I have said, on matters on which it is open to have a different view, but they are not entitled to impugn our capacity or our right to form a judgment. If they had merely said that they took a different view and left it at that, I should have been content to let it go without even inflicting a speech on your Lordships, but, in the circumstances, I feel it right to express my view about the dignity of this House and to assert the right of this House to disagree with the other place if it is so minded.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I am sure that none of your Lordships will grudge the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the time which he has most usefully spent in addressing us on this Bill, because I had urged not only my view but my anxiety that Bills that were the result of the work of committees should be placed before Parliament. The last thing I ever wanted to suggest was that Parliament should not give them a very critical 326 examination. I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the trouble which he took in regard to this Bill and in examining every part of it. I rise merely to say that I am glad that he is not persisting in his Amendment, because I am anxious that these reforms in the law should come into operation.
There was only one point which I think was one of substance but which we did not discuss, or at any rate not very fully, in the debate before your Lordships. I think my noble friend Lord Merthyr mentioned the figure in Switzerland as being approximately £83, but the point there is not only that this figure of £100 would bring our law into line with that of most Continental countries and so secure uniformity on this subject, but that the question of uniformity on subjects of this kind is being considered by a committee of the Council of Europe at the present moment. It is a relevant point that this is a matter upon which fifteen countries in Europe are trying to find uniformity. I am sorry that I had not that information when the matter was being discussed before. I think that that may be another reason for Lord Silkin's not only taking the generous course which he has taken to-day, but being satisfied in having taken it. After what he has said, I hope that your Lordships will agree with the Motion of my noble friend Lord Derwent.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ LORDS AMENDMENT
§ After Clause 3, insert the following new Schedule—