Kwasi Kwarteng contributions to the Civil Liability Act 2018


Tue 23rd October 2018 Civil Liability Bill [Lords] (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
36 interactions (1,639 words)
Tue 4th September 2018 Civil Liability Bill [Lords] (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
11 interactions (1,038 words)

Civil Liability Bill [Lords] Debate

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Legislation Page: Civil Liability Act 2018

Civil Liability Bill [Lords]

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd October 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
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23 Oct 2018, 3:53 p.m.

My hon. Friend, who knows far more about these matters than I do—and more, I suspect, than many on the Government Front Bench—is quite right. He draws attention to the fact that there is no logic in the system.

I feel a bit sorry for the Minister as he has to push these proposals forward; he is normally a very logical and fair man. It is difficult to speak at the Dispatch Box having been given a brief of this quality. When parliamentarians of his stature and of the stature of the hon. Member for Cheltenham, with his spurious points about special damages, are reduced to this level, and when Government Back-Bench Members are hauled in here, as we saw in the previous debate, to make speeches only to be told to stop making them because they are talking such arrant nonsense, one does despair. I hope even at the 11th hour that the Government might take pity on us, listen to the wise voices in the other place and support us on these amendments.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
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23 Oct 2018, 3:53 p.m.

A number of the things that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) suggested as being completely outrageous many of his constituents and certainly a lot of mine would completely agree with.

The Transport Committee, of which I was a member for three years, looked at this issue, and it was apparent even then that whiplash was a peculiarly British phenomenon. On the continent, particularly Germany, they do not have nearly as many whiplash injuries. I suggested at a previous stage of the Bill that this had nothing to do with the physiognomy of Germans as against that of British people. I made the point very clearly that I did not believe that their necks were more robust than good old-fashioned British necks. It was a flippant way of making a salient point: this is a national issue. In Britain, we seem to suffer from these injuries a lot more than people in other countries.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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My hon. Friend has made an amusing start to his speech. Is it not strange that while the number of traffic accidents has gone down, the proportion of whiplash claims has gone up? Is it that our necks have become flimsier? What does he put this down to? Do we not need to seriously address this issue, as we are doing in the Bill?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 3:55 p.m.

I am not an anatomist. I am not a biological specialist. I cannot give any scientific explanations for why our necks have become flimsier, or less sturdy, over the last 10 years. It may be related to obesity; I do not know.

This is, however, a serious issue, which has come up again and again over the last 15 years. As my hon. Friends have suggested, the number of claims has risen while the traffic accident rate has gone down. It is entirely legitimate for a Government, and, indeed, parliamentarians to ask what is going on. Something is not quite right. It is apparent that many people are making claims, which may or not be fraudulent—let us give them the benefit of the doubt—and clearly it often makes sense to an insurer to do a deal, as it were, and pay the money before the veracity or otherwise of the claim has been established, simply because the legal process would take too long.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
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23 Oct 2018, 3:56 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that by paying early, insurance companies are encouraging people to make these allegedly fraudulent claims?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 3:56 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It may well be the case that the companies are paying early, and clearly if they are paying early, people will be incentivised to make claims. The hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, however, are suggesting that no fraudulent claims are ever made, or that only a tiny proportion of claims are fraudulent. Logically, the more that insurers pay early, the more incentive there is to make a fraudulent claim. That is pure logic, and no great subtlety is required to appreciate it.

We have a problem. I think it entirely legitimate for insurers to pay out in order to forgo expensive legal costs. They have to manage their books and their businesses on a daily basis, and they will take a hit—if that is the right way to describe it—in order to facilitate business and manage cash flow. As we have heard throughout the debate, they are quite likely to make early payments, and as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, the more an insurer pays early, the greater incentive that gives someone to make a fraudulent or insubstantial claim.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
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23 Oct 2018, 3:57 p.m.

Surely the answer is to fight those claims so that they do not succeed, and send the message that insurers will fight them and there will be no easy money for allegedly fraudulent claims.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 3:58 p.m.

If the hon. Gentleman were an insurer, managing a business on a daily basis, he would have to make a call every single day on which claims to fight and which not to fight. Often, for reasons of cost, the insurer will simply pay the money, without regard to the veracity or otherwise of the claim.

Rory Stewart
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23 Oct 2018, 3:58 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is also the serious issue of asymmetry of information? In the case of injuries lasting less than six months, it is very difficult to prove through any medical means whether or not the injuries occurred, and therefore very difficult to defend against the claim.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 3:58 p.m.

In his usual philosophical way, the Minister has made an observation that goes to the heart of the problem. I opened my remarks by suggesting that insurers were very likely to pay out on claims early. He has made the point that even if it were possible to test the veracity or otherwise, it would be very difficult. Given the nature of evidence and the question of how it can be proved that an injury has actually been sustained, this will often resolve itself into an issue of one person’s word against another’s. The Minister has backed up my initial argument in his characteristically pithy way. The whole process is expensive, and for an insurer managing a business and managing a book, it is much easier and, I think, much more tempting to come up with an easy, quick-fix settlement or payment.

