Moved by The Earl of Kinnoull
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (1) and insert—“(1) In this Part, “whiplash injury” means an injury or set of injuries resulting in soft tissue damage, usually of the neck, back or shoulder, arising out of a motor accident, which presents symptoms which may include pain and aches (including pain of the jaw, neck, back, and shooting pains in the neck, shoulder or arms), headaches, stiffness, fatigue, dizziness, swelling, bruising, tenderness or muscle spasms.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, in particular those in the insurance industry. I am going to speak briefly to three propositions. First, a definition of “whiplash” should appear on the face of the Bill. Secondly, that definition should be wide. Thirdly, it should be amendable without having to resort to primary legislation, but with parliamentary oversight.
I turn to the first of those propositions. My work has been made much easier by the 22nd report of the excellent Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The committee is excellent as well as the report. It says at paragraph 9:
“We take the view that it would be an inappropriate delegation of power for ‘whiplash injury’, a concept central to a full understanding of the Bill, to be defined in regulations made by Ministers rather than being defined on the face of the Bill”.
I very much agree. It is particularly curious to me that there is no definition, because there are so many definitions of whiplash floating around, not least in the pre-action protocol for low-value personal injury claims for motor accidents and indeed in the draft regulations that appeared within the last 48 hours for this Bill. I therefore can see no reason why there should not be a definition on the face of the Bill. I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister whether he might see that one was, in fact, appropriate.
There are two problems with the width issue. The first is that, if the width is narrow—and a whiplash motor accident normally involves several minor injuries to the person involved—we are in the position where a tariff applies to a selection of injuries but maybe not all of them. That would be to the advantage of what I call the claims industry. Aviva, in its briefing to all peers before the Second Reading, estimates out of whiplash alone to make £500 million a year. It is unbelievably inventive and supple. This morning, I was looking at one of the principal websites, and I will read a bit from it out as it will show just how much the meaning of the word “whiplash” has been stretched:
“Symptoms can include dizziness, blurred vision, disorientation, tiredness, poor concentration, memory loss, nausea, pins and needles in the arms and hands, muscle spasms and pain in the lower back”.
Later on, there is a rather curious sentence:
“Even if you don’t experience any symptoms straightaway, don’t rule out the possibility that you’ve suffered this type of injury”.
That is the sort of entity that, in fact, is doing great damage to the general population. It has increased motor insurance premiums. They are highly intelligent and well funded. I really feel width is important.
There is a second point on width. For the honest claimant, having clarity—so there is one tariff for one sum of money, and so they can fill in the online portals for a claim—is greatly to their advantage. If they have to fill in one online portal to sort out part of their heads of claims, and then no doubt head off to the one of the companies I was referring to, there would be greater chaos and we will not have tried, through legislation, to improve society.
I turn quickly to the point about the importance of it all being amendable. I regret that we will always be playing catch-up with the claims industry. This is not the first attempt to cope with the burgeoning whiplash problem. I remind the House that, even today, 1% of the population every year has a successful whiplash claim, on average—that is 30 times what happens in France. It is a problem that is out of control; we heard many examples of that at Second Reading. There is an enormous prize in having flexibility and, accordingly, I beg to move.
My Lords, I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 1 is agreed to, I will be unable to call Amendments 3 to 5 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, Amendment 2 in this group, which is in my name, tackles the same issue. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has laid out the background and reasons why this House and the country should be concerned about whiplash—false whiplash—and what are rather inelegantly called “cash for crash” events. I do not propose to weary the House by running over those issues again, which we discussed quite a lot at Second Reading.
Amendment 2 addresses the point made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee about the lack of a definition in the Bill and does so in a slightly wider way than Amendment 1, moved by the noble Earl. It proposes a definition in proposed new subsection (1) but, at the same time, proposed new subsection (2) recognises the need for flexibility, in the sense that medical technology and medical sciences are always changing and there will need to be some flexibility in keeping the law up to date with those developments. Amendment 2 therefore aims to create an overarching definition, clarifying what is included within a soft tissue injury, but then provides room for flexibility, so that new ways of describing these injuries do not result in them falling outside the definition. At the same time, it allows the definition to be changed to reflect improvements in diagnosis and prognosis of these subjective injuries.
I should say that I was somewhat concerned that, having got a definition of whiplash in the Bill, a definition gap might have been left by not defining soft tissue. But the insurance industry tells me that this term is well understood and does not need a detailed definition here; the noble Earl referred to that. What I understand is called the pre-action protocol for low-value personal injury claims—I am reading this carefully because I am not entirely familiar with it myself—uses the term to define the scope of powers and has been in force since
My Lords, Amendment 3 in this group is in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Marks and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for whose support I am very grateful. Following the two preceding and eloquent speeches, I can be very brief. The point of the amendment is simply to put a definition of whiplash in the Bill. There are rival definitions in various other amendments, and there is now also a government definition contained in the draft SI published yesterday. At first glance, this government definition seems to provide a sound basis for discussion, but it is in the wrong place. It should be in the Bill.
