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Damages for whiplash injuries

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 23rd October 2018.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 4:30 pm, 23rd October 2018

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mike Wood.

Whether we sit on the Government Benches or the Opposition Benches, the first thing that hon. Members have to recognise is that we do have a problem in this country; of that there can be no doubt. Other hon. Members have mentioned the statistics, but they bear repeating. In 2005-2006, there were 460,000 or so road traffic accident-related personal injury claims. Just a decade later, that number had soared by 40-odd per cent. to 650,000. There must be concern that the circumstances exist in our country to create an unnecessarily fertile ground for spurious and unfounded claims. What are those circumstances? They include the fact that instead of challenging whether a whiplash claim is dishonest or otherwise unfounded, insurers will take a commercial decision to pay out, because that will be in their interest. As other Members have indicated, the effect of that is that ordinary people living on modest incomes are finding themselves having to pay more for their car insurance than would otherwise be the case.

It is a great mistake to say, as some do, that a car is a luxury—to say, “You don’t need your car; alternative transport methods should be satisfactory.” For plenty of my constituents, that simply is not the case. We currently have a big issue in Cheltenham with the closure of Boots Corner, a key arterial route through the town. One argument made by those who favour closing off the road is that people can get around on bikes. That might be okay for some people, but for plenty of my constituents—including nurses, people ferrying around their children, and people with disabilities—it is not. We have a duty in this House, wherever we stand, to drive down the costs of living for hard-working people and their families.

We have to be clear on what the legislation is not about. A lot of the points made by Opposition Members are motivated by the best of intentions. I have served on the Justice Committee with several Opposition Members, and they have shown great distinction—if I may be so bold—and argued vigorously and passionately for the principle of access to justice and on employment tribunal fees, to which Ellie Reeves referred. But that is not what this legislation is about. It is important not to set up straw men to knock down. Were this debate about LASPO, access to justice and ensuring that people could get early legal advice and assistance, I would have an awful lot more sympathy, but in fact is far more restricted, calibrated and proportionate.

First, this debate and the provisions in the Bill are not about people who sustain whiplash injuries and whose pain, suffering and loss of amenity last beyond two years. If they do last for longer than two years, the case of course falls outwith the tariff system. Secondly, this debate is not about special damages. Let us consider a run-of-the-mill case in which somebody is involved in an accident, makes a whiplash claim because they have a sore neck, spends time off work and incurs taxi fees going to and from the doctor and various other fees. Such special damages would not be subject to any kind of tariff and could be claimed in the normal way. In other words, if someone was off work for, say, nine months, the mere fact that their general damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity had been capped would not in any way preclude them from seeking the full extent of their special damages. That is why it is important to draw a distinction.