As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) suggested, that in itself will incentivise and motivate claims that may be frivolous, which is a problem. He has eloquently described the circumstances in which fraudulent claims can be made, yet other Opposition Members are saying that such fraudulent claims are rarely if ever made. They are suggesting that all the claims are true and that somehow grave injustices would be perpetrated if, as often occurs across the judicial system, we were to set a tariff in this particular case.

It is entirely reasonable to set a tariff on these claims. The average taxpayer and the average person who has insurance does not want to see fraudulent claims. Let us review some of the evidence. We have anecdotal evidence. Even on Second Reading Members were suggesting they were getting texts the whole time encouraging them to make specious claims. Some Members read out the texts they were receiving from insurance companies, or from claimants who were making a great deal of money, to encourage people to make spurious claims. This is going on and to pretend otherwise is wilfully naïve.

Break in Debate

Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
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23 Oct 2018, 4:02 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making some fair points. He says that this is not necessarily a role for judges, but would he conclude that while it may well be, as Lord Brown said in the other place, appropriate for Government to legislate for tariff-isation as a matter of policy, the views of the judges must be fully taken into account by way of consultation in setting what the level or quantum of that tariff should be and how it should operate and what practical impacts it should have?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:03 p.m.

My understanding given the nature of the Bill is that there is ample scope for a dialogue or conversation between judges—the judiciary—and the Government. However, what I am reluctant to see, and what I think many of our constituents and voters would be reluctant to see, is the power exclusively residing in the hands of judges. The Government have a duty of care to the taxpayers and to people who have insurance to try and keep these costs low. It is very funny to see Opposition Members frowning when I suggest the Government have a role to play. They are on the side of the political argument that believes in wholescale nationalisation; they want the Government to control everything. Yet in this particular instance they are expressing surprise and bewilderment, and I suggest that is completely spurious and fake.

Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
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23 Oct 2018, 4:03 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the logic of his position, which I understand, is that if we are to have credibility in taking this policy decision, those savings must actually be passed on to motorists? Does he recognise that there has been some cynicism about that in the past? We need to have mechanisms to measure very carefully that the insurance industry comes up to the mark, because it has not always had a terribly good track record in the past on that?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:05 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right that the insurance companies have in the past—I stress in the past—had a questionable record on some of these issues, but I repeat what I said on Second Reading: it is entirely unhelpful to bash the insurance industry or denounce it as a bunch of shysters who are ripping the public off. As I said in that debate, the insurance industry is one of our world-leading industries. We should celebrate it and be grateful for it: our insurance industry is a world-beating industry. There are not that many industries left in Britain that we can call truly world class, but the insurance industry happens to be one that is. It was nauseating and disconcerting on Second Reading—it has not happened so much today—to hear speaker after speaker on the Opposition Benches denouncing the insurance industry. They were scandalised that, God forbid, the industry should make profits, as though making a profit were in itself a moral crime. We have to try to shift the nature of the debate. The insurance industry is a world-beating industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has suggested, we need to have some oversight to ensure that savings are passed through to the customers, our constituents.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Mrs Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) (Con)
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Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to statistics from the ABI, the myth about profit-making by insurance companies is a little bit overstated, and that motor insurers are actually not making a profit? The figures are being conflated with those of other parts of the insurance industry.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:05 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As any student of basic economics will know, in a highly competitive industry the ability to make extraordinary profits is severely reduced. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of insurers in our highly developed, highly sophisticated market. As I have said, we are a world beater in this area, and that means that we have lots of diversity in the insurance market. Lots of insurers are going bust, but many are making money because they are well managed. That is exactly what we would expect in a competitive industry that has reached a high degree of maturity, as the insurance industry has in this country.

Going back to the provisions in the Bill, I believe that the Government are trying to do a very measured and reasonable thing. We are trying to limit the fraud—or the escalation of whiplash claims to the point that they drive up pricing in insurance. We are also saying that we will engage with the courts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst suggested. There is a role for the judiciary to play in this debate and in the management and setting of tariffs. Also, I would expect Opposition Members to be more enthusiastic about the fact that there is a role for the Government and the Lord Chancellor in ensuring that insurance premiums do not become excessive. There is absolutely a role for political engagement in the ability to cap a tariff, to ensure that premiums are low. This makes for a very reasonable and equitable set of demands, which is to be welcomed, and I hope that the Bill proceeds on its serene course through our Parliament.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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23 Oct 2018, 4:07 p.m.