As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has already said, our Delegated Powers Committee said clearly in its 22nd report that,
“it would be an inappropriate delegation of power for ‘whiplash injury’, a concept central to a full understanding of the Bill, to be defined in regulations made by Ministers rather than being defined on the face of the Bill”.
At Second Reading, many noble Lords strongly agreed with this conclusion and it is disappointing, now that they have a draft definition, not to see the Government bringing forward an amendment to put this in the Bill.
In his Second Reading reply and in his subsequent letter to us of
In fact, the Government had already set out elsewhere in correspondence with the Delegated Powers Committee their case for using secondary legislation. The DPRRC helpfully summarised this by saying that, first, whiplash must be defined accurately; secondly, there must be extensive consultation; and thirdly, the definition must remain accurate. The Delegated Powers Committee agreed with these propositions but said,
“it does not follow from them that the definition of ‘whiplash injury’ should be contained in regulations rather than the Bill. Neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Ministry of Justice is best placed to make this determination”.
We agree with the conclusions of the Delegated Powers Committee and invite the Minister to explain why the Government have rejected them and are still pursuing the statutory instrument route.
As to the Government’s definition itself, as I have said, it seems to provide a sound basis for discussion but we have not had enough time to make a proper assessment and to canvass the opinion of other stakeholders. We will want to return to this issue on Report.
My Lords, as chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, which published a report on this Bill, I would like to make a few comments. First, I have a purely personal comment. Colleagues may be interested to know that I have made a full recovery from the serious accident I had in the last few days—not that I recall having had a serious accident, but my mobile phone tells me that I did and that I should pursue a claim. I say to my noble friend the Minister that this racket is still happening again and again. I had thought, as a passionate supporter of the Government, that we had nailed this down and stopped the grabby racketeering lawyers pursuing these claims. I hope in future we will be able to put a stop to it.
Going back to the Bill and the amendments, the Delegated Powers Committee looked at this and said we were becoming rather familiar with skeletal Bills. By any standards, this Bill is skeletal. Then we went on to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, so very kindly pointed out—the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, also paid tribute to our work—that:
“In this Part ‘whiplash injury’ means an injury, or set of injuries, of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder”,
and then the description stops to say that the rest of the definition will be,
“specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor”.
I am not revealing committee secrets but half of us on the committee thought that the parliamentary draftsman had been distracted—he was half way through writing the definition and stopped and forgot to complete it—because it seemed an elementary thing to complete.
I have not seen last night’s regulations—I shall look at them carefully—but I did a quick Google search last night on the definition of a whiplash injury. Even the NHS website states that:
“Whiplash injury is a type of neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways”.
Wikipedia has a much more detailed definition, which I assume from some of the spelling is an American one. There is a fascinating point in it:
“Cadaver studies have shown that as an automobile occupant is hit from behind, the forces from the seat back compress the kyphosis of the thoracic spine, which provides an axial load on the lumbar spine and cervical spine. This forces the cervical spine to deform into an S-shape where the lower cervical spine is forced into a kyphosis while the upper cervical spine maintains its lordosis. As the injury progresses, the whole cervical spine is finally hyper-extended”.
That is not skeletal. It may be a bit too much fat on flesh on the bones but I quote it because I think it important that we have a technical medical definition, by physicians, relating to the distortion and flexing of the spine and not just a list of symptoms. If we merely make a list saying that people feel dizziness, nausea, headaches and so on, we could include everything. After a good night’s dinner one could feel those symptoms and not necessarily have been involved in an accident. If it is simply possible to get some definitions from Google and to look at the excellent definition from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and from my noble friend—who is not a lawyer—these definitions seem to me to be a very good starting point. If the Government’s definition in the regulations is even better, let us go with that. My committee was at an absolute loss to understand why it was not in the Bill. There is no justification for it not being there. Of course, there can be an order-making power for the Minister to tweak or amend it in due course as medical science changes.
We said that there should be extensive consultation. If I go outside the Chamber right now and phone the Royal College of Physicians, within 10 minutes it will give me a pretty good definition. The doctors who deal with this issue are the experts, not the Lord Chancellor or the lawyers in the Ministry of Justice. We must let the doctors come up with the definition and put it in the Bill so that we have complete certainty in the future.
