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Damages for whiplash injuries

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 23rd October 2018.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:15 pm, 23rd October 2018

I again thank all Members who have participated.

Amendment 2 relates centrally to the core of this Bill, which is about the question of the setting of tariffs. We have discussed this with great verve and vigour from many different sides. The first debate that has taken place in the last hour and a half has been about the purpose of these tariffs: why we are introducing them in the first place. The reason why comes out of a perception of an anomaly. That anomaly can be seen either, as my hon. Friend Huw Merriman pointed out, in terms of the fact that the number of car crashes is coming down and cars are getting safer, but at the same time the number of whiplash claims over the same period has increased dramatically; or, as my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng pointed out, in terms of national differences. There are many more whiplash claims from Britain per head of population compared with Germany or France, leading to my hon. Friend speculating on biological differences.

The second debate has been about proportionality. That argument was made by, for example, my hon. Friend Mr Clarke. He was essentially arguing, along with the former president of the Supreme Court, Lord Brown, that there needs to be a closer relationship between the amount of compensation paid and the nature of the injury suffered. As Lord Brown said in the House of Lords:

“lesser injuries were altogether too generously compensated, certainly in comparison to the graver injuries”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 May 2018;
Vol. 791, c. 306.]

The idea of proportional compensation for a type of injury was central to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

My hon. Friend Mike Wood reminded us that the former Labour Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, had serious concerns about compensation for soft tissue injury and that this form of car insurance is mandatory, putting a particular obligation on the House of Commons when it considers it. But, characteristically, the most “sensible, proportionate and calibrated” speech came from my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, who, by using those three adjectives to define the nature of the tariffs, brought us, in a huge move, from jurisprudential reflections on the nature of tariff systems to a disquisition on rural transport in Cheltenham. My hon. Friend Jack Brereton brought it down to earth with a good focus on safety in vehicles.