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, and I am proud to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). I freely admit that having a tariff system in place could well result in some people receiving less compensation, but that is exactly why I support the Bill. At its heart lies an acknowledgement by those on this side of the House that insurance premiums have got too expensive and that we have to look at measures to try to reduce them.

Let us look at the logic of the position. Cars now have much safer designs and there are fewer claims overall, yet we are seeing an extra 200,000 category claims, 85% of which relate to whiplash compensation. It strikes me as completely illogical to state that there is not an issue here, when the statistics are so counter-intuitive. Something very strange is going on. The analysis shows that it is impossible to ascertain whether these extra claims are genuine, because the nature of the legal system means that it is much cheaper to settle a case and never even consider any medical evidence or reports on whether there has been an injury. To a certain extent, we could say that that is no skin off the bone for the insurers, because the cost is always paid on to the consumer. I am surprised at the Opposition’s attitude in that regard because this is one of the principles that benefits the many—those who have to pay the insurance, which is mandatory—versus the few who abuse the system. I believe that the Bill is needed.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:10 p.m.

I know that my hon. Friend has a financial background. Does he accept that, if he were managing an insurance book, it would be very tempting—indeed, almost obligatory—to reach a settlement and to make the payments? Insurers are not being vicious or in some way prejudicial if they just pay the settlement. That is how a business is managed—it just has to cut its losses at some point.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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23 Oct 2018, 4:10 p.m.

My hon. Friend is spot on. In the seven years before I came to this place, I managed the legal team that was unwinding the Lehman Brothers estate. In many instances, we looked to sue, but of course, we considered the cost of the claim and then worked out whether settlement was a better option. Settlement should always be a better option. For someone running a business, it will always be the better option if it is cheaper to settle than to pursue. All businesses operate in that manner.

It is all well and good for the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), who is no longer in his place, to say that there should be a duty on insurers to take those cases forward, but they will not because it is not cost-effective. In addition, it is difficult to disprove those particular injuries.

Break in Debate

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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23 Oct 2018, 4:16 p.m.

I lack my right hon. Friend’s longevity in this place to make such historical references, but it would strike anyone as common sense to look after the bulk of our constituents—our voters—by making sure they have more money in their pocket. We should all subscribe to that.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:17 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the insurance industry in Britain is something we should broadly celebrate? This idea that anyone is in cahoots with the industry, and that the industry is trying to rip off the public, needs to be addressed squarely and rejected.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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My hon. Friend is right. Britain is the leading country in the European Union when it comes to insurance. The top 10 insurers are based in London, and I celebrate this international market.

Of course, the insurance industry is very critical of the Conservative party for introducing and increasing the insurance premium tax, so any suggestion that this party does everything the insurance industry would like us to do is not backed up by our decisions.

It is undoubtedly the case that our cars are now much safer and that design and technology mean that injuries should not be as prevalent as we are seeing. We have also seen the growth of claims management companies, which have driven and fuelled claims. Sometimes we see such industries moving on from one sector to take advantage of another—holiday insurance is a good example; the claims management companies have already moved into that sphere. Equally, I would like to see more done with technology to address the ability of such companies to contact me and my constituents directly. People register with BT in order not to receive unsolicited calls, yet such calls still come through regularly. I hope that the technology will eventually keep pace and close down such calls.

I have made my points more than once, and I absolutely support the Bill. Although I can see that the Opposition’s intentions are good, if the amendment were accepted, it would drive a coach and horses through the very intention of this Bill, which is to reduce premiums for all our constituents and to make it easier for them to manage and live their lives.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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23 Oct 2018, 4:19 p.m.

Although I originally studied law and was called to the Bar, I never practised, so I hope I may speak in the debate without being tied to any particular interest. This debate is increasingly showing a division between those on the side of personal injury practitioners, and those on the side of the overwhelming majority of our constituents who face the costs arising from an ever-escalating number of claims, of escalating value, for relatively minor injuries. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was right to draw the House’s attention to the remarks of the former Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw. If my memory serves correctly, he told The Law Society Gazette that he was in favour of banning compensation for soft tissue injury altogether. Clearly the Bill does not go anywhere near as far as that.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 4:20 p.m.

So a former Labour Lord Chancellor suggested that he would ban this compensation entirely. What on earth possessed him to suggest that as a policy?

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood
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23 Oct 2018, 4:21 p.m.

Reading through The Law Society Gazette, I see that Jack Straw’s actual comment was:

“Whiplash is an innovation of fertile legal minds which has no real foundation in medical knowledge. Everybody knows the vast majority of whiplash claims are completely unjustified. I support any measures to eliminate soft-tissue injuries.”

I understand that he was referring to compensation for soft tissue injuries, rather than eliminating the injuries altogether.

