My Lords, I am obliged for the contributions that have been made to the debate. This short Bill has already invoked many hours of debate, so I intend to keep my remarks very brief.
I endorse the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, both as to the appropriateness of this amendment and as to the spirit in which it will be and is being received by the Government. As noble Lords will be aware, the Prime Minister gives a Statement to the other place following European Councils. We know that there will be a Council this month, and indeed quarterly thereafter. That means that a Statement will be made to Parliament at least once every quarter on European issues, and it will be repeated in this House. Of course, that is just the beginning of a much wider process over which this Parliament has control at the end of the day.
DExEU Ministers have responded to more than 600 parliamentary Written Questions, appeared at 13 Select Committees and given six Oral Statements to the House on developments regarding our exit. The Secretary of State has agreed to give evidence to the Exiting the EU Select Committee on 15 March, alongside the Permanent Secretary at DExEU, and will shortly afterwards give evidence to the Lords EU Committee on 22 March.
The Government are committed to parliamentary scrutiny, and Parliament will play a key role in scrutinising and shaping our withdrawal. As my noble friend Lord Bridges observed last week, we have had take-note debates, debates on Select Committee reports, debates in government time and Select Committee appearances. All this will continue in order that Parliament can scrutinise the development of negotiations in so far as is possible to put those in the public domain and in so far as they come into the public domain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to secrets, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to nasty secrets. This may reflect a difference of approach, but at the end of the day there will not be any secrets. You cannot conduct such a process in secret, ultimately, and then expect Parliament to consider that it is being kept properly informed, as it should be, if you have what are termed secrets. We are committed to keeping Parliament at least as well informed as the European Parliament as negotiations progress.
A Bill to repeal the European Communities Act will follow. There will be primary legislation on issues such as immigration and customs, and a vote at the end with regard to the process on the final deal to exit.
With all that in mind, I will pose a few questions. Is the Prime Minister already bound to give a Statement to Parliament after every quarterly European Council? The answer is yes.
Have the Government been willing to give frequent Statements to Parliament? The answer is yes.
Have DExEU Ministers and other government Ministers appeared in front of Select Committees? The answer is yes.
Have the Government listened to Select Committee reports? The answer is yes; we published a White Paper in February this year.
Do the Government aim to respond to the Select Committee reports about Brexit within two months? The answer is yes.
Have the Government said they will give more information to Parliament, so long as it does not undermine our negotiating position? The answer is yes.
Then there is the core question: what is the present Bill about? The Bill is about giving the Prime Minister the authority to give notice of withdrawal from the European Union.
With great respect to the House and to all noble Lords, let us proceed and pass this Bill. It will not be improved by unnecessary decoration and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has already observed, it is not appropriate that this amendment should proceed. As I believe all Members of your Lordships’ House who have spoken would acknowledge, it is not necessary that this amendment should proceed in these circumstances. Therefore, I invite the noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.
I am obliged to the noble Lord. Of course we are concerned about the distress that can be caused to victims as a result of cross-examination in cases of this kind. The investigation, inquiry and work that the department is undertaking in this regard will be swift and thorough. It would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the outcome of that work at this time, but clearly a number of options will be available. For example, one can take some guidance from what happens in the criminal courts, where the judge may determine what questions are to be put to a witness, may decide to put those questions to a witness himself, and the circumstances where the judge may determine that a third-party advocate should instead be employed to put such questions. However, as I say, I do not seek to pre-empt the urgent and swift investigation and determination that is being undertaken at present.
I am obliged to my noble and learned friend, who has a great deal more experience in these areas than I would ever hope to achieve. Clearly, the purpose of cross-examination, whether it is to challenge credibility or reliability or a particular account, should be pursued by way of questions. It is not an opportunity to make statements to the court or to give evidence and should never be an opportunity to resort to abuse, whether of a victim, a witness or the court itself.
My Lords, I am obliged to noble Lords. I begin by looking at Amendments 27 and 88, which seek to insert the word “clearly” in the public interest test. On this point I concur with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, that there is a danger that this would simply muddy the waters and not clarify.
The test as set out in the government amendment is straightforward. The public interest in obtaining the information sought either outweighs the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of privilege or it does not. If the word “clearly” were inserted, that certainty would be lost. We would have to try to define what we mean by “clearly”. Logic suggests that it means that one public interest test should outweigh the other by a certain amount, as indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but it is not apparent what that amount would be. This would undoubtedly lead to confusion and uncertainty. Given that such a warrant can be sought only in exceptional and compelling circumstances, where national security or life and limb are at risk, confusion and uncertainty are one thing that we cannot afford.