Hon. Members have spoken about the apparent paradox when we have the long-term reduction in the number of road traffic accidents, the increasing safety of more of the cars on the road and the long-term reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries as a result of road traffic accidents, and yet the number of personal injury claims for whiplash and other minor injuries having increased significantly—it has gone up by 30% in 12 years. That enormous statistical increase cannot be dismissed as coincidental.

It has been suggested that the idea of a compensation culture is more about perception than reality, but how many of us have not had regular phone calls inviting us to claim for an accident that we have not had, encouraging us with the idea that a fortune was surely around the corner if only we referred the case to the firm that was ringing us up. I have no problem with solicitors—some of my best friends are solicitors, as they say. Indeed, many years ago my wife worked with one of the country’s leading personal injury solicitors’ firms, mostly doing administration on road traffic accident claims. But we need to look at the state we are now in. All the empirical evidence suggests that the initial intentions behind addressing no-win, no-fee claims for personal injuries have generated a spiralling increase in claims that are not the result of pecuniary loss—they are about not loss of earnings or quantifiable losses, but a figure being placed on pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

Previous studies have suggested that, contrary to what others have been saying, the amounts awarded by courts in England and Wales are significantly higher than those awarded in most other European jurisdictions for personal injury claims. When there is a serious injury, especially if the effects are permanent or long-lasting, or even if it results in disability, clearly no one disputes that it is right that there is compensation, especially for the loss of opportunity and amenity caused by that injury. However, shorter-term soft-tissue injuries do not really fall within that category. That is why it is proportionate for the Bill to introduce a tariff that sets out the amounts payable for certain categories of minor, non-permanent injuries.

Break in Debate

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood
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23 Oct 2018, 2:54 p.m.

The Minister, as ever, speaks straight to the point that bringing this system in line with the criminal injuries compensation scheme is actually making parallel systems more consistent, and it is entirely logical that they should operate on similar tariff-based systems. One of the flaws in the current system is that, as the Judicial College is setting its guidelines, the awards it uses for deciding the amounts in the guidelines are not the overall amounts that are payable in the event of a road traffic accident leading to personal injury, but are based on the awards made by the court in the relatively small proportion of claims that proceed to trial and are then adjudicated by a judge. The system does not consider the very large number of claims that are settled at an earlier date when the figure would tend to be lower.

Clearly, cases that proceed to full trial are more likely to be the more complex ones. This has the effect of institutionalising an inflationary element within the guidelines as they are reviewed, because the review is only ever based on those types of claim that actually end up being the higher awards anyway. It can only ever lead to an increasing amount. The impact of that falls clearly on our constituents. We rightly insist on mandatory motor insurance. As hon. Members have said, motor insurance premiums increase rapidly. One reason why they increase rapidly is that there has recently been a large increase in the average amounts paid out for personal injury claims. If we fail to take this sensible action, those amounts can only increase, and we can expect premiums to continue to increase at around 10% annually, quickly putting them out of reach.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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23 Oct 2018, 11:30 a.m.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is making this point. What is his view on whether the Lord Chancellor should be setting the tariff? Does that not bolster what my hon. Friend suggests—that there is a role for the Government in trying to keep insurance premium costs low?

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Oct 2018, 11:30 a.m.

Absolutely. Although I tend to argue for a slightly slimmer role for the Government, I do think that there is a place for them in this regard. When we insist on mandatory motor insurance, there is a clear role for the Government in ensuring that pressures on the price of that mandatory insurance are kept under control as much as possible. Having the Lord Chancellor’s oversight of the tariffs is one way in which we can ensure that the people who are already struggling with the escalating costs of motor insurance do not see them taken even further out of reach.

There is a clear risk of a serious moral hazard when it comes to escalating motor insurance. The more that premiums increase, the greater the risk—the greater the temptation, we might say—for some people to take the chance to illegally fail to take out motor insurance and to drive on our roads uninsured, with everything that that implies for safety and for coverage of third parties. Given the current high levels of motor insurance premiums, research suggests that around a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds have been tempted to try to make savings by not taking out or not renewing their motor insurance policy—driving without insurance. Surely that number can only increase if the cost of motor insurance becomes ever more expensive and increases by far more than inflation or incomes.

As the real cost of motor insurance spirals, more people will be tempted to take the risk of driving without insurance, and young people are more vulnerable to this by far because their premiums are already so much higher. Such behaviour puts other people’s safety at risk and leaves them in an even more difficult situation in the event that they need to make a claim. The number of claims against uninsured drivers increased significantly last year.

The measures in the Bill are designed to keep insurance premiums under control, which is essential if we are to have a functioning motor insurance system. That is why I am not able to support the amendment, why I shall be supporting the Bill, and why I believe that the tariff system for minor injuries is absolutely necessary and must be retained in this legislation.

Break in Debate

Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Oct 2018, 6:08 p.m.