The government amendments set out in detail what is intended by “exceptional and compelling”. The test is explicit on the face of the Bill and it is one that works. We are also introducing a requirement for the codes to include additional information about when circumstances are to be considered exceptional and compelling, and requiring the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to keep that language under review. It is in these circumstances that I invite the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.
The second set of amendments in this group—Amendments 56, 57, 192 and 193—seek to change the power of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to determine what happens to legally privileged material when it has been obtained by an agency and the agency wishes to retain it. First, they would provide that the commissioner has the power to impose conditions on the use of the item as well as its disclosure. Secondly, they would also require the commissioner to direct that any privileged material that has been obtained must be destroyed unless there are exceptional and compelling circumstances that justify its retention. These amendments raise important issues in respect of legally privileged material that is inadvertently obtained and where the agency wishes to retain it. I would like to reflect further on our consideration of these points today and to return to this issue at Third Reading.
Amendment 107 deals with communications data and seeks to provide for judicial approval of authorisations for the communications data of a person who is or is likely to be a practising legal professional. It seeks to reflect the protections provided in Part 3 of the Bill for the identity of a journalistic source, but in practice this amendment goes much further by attaching the protections to the profession rather than to the sensitive information they manage. The debates in the House of Commons and at previous stages in this House have been clear that Parliament’s view is that protection should attach to the sensitive communication or to the function being carried out and should not simply apply to the person because they are a member of some profession. For example, there was consensus that protection should apply to the journalist’s communications with a source or the client’s communications with a lawyer. This amendment would go against that consensus by providing protection to a lawyer simply because he is a lawyer.
The Bill takes a reasoned and balanced approach. It applies additional protections where appropriate; provides for judicial authorisation of the most intrusive powers and for the use of less intrusive powers in the most sensitive circumstances; and provides a powerful and robust oversight regime to ensure that powers cannot be misused. The protections provided are specific to each power under the Bill, applying protection which is appropriate to the level of intrusion represented by each power. The draft Communications Data Code of Practice sets out the additional considerations that must be taken into account when any data relate to a member of a profession which routinely holds items subject to legal provision. Indeed, Schedule 7 to the Bill requires that the code shall include such detail. In addition, the current amendment to Clause 2 puts beyond doubt the importance of taking particular care in relation to sensitive information, such as items subject to legal privilege.
Our debate has already shown the importance that the Government place on the protection of legally privileged material, but I would suggest that it is not appropriate to introduce these additional protections within the context of authorisations for communications data. I invite the noble Baroness not to press Amendment 107.
Amendment 55A, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, seeks to amend government Amendment 55. This amendment would require the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to direct that any material obtained that is subject to legal privilege must be destroyed and allow the agency to retain only material that is incidental to that which is privileged.
I have already indicated in response to Amendment 57, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that I am minded to look again at whether there is more we might provide on the face of the Bill regarding the test that the commissioner should apply when making a decision about whether material can be retained. However, I would respectfully suggest that what the noble and learned Lord proposes with this amendment is not appropriate in the circumstances. It is the case that the vital intelligence that an agency may require could intrude not only on incidental material in a legally privileged communication but on the legally privileged communication in general.
I take up the example which the noble and learned Lord gave of the individual communicating with a lawyer and asking, “Can I be extradited from Greece?”. One might say, in a very straightforward fashion, that the relevant intelligence there is Greece, not that he may or may not be extradited. But what if the communication goes like this: “Can I be extradited from Greece or Albania?”, and the answer is, “You can be extradited from Greece but you cannot be extradited from Albania”. Just giving them Greece and Albania will not assist the intelligence services very much. On the other hand, the legally privileged information that he can be extradited from Greece but cannot be extradited from Albania might lead the reasonable intelligence officer to infer that the individual was more likely to be found in Albania than in Greece. It is in those circumstances that I suggest that one cannot easily divide between the two. As I have indicated, we are conscious that in these areas we can look again to see whether we can strengthen these matters. At this stage I would invite the noble and learned Lord not to press his amendment.
I am obliged to the noble Baroness. The answer is that, in those circumstances, bail could still be granted. It will be dependent on the individual conditions that arise in a particular case. But I make it absolutely clear that it would still be possible for bail to be granted in such circumstances.
That is, as it were, a known unknown at this stage. There are no particular tribunals in mind so far as that is concerned. However, if further tribunals are created, it is contemplated that they should not transfer automatically but should be subject to the same conditionality that is thought appropriate for existing tribunals. It is at that level of generality. It is not contemplated that there is any particular tribunal that will be addressed by that provision. I hope that answers the noble and learned Lord’s question and invite him to withdraw the amendment.