This is a very interesting point, and I am very happy to follow up on it in more detail. The nature of the regulation in each case is quite distinct. In relation to the insurance industry, the regulation proposed is to ensure that we have the financial information to prove that the savings the insurance industry has derived from these reforms are passed on to customers. In the case of the claims management companies, the regulation is to ensure that they comply with the law, particularly the legal changes introduced by previous legislation. In accordance with the suggestions from the Justice Committee, we are also looking at the advice forthcoming from the judiciary to ensure that we can deal with other issues involving claims management companies.

If I may, I will come back to the core of the Bill. We are dealing with a perfect storm of three things. First, at the minor end of whiplash injuries—the three-to-six-month end—this is a condition that, in effect, is unverifiable and difficult to disprove. The polite way of expressing this is to say that there is an asymmetry of information. Somebody suffering a whiplash injury will experience genuine and sincere pain, but that pain cannot be detected at the minor end through any medical instruments. That is the first challenge involved in this type of injury.

The second challenge is of course the level of payments offered to individuals suffering these injuries. The third is the level of recoverable costs which meant, in effect, that a no win, no fee process was operating in which people could apply to a lawyer to represent them and be confident that the legal costs would be recoverable from the defendant. When that is connected to the fact that for all the reasons I have given—particularly the first, asymmetry of information—the insurance companies are not contesting claims, we end up with a discrepancy rapidly emerging between the number of motor vehicle accidents and the number of claims, and between the number of claims made in the United Kingdom and the number made in other jurisdictions.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a former justice of the Supreme Court, stated that he was

“reluctantly persuaded that this provision is justified: it is surely intolerable that we are known as the whiplash capital of the world, so I have concluded that it is open to government, as a matter of policy, to seek to deter dishonest claims in this way.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2018; Vol. 791, c. 1603.]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

23 Oct 2018, 6:10 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend have any idea why the situation has developed in which we are the whiplash capital of the world, as the noble Lord put it?

Rory Stewart
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23 Oct 2018, 6:13 p.m.

It is a sensitive issue, because of course many individuals who have even quite a minor road accident experience a whiplash injury and have significant pain, particularly in the soft tissue of the neck and shoulders, which can last three to six months in the majority of cases or longer in a minority of cases. However, the New England Journal of Medicine, which conducted a significant study across various countries, concluded that the prognosis for a whiplash injury was significantly worse in countries in which compensation existed. In other words, there appears to be some form of medical relationship between the compensation offered and the prognosis for the whiplash injury.

How that relationship operates is a matter of speculation, but the following things may explain it. First, compensation payments and the encouragement provided by claims management companies, particularly on the telephone—we have heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence about that today—could encourage individuals to make claims that they may not themselves feel are as justified as the claims management companies imply. That leads to serious problems, the first of which is moral. It is a problem of dishonesty. In effect, it appears that some people—we do not know how many, but certainly a significant minority—are being encouraged to make dishonest insurance claims. As hon. Members have pointed out, that is potentially morally corrosive to our society. We do not want to encourage a system in which people feel that they can make such claims.

The second problem is that the situation has had a disproportionate impact on court time. Lord Faulks has said:

“If there was to be a reduction for really serious injuries, I can imagine why noble Lords would baulk at the imposition of a tariff. However, we are for the most part talking about pain and discomfort of a relatively transient nature…So these reforms—quite modest though they are—are a proper response to what I would describe as a racket.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2018; Vol. 791, c. 1607.]

The cost to society imposed by this compensation is disproportionate to the severity of injury.

Civil Liability Bill [Lords] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Legislation Page: Civil Liability Act 2018

Civil Liability Bill [Lords]

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Programme motion: House of Commons)
Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 4th September 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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4 Sep 2018, 8:17 p.m.

Let me finish the point, then I will take an intervention.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
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4 Sep 2018, 8:17 p.m.

My hon. Friend never gives way.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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4 Sep 2018, 8:17 p.m.

I will give way in a moment. The hon. Member for Jarrow also said that judges have decided that injuries—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the heckling from my own side. The hon. Member for Jarrow said that judges had made these compensation awards, but of course that is not true: under qualified one-way costs shifting, insurance companies have a massive financial incentive to settle even claims without merit before they go to court, because even if they win they pay the costs and the costs are often much bigger than the value of the claim. So insurance companies simply settle the claim without a medical examination and without it ever going to court. Therefore, all these compensation claims have not been adjudicated by a judge, although the hon. Gentleman erroneously suggested that they had; they are simply settled immediately because that is the cheapest way of doing it. There is no judicial intervention in almost any of these cases.

Break in Debate

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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4 Sep 2018, 8:38 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, of which I am a member. I welcome his excellent points about our inquiry on this subject, but I do not speak with that hat on.