I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. First of all, of course, we are dealing with reserved matters. If we were dealing with immigration, for example—a matter of reserved law—there could be circumstances in which the application of Scots law led to a different outcome from the application of English law. I notice that new sub-paragraph (11) in Clause 37 talks about the meaning of a Scottish tribunal, but that, on the face of it, does not appear to determine the scope of its jurisdiction to hear cases from outside Scotland. It is more a question of what is a Scottish case in that context. That is something that can be looked at, I suggest, in the context of each Order in Council for the transfer of each tribunal. There may be room to facilitate the transfer of cases in the manner suggested. That is something that we will take away and consider.
My Lords, if a religious ceremony of marriage or purported marriage does not conform to the requirement of Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1753 or the marriage Act of 1836, then there will be no marriage. In these circumstances, a couple would be regarded as cohabiting and that would clearly have an impact upon any circumstances in which they ceased to cohabit.
My Lords, when the Government consulted in 2018 on the Bill’s proposals, a number of headlines suggested that we were introducing quickie divorces; indeed, in some quarters, that misapprehension may linger. However, in a sense, we are putting an end to them. Under our reform Act, applicants cannot apply for a conditional order until at least 20 weeks have passed from the start of the divorce proceedings, along with the current six weeks between conditional and final orders, and that is a minimum period. Of course, progression from one stage to the next will never be automatic.
Applications for divorce are increasingly made online and the Government’s updated impact assessment, which was published last April, projected that, under these reforms, on average we would be adding between nine and 10 weeks to the divorce process based on the expected impact of full implementation of online divorce. So we are certainly not reducing the overall time for the average divorce. Indeed, at present rather more than 80% of divorces take place sooner than the timescale set out in the Bill.
I acknowledge that there is no magic number as far as this timing is concerned. A single divorce law must work for everyone and, in introducing the new minimum period before conditional order, we have carefully considered what period would most effectively help applicants consider the implications of divorce and allow couples to reach an agreement on practical matters without unduly lengthening the process. That is the purpose of the minimum period. It is certainly not intended to be punitive in any way.
The question then arises: why six months overall rather than a year or even a month? The Government have reflected on the different views put forward during the consultation and, at that time, some key organisations broadly supported six months as a reasonable period to meet the emotional and practical needs of divorcing couples. However, they also noted that there could be problems if that period was longer. Indeed, a period substantially longer than at present could unduly delay necessary financial arrangements, for example, and it would be particularly unhelpful if a couple had already been separated for a long period of time before the application is made. We therefore made the judgment that six months strikes an appropriate balance that allows a better opportunity for parties to adjust and a reasonable period for them to consider the implications of the step that they are taking.
As I say, there is no magic number. It is a case of exercising judgment and we consider that the period of 20 weeks, together with the six-week period, is appropriate in the circumstances, and we would not propose to extend that period by way of amendment to the Bill. In these circumstances, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I begin with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Farmer. The requirement sought within the amendment to report annually on the number of divorce applications is unnecessary, as this data is already publicly available and published in the Family Court Statistics Quarterly.
The amendment also seeks a requirement to gather data on the sex of applicants for divorce. This is also unnecessary, as official statistics already break down the number of divorces per year by the gender of the applicant. In addition, the amendment seeks a requirement to collect data on the income of applicants. However, such data would be unduly onerous for the courts service to collect and, more so, unduly intrusive for the applicants to supply.
The amendment also seeks a requirement to report on the number of divorcing couples who seek relationship counselling during the divorce process alongside relevant demographic information. Such information could not be provided without forcing divorcing couples to declare it, thus introducing an unnecessary burden at what is already a difficult time for them. The choice to seek such counselling during the divorce process would be a personal one for those involved.
In summary, as much of the information referenced in this amendment is already publicly available, the requirement to report on it would be unnecessary. As regards the other kinds of information referenced by the amendment, they would be not only onerous to collect but raise very real issues around what is appropriate from the point of view of demand placed upon applicants for the divorce process. I therefore respectfully invite the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment.
I turn to Amendment 19A. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, is persuaded that marriage brings many social benefits. The Government agree. However, if a marriage is broken down irretrievably, there is no virtue for the family involved or society at large in it continuing. This amendment would mandate an annual report to Parliament, which I presume the noble Lord, Lord McColl, intends to complement the data sought by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in Amendment 19. However, it is not clear how the survey would operate or exactly what it would seek to demonstrate beyond, perhaps, interest in the married couple’s allowance.
Divorce is something in which society rightly takes an interest, but it is also a deeply personal and often distressing matter for the individuals involved. While I respect the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in proposing that participation in his survey would be voluntary and anonymous, the Government believe that such an invitation would be unnecessarily intrusive in any event. At worst, many of those questioned might feel that they were being asked to justify the state of the ending of the marriage, which strikes against the whole intention of the reform, for which it would appear to me that wide support has already been demonstrated in the House.
There is also an issue of the point at which the survey would be conducted. People’s perceptions of the divorce process will change between the time that they make an application and secure the divorce—or some time after, when they have gone through the process and been able to address it with the benefit of hindsight. The Government believe that this amendment would reintroduce an element of conflict into the divorce process. It would certainly be intrusive for those engaged in the divorce application. In these circumstances, we would not be prepared to accept it, so I invite the noble Lord not to press it.
It is not a question of having policy areas in mind. We want to take forward a consultation process that will enable us to arrive at an appropriate conclusion as to how we should look at EU case law as a part of retained EU law after the implementation period has expired.
If every time we legislated we decided to guarantee everything from A to Z, we would end up with very long Bills. The position is this: there is the ability to proceed by way of the paper process. Nothing prohibits it, there is no inhibition on that process, and there is no intention to introduce such an inhibition.
Turning to Amendments 10 and 11—
No, I do not accept the amendment. What I say is that there are existing means by which we can assure people that they can proceed by way of a digital portal or by way of a written claim, which will be scanned and taken into the online procedure process once it is up and running.
With respect to my noble and learned friend, my understanding of the position is that the rules will require that certain forms of action—for example, small debt action—should be commenced under the simplified Online Procedure Rules by way of the digital portal, whether you go through electronically or, as I mentioned before, by way of a paper application. However, once that process is in train, there will be a retained judicial discretion to decide whether the case should remain under the simplified online procedure or whether it would be more appropriate for it to be removed from that procedure and to proceed under the ordinary Civil Procedure Rules to an oral hearing.
My Lords, I am not in a position to comment on all surveys because that may embrace ones of which we are not aware. The Government have always taken the view that this is a matter of individual conscience and for Parliament to decide, rather than one of government policy.
The noble and learned Lord is entirely right. The Director of Public Prosecutions has issued very clear guidelines, which address not only the evidential test but the public interest test that arises in such a complex and difficult area. That is why we see the need for a careful and balanced approach to what is, at the end of the day, an issue of conscience.
I do not accept the noble and learned Lord’s suggestion that that is the most likely or probable outcome. We have already seen circumstances in which parties have laid out the suitability of alternative arrangements for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Work will go on with regard to that. There is going to be a track of work carried out as soon as the withdrawal agreement is concluded in order to bring that to fruition by December 2020. There is therefore no reason to suppose that such a thing is impossible. If we have a situation in which the EU simply refuses and turns its face away from a workable proposal, then there will be an issue of good faith and best endeavours to be addressed and disposed of. But the political reality is different. This is very much a situation in which we are dealing with an extreme. Equally extreme is the idea that somehow, over a period of almost two years, the parties would not be able to conceive of a means of dealing with the border except by means of the backstop.
With respect to the noble Baroness, the then First Minister’s record on when and when he did not receive legal advice from the law officers was somewhat uncertain, if I can put it in those terms. I therefore do not believe that any of that sets a precedent for the present situation.
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble and learned friend, and I entirely concur with his observations. As I sought to indicate earlier, as a law officer I am willing to take questions on matters of law that the House deems it appropriate to render to me, albeit I understand and appreciate that they may have better sources of legal advice than me. Some of your Lordships who are aware of the proceedings in the other place will know that the Attorney-General made a clear and unambiguous undertaking to Members of that House to fully, properly and clearly inform them on legal questions that they pose with regard to the withdrawal agreement, and he would do so with fidelity.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s amendment endeavours to provide a global answer to the question of whether retained direct EU legislation should have the status of primary or subordinate legislation—if and to the extent that is relevant. I am grateful to him for the engagement he has had with the Government throughout the passage of this Bill, especially in recent days. Let me say to the House that the Government understand that there is a desire that these new forms of law should be assigned a particular status. We are sympathetic to that view, which stems from a desire for clarity in the law. Of course, clarity is indeed highly desirable. The Government have gone to great lengths to try to make provision in the Bill for how retained direct EU law should be treated. The Bill addresses treatment of retained EU law by the Human Rights Act, the Interpretation Act and rules of evidence, among other things. That is an important part of this Bill. Our provisions on the principle of supremacy deal with the situation where pre-exit domestic law conflicts with retained direct EU law; our amendments on Report deal with amendability; and other provisions with validity challenges where the aim of the Bill is continuity.