I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, and we are working to shift the transport climate in this country so that more people more often feel safe and able to cycle as a normal means of transport. The Government have said they share that objective because they recognise that having more people cycling improves health and reduces congestion, pollution and costs, but I am concerned that many Conservative Members who have spoken in this debate have generally focused on car drivers and have not appeared to acknowledge that all their constituents are pedestrians at times, that many of them cycle and that many do not drive at all.

My contribution will focus on how those riding cycles, and other vulnerable road users not in a motor vehicle, such as pedestrians and motorcyclists, are affected by this Bill. I was pleased to hear the Justice Secretary indicating that the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Justice Committee and many others to drop the proposal to increase the small claims track limit—the SCL—for personal injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000 for all road traffic collision claims from vulnerable road users. However, I need some clarity on that from the Minister and will be listening carefully to his summing up. First, do the Government mean that vulnerable road users will be excluded from both the tariff and the small claims limit measures? Secondly, I am looking for clarity on how the changes will happen. Will this be through amendments to the Bill in Committee or through statutory instruments?

Notwithstanding my welcoming of the general principle of what the Justice Secretary said and my questions seeking clarity on that, I will continue with my now somewhat revised speech, so that my focus on and concern for vulnerable road users is on the public record.

The Government continue to propose to increase the SCL to £5,000 for all road traffic collision claims, apart from those from vulnerable road users, as we have heard in this debate, although it is also proposed to raise public and employer liability claims limits to £2,000. So there will still be inconsistency among claimants depending on whether the claim is for personal injury or it is a public or employer liability claim. Without change, the Bill would have affected approximately 70% of cyclists’ personal injury claims, and a similar percentage of motorcyclists’ claims, for general damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, as many of those—70%—are for less than £5,000. We can assume that for pedestrians the figure is roughly the same, although we do not have the figure. That is why I want to see exactly what the Government mean by removing vulnerable road users from the Bill. VRU claims make up a very small percentage both of all claims and of the total cost of all claims, so doing the right thing will not cost very much.

I wish to focus on three issues, the first of which is the complexity of VRU personal injury claims. The Government repeatedly say that small claims are straightforward and can be achieved without professional support, but often that is not so in the case of road traffic collision claims made by cyclists. Many cyclists’ claims will involve complex arguments concerning what can appear to be conflicting Highway Code rules; there are 14 different rules on junction priority, for example. Even where liability is accepted, contributory negligence arguments are commonly made in courts; arguments are made about a cyclist’s clothing, their position on the road, whether they had their lights on and so on. In pedestrians’ claims, issues are often raised, either in terms of liability or contributory negligence, about where the pedestrian crossed the road; subjective issues also arise, such as whether they took sufficient care for their own safety.

Secondly, I wonder whether one reason the Government are now removing VRUs from the changes is that these road users do not get whiplash injuries and do not make fraudulent claims for whiplash—such claims purportedly being one reason for this Bill. That is because it is almost impossible to get whiplash when on a bike or on foot; those road users generally tend to suffer from broken bones and punctured lungs.

Without these changes being offered today by the Government, we would have had fewer victims of road traffic collisions who were not travelling in a car making a claim. That would have meant a win-win for insurance companies and dangerous drivers, which is unacceptable. Although I am pleased to hear that the Justice Secretary has recognised the concerns of organisations representing vulnerable users—cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and so on—by taking them out of the SCL rate, I still have a concern about the Bill, and it is one raised by other Opposition Members today. It would be fairer to have a uniform small claims limit for all personal injury cases, at or only slightly above the current £1,000 limit. That would achieve the Justice Secretary’s aims of excluding vulnerable road users in a straightforward manner and would also ensure fairness for all road users, regardless of their mode of transport.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
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4 Sep 2018, 8:44 p.m.

Several issues have been raised in this important debate, but I wish to address two main points. Whiplash claims have been a chronic problem in British insurance and road usage for some time. Eight years ago, I joined the Transport Committee, and I served on it for three years. We looked into the issue more than once and found that whiplash claims had gone up in England, so we looked across Europe. What has not been mentioned in the debate is that were Members to look at whiplash rates across the continent of Europe, they would be astonished at how low the incidence of whiplash is. The Transport Committee looked at the issue, including whiplash rates in Germany, five years ago. [Interruption.] I notice the newly appointed Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), nodding in agreement. He served on the Committee as well and will remember that we looked into whiplash in Europe and were astonished at the low incidence of claims across the continent. That cannot be because somehow the necks in Germany are more robust than those in Britain. It cannot be a question of Germans being physically different from people in Britain. The case was clearly made that we had a problem with whiplash claims that was specific to the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) mentioned the fact that Aviva issued a report more than 10 years ago. Yes, I know that Aviva is a bad, evil insurance company that makes profits, that is successful and that employs people—I know that that is all to be deprecated—but the fact is that its report suggested more than 10 years ago that there was a problem with whiplash. The facts speak for themselves. The idea that over 10 years we could have a 30% reduction in accidents and yet a 40% increase in whiplash claims seems incredible. It cannot be the case that they are inversely correlated. It cannot be the case that as there were fewer accidents, we would have more whiplash claims from accidents. That does not make any sense whatsoever. I am afraid that the Opposition Members who have spoken have failed to address that.