On this specific issue of challenges to retained direct EU law, paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 1 states that:
“There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to challenge … on the basis that, immediately before exit day, an EU instrument was invalid”.
As retained direct EU law under the Bill will owe its incorporation into domestic law to primary legislation, it will not be possible to challenge its validity using domestic public law principles. However, as is currently the case, any post-exit Act by a public authority under direct EU law will be susceptible to judicial review, and the Bill does not restrict the use of other routes of challenges, such as breach of statutory duty or challenges under the Human Rights Act. But the crux of our approach and our concerns with the noble Lord’s amendment is that there is no such thing in domestic law as the “status of primary legislation” or the “status of subordinate legislation”. There are many different types of both primary and subordinate legislation. For each of those types of law, there are many different rules about how they are to be treated for different purposes. Whatever we took as our model for how we wished to deal with retained EU law and how it should be treated, we would need to consider each of those different purposes and ask whether that model truly worked in each context.
My submission today is that while the pursuit of a simple rule is laudable, in practice the clarity it would purport to give would be illusory. It would raise more questions than it answered and, ultimately, it would be bad for legal certainty. I will, if I may, seek to illustrate what I mean—the noble Lord himself touched upon this. If we take the status of, for example, primary legislation, we are aware of at least five different types of primary legislation: Acts of this Parliament, Acts of the Scottish Parliament, Acts of the Welsh Assembly, Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, indeed, Northern Ireland Orders in Council. Each is treated differently for different purposes; that is to say, it has a different “status”. Furthermore, to the extent that provision is made that provides that retained direct EU legislation is to be treated in the same way as an Act of, for example, the Scottish Parliament, as a matter of course the Government would want to engage with the devolved Administrations before making such a provision.
The so-called status of a particular type of legislation is not encapsulated in a single line or by reference to any simple rule. To take just one example, when this Parliament created the concept of an Act of the Scottish Parliament, it set out in the Scotland Act a number of rules, including how such Acts are made and in what circumstances and with what consequences they can be challenged. Nowhere did it try to define those rules by simply saying that Acts of the Scottish Parliament should have the status of any other existing form of legislation. What was right then is, I submit, right now. Once again, we are creating a new category of law. It needs its own rules, rather than being forced into an existing and ill-fitting set of rules made for another type of legislation.
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for setting out the background to this matter. His Amendment 55 would require what he referred to as new rules of court to be made that highlight features of periodical payment orders which may make them a more appropriate way for a person with a long-term injury to receive an award for damages for future care costs. I understand that Amendment 55 and the other amendments in this group are essentially probing amendments.
“Rules of court” in Amendment 55 means the Civil Procedure Rules. The purpose of the Civil Procedure Rules—and, indeed, all rules of court—is to govern the practice and procedure of the court and the parties in court proceedings. This may be a technical issue but that does not detract from the importance of ensuring that claimants who have suffered long-term serious injuries are well informed as to the implications of their choice between a lump sum payment of damages and a PPO. I am conscious of the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, about the care that the Executive must always exercise in circumstances where it may be perceived that they are giving directions to the judiciary. I will explain why the Government therefore take a more modest approach to this issue but one which they feel will be effective.
Of course, some Civil Procedure Rules have been made in relation to the exercise by the court of its powers under Section 2(1) of the Damages Act 1996 to order that all or part of an award of damages in respect of personal injury is to take the form of a periodical payment order. These rules already require the court to consider all the circumstances of the case, as well as the preferences of the claimant and defendant and the reasons for them. I appreciate that there are instances in which PPOs may not be available; for example, a mutual insurer such as the Medical Defence Union would not be considered sufficiently well reserved to meet future liabilities. I appreciate also that there have been reservations among insurers about the use of PPOs because of the way in which they are required to reserve for them and the capital requirements related to that.
PPOs are certainly in principle considered a better form of taking compensation for future loss than a lump sum because they provide strong protection for claimants who may be concerned about the return on a lump sum. This Government certainly support their use. At the same time, we must keep in mind that the person behind a claim has a choice and is entitled to make one in such circumstances. We consider it important that claimants making a choice in these circumstances should be properly informed, irrespective of whether their particular case reaches such a stage that the court has to consider whether to order a PPO. Of course, not every case will reach the court; many will be settled before that and, at an earlier stage, claimants have to be properly informed as to which option they should adopt.
I note the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, with which I entirely agree. It is perhaps moot to say that no estimate of life expectancy is ever precisely accurate because they are just that—estimates—and one takes that out of the equation where you have a PPO.
The Government remain fully committed to ensuring that appropriate advice is available to claimants in all cases and stand by the commitments they made to action in their response to the Justice Select Committee. To pick up on the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the point made in paragraph 50 of the response to the JSC was a concern to ensure that guidance was provided to individual claimants. It is our intention to put in place appropriate guidance and to ensure that it is available. We aim to do that by the end of 2018. In addition, we are investigating whether current advice received by claimants on the respective benefits of lump sums and PPOs is effective, and whether there are other ways in which the use of PPOs could be increased within the present system. At present, we intend to complete this work by the summer of 2019.
I hope that goes some way to meeting the concerns expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on these matters. He raised a further question on indexing and I think the noble Lord, Lord Monks, touched on this. The reason that the ASHE 6115 index is taken is that it is the specific care costs index. It may be that wage costs have not increased at the same rate as the wider RPI, which may explain the discrepancy the noble Earl pointed out. However, the ASHE 6115 index is a specific care costs index, which is why that has been employed in the past.
Amendment 92 would require the Lord Chancellor to conduct a review of the impact of setting a new discount rate on the extent to which PPOs are made by the courts, but within six months of the provisions in Part 2 of the Bill coming into force, and then to publish a report of the results within 18 months of commencement. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, hinted, that may be far too tight a timescale to produce an effective report. We certainly do not consider that a requirement to carry out a review of this nature at the time proposed would be particularly informative. That is because the first review of the rate under the Bill would probably not have been completed by the time at which completing the review under this amendment would be required. Effectively, that would mean that the review would have to focus on any impact that had resulted from the setting of the rate as of March 2017 under the present law, which was a rate of minus 0.75%. I suppose that such a review may, however, be of limited use given that the legal framework for setting the rate would have changed but I suspect that it would tell us only something about the past, not the future.
I also observe that the settlement of major cases can take some years to agree, whether or not they arrive at the door of the court, so it might be some time before there is sufficient evidence to draw meaningful conclusions about changes in claimant behaviour. We do not yet have the statistical information about the effect of the March 2017 change in the discount rate on the use of PPOs. We therefore do not know whether the lowering of the rate has diminished the take-up of PPOs, although there is certainly some anecdotal evidence to that effect. It is logical to assume that this would occur, given the size of the change that took place in March 2017.
The evidence from the previous four years does, however, suggest that the use of PPOs is concentrated in the most serious and long-term cases, with the propensity to use them increasing with the size of awards up to about £5 million. They are not really employed in cases where the award of damages is lower than £1 million. That is largely because the use of PPOs is concentrated on provision for future care costs—long-term care costs, generally in cases of catastrophic injury. That is why there is a large percentage of cases in which PPOs are not considered appropriate. The National Health Service pays out PPOs in about 70% of awards over £1 million, while the equivalent figure for insurers is only about 36%, and there may be further work to be done. That is why we are going to look at the question of further guidance in order to encourage their use. Certainly, the take-up is far from negligible in serious cases.
On the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, this is not just about funding clinical negligence claims by the NHS. It goes far deeper than that; it is about ensuring fairness between claimants and defendants in the difficult process of assessing damages, particularly damages awarded for future care. I do not accept the noble Lord’s general point that we are simply trying to move the cost of future care from victims to somewhere else. That is not what we are about; this is concerned with ensuring fairness between claimants and defendants.
I have spoken about the way in which the amendments would require some sort of review. Amendment 92A would also require such a review to assess whether the fact that a PPO may be uprated by reference to an inflation index other than the retail prices index is having an impact on the relative merits of PPOs versus lump sums in the context of a revised discount rate. That would go beyond a consideration of the impact of the discount rate to the overall level of damages award, and how individual elements may be indexed for inflation. At present, the index used for PPOs is a very specific care cost index rather than the RPI.
We will, as I have indicated, be taking forward a range of initiatives to encourage the use of PPOs and to ensure that claimants are properly advised when choosing the form of their award. We hope to have the first part of that process completed by the end of 2018 and the wider investigation completed by the summer of 2019. We believe that those practical steps will encourage the use of PPOs where appropriate—we will, of course, monitor that—and create a situation in which a review requirement, such as that envisaged by the amendments, will not be necessary. Indeed, it would be more appropriate to move in this direction rather than find ourselves in the somewhat invidious position of the Executive sending out directions to the judiciary about how it should approach the award and determination of damages in such serious cases.