Given the fact that the Transport Committee looked into the issue four or five years ago and that people issued reports more than 10 years ago about whiplash being a problem, and given that we know—as Opposition Members acknowledge—that unscrupulous claims companies are cold calling people, I suggest to Opposition Members that they cannot have it both ways. It cannot be the case that the whiplash increase is simply a scare story whipped up by the insurance industry and at the same time the claims companies are cold calling and being equally unscrupulous. It has to be one or the other. The insurers cannot be suggesting that it is fraudulent while compensation claims companies are at the same time pushing fraudulent claims. The two go together.

The Bill is timely; indeed, it is long overdue in respect of the measures on whiplash claims. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) was quite right that it cannot simply be a blank cheque for insurers. The Government have to look more closely at how the insurance companies are going to pass on some of the perceived and anticipated benefits of reducing whiplash claims and ultimately reduce premiums for consumers. I fully appreciate that in many ways it has been quite a difficult time for the insurance industry. Insurance premium tax has gone up from 6% at the beginning of the decade to 12%. That is greater taxation. Some of us have argued against such steep increases, but those increases have happened. The idea that, somehow, the insurance industry is a den of profiteers or a wicked industry that acts against the interests of our constituents is silly; it is a crazy idea. It is a very successful British industry, and something that we should be supporting. It is one of a number of industries—not a huge number of industries—in which we are world leaders, so it is very disappointing to hear, once again, the industry being denigrated by Opposition Members.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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4 Sep 2018, 8:50 p.m.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said that, at £250 million a year, the insurance industry was making excessive profits. Bearing in mind that there are 25 million cars in the UK, that works out at a profit of £10 per insurance policy. That is hardly profiteering, is it?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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4 Sep 2018, 8:51 p.m.

I would not have thought that it could be described as profiteering. It is a legitimate business. I know that many Opposition Members do not even believe in private enterprise or business. [Interruption.] They do not like that. They laugh rather nervously at my suggestion, but we know exactly where they stand. The idea that companies should make a profit—heaven forbid—is anathema to them. This is a party whose shadow Chancellor is, I believe, listed in “Who’s Who” as wanting to overthrow the capitalist system. He is an out and out Marxist. We can laugh at these things, but they are on the record, and it is actually very serious.

The insurance company is a success story. It does make profits, but we have to recognise and be very honest about the fact that whiplash claims are, in many instances, fraudulent. People in this House have described how they have been cold called. I have been sent countless emails asking me to claim compensation for accidents that I did not even know I was involved in and I think many other people have similar experiences. This is a timely piece of legislation. I am delighted that, after many years, we will tackle this issue.

I just want to touch briefly on the discount rate. I remember when it was reduced a little more than a year ago—I think it was in February last year—that there was huge concern about the very low rate. I believe that it was a negative rate. That was not remotely sustainable and I am delighted that the Government’s legislation is trying to put the discount rate issue on a more sustainable and rational basis. There is little to disagree with in the Bill. It is a good piece of legislation and I am very happy to support it on Second Reading.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
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4 Sep 2018, 8:52 p.m.

One of the fundamental principles of the legal system in England and Wales is equality before the law. This Bill skews things even further in favour of the insurance industry at the expense of the general public. It is yet another attempt by the Government to deny access to justice. It is an attack on victims of accidents at work and victims of road traffic accidents.

The insurance industry has been successful in lobbying the Government and already has a huge advantage over the general public thanks to various enactments by previous Conservative-led Governments. In 2012, the Government passed the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which took away legal aid for all personal injury claims and introduced fixed fees, with some costs having to come out of claimants’ damages. In 2015, the Government passed the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, which introduced the “fundamental dishonesty” defence allowing defendant insurance companies to have a claim dismissed if, on the balance of probabilities, the judge was convinced that the claim was fraudulent.

The insurers also set up “askCUE”—Claims and Underwriting Exchange— which, for a fee, can find those who are repeat claimants. The insurers also fund a unit at City of London police to help detect and prosecute fraudulent claims. Insurers have amassed quite an arsenal of weaponry to use against fraudulent claims, but they tell us that this is not enough and that there is widespread insurance fraud. I have yet to see any reliable figures that support that.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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What does the hon. Gentleman say to people like me who have received emails from compensation claim companies asking them to commit fraud? Does he acknowledge that phenomenon?

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
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4 Sep 2018, 8:54 p.m.