With that explanation of the Government’s position, I hope the Committee will be reassured that we are committed to effective action to encourage the use of PPOs. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
We do not have that in mind. One of the concerns about such a proposal is the impact it would have on the insurers and their inclination to embrace PPOs. At present they are concerned about their reserving liability and their capital requirement on the basis of risk when it comes to a PPO. If we were to add to that equation the possibility of the PPO being revived at some indeterminate point in the future, I believe it would have a counteractive effect on the employment of PPOs by insurers. I have noted what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said; I will take it away and consider it further, but my initial reaction is that it could act as a disincentive for the operation of PPOs.
My Lords, I begin by acknowledging the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. The Bill makes perfectly clear that this is a decision of the Lord Chancellor as Lord Chancellor, and it is in that context that it has to be seen and understood.
Amendment 61 would replace the proposed three-year maximum review cycle for the second and subsequent reviews of the rate with a system under which the need for the rate to be reviewed would be determined by the expert panel by reference to changes in returns on investment. Of course, there are then consequential and supplementary amendments. The effect would be to add a new and distinct responsibility to the role of the panel. It would in effect, as I believe my noble friend Lord Hodgson acknowledged, require a standing panel to be created. If more than a year had passed since the rate was reviewed, the expert panel would be required to assess the need for a review and then to advise the Lord Chancellor to review the rate if it considered that the nature of return on investment had changed enough to justify a review. If the panel decided that this condition had not been satisfied, it would have to report its reasons for this view to the Lord Chancellor.
The concept of a review based on changes in investment returns was canvassed as an alternative to a fixed review period in the Government’s 2017 consultation on how the rate should be set, and it was supported, let me be clear. However, basing the review requirement on changes in investment returns would, we believe, create more uncertainty and be less predictable than a regular fixed-date review. The introduction of a requirement for the panel to consider the need for a full review annually could further fuel such uncertainty.
I appreciate the concerns raised by the noble Lord and others at Second Reading about the potential for a fixed review period to prompt undesirable litigation behaviour and the possibility of what is sometimes termed the gaming of the system in anticipation of a change to the rate. However, this problem would not be avoided by the system which the amendment proposes. Litigants would still know when the panel would be required to consider whether the rate required reviewing. Indeed, such occasions would be more frequent under the amendment than under the three-year cycle proposed in the Bill. One can imagine a stop-start mentality emerging leading up to the time when the panel was expected to report.
A further consequence of the amendment would be that the expert panel would have, in practice, to exist independently of the review of the rate, rather than being convened by the Lord Chancellor for each review, as the Bill currently provides. In effect, a standing panel would be required, which would have to exercise judgment as to the timing of reviews, rather than confining itself to the technical matter of advising the Lord Chancellor on the factors that may considered in the setting of the rate, which is the purpose of the expert panel. The amendment would therefore make a very significant change to the proposals in the Bill regarding when the rate should be changed. The Government’s proposals for a fixed-period maximum cycle for the review of the rate have, as I say, been developed through consultation and been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny, and we consider that they provide a simple and certain method by which reviews can largely be predicted.
Amendment 74 would require the Lord Chancellor to adopt any recommendation from the expert panel as to whether the rate should be changed and, if so, what the rate should be. Clearly, such a change would diminish significantly the responsibility and accountability of the Lord Chancellor for any review outcome—indeed, it would essentially remove it. Amendment 74 would also remove the requirements on the Lord Chancellor, the panel and the Treasury set out in paragraph 2(6) and (7) of new Schedule A1 to comply with or to take into account the duties of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the setting of the rate that are set out in paragraph 3 of new Schedule A1. What we would have is the elevation of the panel from an advisory role to essentially an executive role. That would be a major change and clearly greatly alter and increase the role of the panel.
The creation of the expert panel to advise the Lord Chancellor is, of course, one of the most important changes introduced by Clause 8. The panel is central to the Government’s proposals for the way in which the rate is set, introducing new expertise and transparency. The panel will play a very important role in providing assistance to the Lord Chancellor in setting the rate, but it would not in our view be appropriate for the panel’s recommendations to bind the Lord Chancellor in deciding whether the rate should change and what it should be. The setting of the discount rate requires the weighing of different potential outcomes for individuals in relation to a range of possible rates. An element of value judgment will ultimately be required. It is important, therefore, that the decision-maker should be politically and publicly accountable for decisions on the rate. That is why the Lord Chancellor is, in our view, the appropriate person to make that choice. Indeed, this was recognised by the Justice Select Committee, which stated in its report that:
“Setting the discount rate has repercussions on the taxpayer through Government expenditure and also consumers through its impact on insurance premiums and inflation; therefore we think it is right that the decision to set the discount rate lies with the Lord Chancellor”.