In the cases of people who are willing to enter into a criminal enterprise with those companies, we should be going after the claims management companies. I would support targeting those, but not at the expense of attacking the public with the measures in this Bill.

Included in their figures of alleged fraud are people who have withdrawn their claims and those who have had their claims refused over the phone. Figures from the Government’s own Compensation Recovery Unit show that claims are at their lowest since 2009. Government measures are already working and the insurance industry is settling 99% of all road accident claims. This Bill and its measures are totally unnecessary and unwarranted.

As hon. Members have already stated, the increase in the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 generally, and to £5,000 for road traffic accidents, is scandalous. If the Bill passes, claims for the same injury suffered by the same person will be treated differently because it occurred when in a car. How is that equality before the law? We should not forget that claimants are the innocent parties and would be suing someone for the negligence that caused their injury. If claimants are not able to secure the services of a solicitor, they may not succeed in their claim. That will deprive them of damages to which they should be entitled, and may well make things difficult. For example, an employee suing their employer for accident at work would find it very hard to do so without a solicitor.

Clause 1 of the Bill tries to define what a whiplash injury is, but seems to have done so without any medical references. It says that an injury is defined as whiplash if it is a “tear” or “rupture”

“of a muscle, tendon or ligament”.

This clumsy attempt to define whiplash fails to take into account the fact that many of these injuries can be debilitating, requiring serious and complex medical treatment. The definition also unfairly captures serious injuries that could result in the victim not receiving the proper compensation they are due.

Clause 3 then goes on to say that the Lord Chancellor will set the tariffs for compensation for whiplash claims. The draft tariffs seem to have been plucked out of thin air. There is no rhyme or reason when compared with the figures currently set by the Judicial College or the Government’s own figures for the criminal injuries compensation scheme. Under the current criminal injuries compensation scheme, if someone was hit by a driver who was then convicted of a criminal offence, and if they suffered whiplash for over 13 weeks, their claim would be worth £1,000; the Government would pay the claimant £1,000. Under the current proposals in the Bill, a claim for a whiplash injury of between three to six months recovery would be worth only £470. Why are the Government allowing insurers to pay less than half of what would be paid by the Government? The inconsistency is staggering and shows just how much the Government are willing to please insurers.

It should not be left up to the Lord Chancellor to set these tariffs. No explanation has been given for how these figures have been reached. It should be for the judiciary to set the tariffs, as they have daily experience of dealing with such evidence-based claims in court. If the Lord Chancellor is allowed to set these tariffs, figures for whiplash will be unlikely to rise if past performance of the criminal injuries compensation scheme is anything to go by.

Under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, a claim for a whiplash injury from which the victim took six to 13 weeks to recover was set at £1,000 in 1995. These figures have been revised twice—in 2001 and 2008—and the compensation rate of £1,000 remained unchanged despite inflation. In 2012, whiplash claims of six to 13 weeks were removed altogether, and the rate of £1,000 was available only for claims of over 13 weeks. If the figure of £1,000 had been index linked to the retail prices index since 1995, a whiplash claim under the scheme would have been worth £2,780.30 in today’s money.

Let me turn to part 2 of the Bill. Last year, the Justice Committee produced a report on the discount rate. The discount rate applies only to large awards of damages for victims who have suffered catastrophic, life-changing injuries that leave them in need of constant care, adaptations to their home and additional support. The Justice Committee recommended the setting up of an independent expert panel to advise the Lord Chancellor on setting the rate and said that the panel’s advice should be published in full. I can see no reason why the Government are trying to restrict the transparency of this process, and I invite them to amend this measure. I think we would all agree that the rate needs to be reviewed more frequently than it has been over a number of years, but three years is far better than five years, as it would ensure far fewer fluctuations in the figure.

It is also deeply concerning that the Lord Chancellor can take into account other factors than those defined by the Bill when setting the rate. This wide discretion opens up the setting of the rate to potential lobbying that could adversely impact the compensation of those who have suffered severe, catastrophic injuries. It is also worth noting that for the purposes of setting the discounted rate, the Bill changes the level of risk of an investment from “very low” to “low”. The lump sum to be invested is there to last for a victim’s entire life, so reducing the level of risk of the investment in setting the discounted rate is concerning, and it has not been properly explained.

This Bill does nothing for the innocent victims of personal injury. It is littered with inconsistencies, has parts that do not stand up to scrutiny, and loads the dice in favour of the insurance companies. The Bill will result in innocent victims of road traffic accidents being penalised because the insurance companies are unable to deal with the alleged whiplash fraud, which they cannot properly quantify. It is shameful that the Government have indulged the insurance companies to such a degree, to the detriment of innocent, law-abiding people. This Bill puts profit before people, restricts access to justice, and creates further inequality before the law. The basic principle that underpins our system of justice is being undermined. This Bill is plainly and simply unjust.