We agree with that assessment.
In addition to being influenced by the pre-legislative scrutiny carried out by the Justice Committee, the proposals we have put forward have been developed through the public consultation process. In response to the question of by whom the rate should be set, the largest single group of support was for the rate to be set by the Lord Chancellor following advice from an expert panel. I note the support for that which has been given, in particular, by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, expressing his experience as Lord Chancellor and underlining the distinct role of the Lord Chancellor in this context.
My Lords, I am obliged for all the contributions that have been made so far this morning. I observe that it appears to be generally recognised that the Bill is addressing a very real issue about which policy decisions have to be made and implemented. I quite understand the question raised about where the definition of whiplash injury should appear. The definition in the Bill seeks to limit injuries to those soft tissue injuries that affect the neck, back or shoulder and arise from road traffic accidents. The vires in the Bill are tightly drawn to enable regulations to be made by the Lord Chancellor that would apply only to a discrete number and type of injury.
It is interesting to see the diversity of amendments that have come forward this morning. That may underline the particular challenge we face in arriving at a suitable definition, be it in the Bill or in regulation. We have sought to address an issue that involves reconciling a legal understanding of this matter with a medical definition—one which covers both injury and the symptoms of injury. That involves us engaging with not only medical expertise but a degree of legal expertise. In addition, while I am not going to go through the detail of every amendment, because I understand what lies behind them, I will note this much. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, set out three points for consideration, and in doing so underlined the very real problem that we need to address here. It was emphasised by the suggestion that if you go to a particular claims management site you are encouraged to believe that even if you have no symptoms you may still have a claim.
I was reminded of an incident some years ago where I was acting for an American pharmaceutical company. The US attorneys showed me a photograph of a genuine roadside sign that had been erected in the state of Mississippi. It said, “If you’ve taken drug X and suffered a fatal heart attack, telephone this number”. The lengths to which we lawyers will go know no bounds, and our belief in the Almighty is always there. There is a very real industry out there. I do not use the term “racket”, but others have—and with some justification.
Looking to the current position, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, correctly observed that the regulations that we have produced in draft to elaborate the definition of whiplash injury have only just appeared. I quite understand the need for noble Lords to consider those regulations in more detail. In turn, I will consider in more detail whether we should incorporate a more precise definition in the Bill. But I stress that, even if we were to take that step, it would be necessary for us to bear in mind the ability of government to proceed by way of regulations to support any definition in the Bill. We are well aware that flexibility will be required with regard to any final definition so that we can meet the way in which claims development occurs—the way in which this sort of market develops—in order to put limitations on claims.
At the end of the day, the detailed definition of whiplash injury will need to reconcile the current legal understanding with an accurate medical definition covering both injury and symptoms. Our aim is to achieve that objective, but to what extent we achieve it by incorporating the definition in the Bill is not a matter on which I would take a final position. I quite understand the suggestion that we should consider further the extent to which the definition can appear on the face of the Bill, and also allow noble Lords the opportunity to consider the scope of the draft regulation that has only recently been made available. In the light of that, and understanding that these are essentially probing amendments, I invite noble Lords not to press them at this time.
My Lords, I certainly agree with the indication that it would be disproportionate for a victim or complainer to have to disclose the entirety of their social media communications. It would be intrusive and inappropriate, and would impact upon the willingness of complainers to come forward in particular circumstances, so there has to be a balance. It would also raise very real data protection issues, so we have to take account of that. As regards a protocol, we are reviewing protocols in the context of disclosure, and I noted what the noble Lord said about a keyword search.
I am obliged to my noble and learned friend for his observations. On the police inquiries, as I understand it there is no reason why the police should not make appropriate inquiries of a complainer with respect to her social media and other communications that might be relevant to a particular complaint. In addition, the defence have to submit a schedule outlining their own case, in which they will have the opportunity to identify from the police schedule of material that has been recovered that which should be disclosed for the purposes of trial. On whether a similar issue has arisen in Scotland, disclosure is an issue in all jurisdictions; it is a question of how it is handled. Here we are concerned with the handling issue, not a resource issue.