My Lords, I agree entirely with that last point. I too searched on Google and Wikipedia and saw the rather extensive definition of the diagnosis. That makes the point that none of these claims should be accepted unless a medical opinion has been sought and a report given. It is for the physicians to make the diagnosis. This Bill is very clear about confining the list to motor vehicle accidents rather than all the other ways in which whiplash injuries can occur. In the context of a motor vehicle accident, the very injuries that have been described and the mechanisms and consequences relating to those injuries can be defined only through a proper medical assessment. As explained in the Minister’s letter to us all after Second Reading, it is essential that a medical report is provided before taking this matter further.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Marks. I agree with the comments of the chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, although obviously I cannot comment on the legal qualifications of the person who telephoned him. As I outlined at Second Reading, I have practised in this area and have dealt with these claims, and I know that it has become something of a fashion to be quite derogatory about the role of advocates and lawyers. When I joined the Bar, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. People becoming lawyers and acting as advocates so that someone is not a litigant in person is an incredibly valuable part of our system, and as we discuss further amendments we should all bear that in mind. Having an advocate when you are an ordinary person—potentially with three part-time jobs on the London living wage—so that you do not have to deal with such calls is valuable, and I implore us to look at our lawyers in a better light than is often the case in our culture.
Perhaps I may add a few words. Of course the definition of whiplash has to be made by doctors—that is how the world works—but we are engaged in legislation. This word must have a legal meaning and it must be enshrined either in a statute or in regulations. The Bill approaches the problem by putting the legislative cart before the legislative horse. If we are being asked to enact legislation in which we do not know precisely what the word means, we are being asked to do something that we should not be asked to do.
My Lords, perhaps I may add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has just said. I agree with her and stress that this is not just a case of racketeering lawyers. One problem that we need to grapple with at this stage of the Bill is that the cold-calling racket and the encouragement of claims comes from claims management companies as well, often from abroad. They can also come from those who offer free hire cars to those who will pursue claims, and they can add a personal injury claim. The same applies to people who repair cars. There is all that potential for racketeering to jack up these claims, and we accept that there is a very serious problem.
I come back to the point about the definition. I agree with all those speakers who have said that the definition has to be in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, very concisely just explained why it has to go in the Bill and why it is insufficient for it simply to be in draft regulations at this stage.
Perhaps I may say a word or two more about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I served on it for three years when my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester chaired it. The general practice then was for the Government to accept the recommendations of that committee. We took the responsibility of considering the delegated powers in every Bill that came through this House extremely seriously and in an almost entirely non-partisan manner. We were guided and assisted by clerks who were astute to ensure that their advice was based on precedent and on principles, and the principles were published.
I appreciate that, in connection with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government have largely resisted accepting the committee’s recommendations and relied on the large volumes of legislation needed for Brexit and the need for a very large number of statutory instruments in that connection. While I do not go along with their argument in anything like the whole of the way, I can nevertheless see that that legislation is a special case. It is very important, however, that that special case should not become regarded as a precedent, justifying the Government in ignoring the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and not following its recommendations in future. This Bill is in an entirely different category: it is in the traditional category, where those recommendations ought to be followed. There is no reason here why we should not follow the general principles as to when a delegation is appropriate and when it is not.
The terms in which this Bill was described have been canvassed in other speeches, but the committee was pretty caustic in paragraph 2, where one of the questions was described as:
“What is meant by ‘whiplash injury?’”
The answer, as described by the committee, was:
“‘Whiplash injury’ means whatever the Lord Chancellor says it will mean, in regulations to be made by him or her at some future date. Clause 1(1) has a partial definition but a full definition awaits the making of regulations by the Lord Chancellor, which will only happen once the Bill has been enacted. Given the complex physical and psychological components of whiplash injury, it is not satisfactory that these matters should be left to regulations rather than subject to a rigorous debate in Parliament”.
I agree; and if that is not a caustic recommendation from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I do not know what is. The Government simply ought to accept it and put the definition on the face of the Bill in line with proper practice.
There is no reason advanced as to why a definition of sufficient clarity cannot be on the face of the Bill. The Government have produced draft regulations with a definition that might suffice as a working definition, subject to debate, but those regulations would, of course, be non-amendable in any event. Why should that definition not go in the Bill? We have heard definitions advanced in amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and from my noble friend Lord Sharkey and me. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, also defines whiplash for the time being.
I accept that there might be a regulation-making power to make amendment to the definition in the future from time to time. That is an acceptable compromise. Our Amendment 95, which insists on regulations before changes come into force, is a backstop. I do not regard that as an acceptable backstop; it is a counsel of despair in some ways. Our principal point, however, is one that the Government ought to accept: that a definition is required and it needs to have the evidence behind it.
My Lords, this is a good Bill but it is incomplete. As the Minister will have noticed, every single speaker has said that, to be completed, it requires a legal definition. Individuals who say that they have a whiplash will have to have a medical diagnosis, but in a Bill of this sort, which is intended to deal with fraud, there absolutely has to be a legal definition, for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, which I entirely support.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a racketeering lawyer, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra would have it, although it has been some time since I was involved in whiplash claims.
I accept that there are genuine whiplash claims and that some whiplash problems last for a considerable time and can cause difficulties that continue well beyond six months, 12 months or even two years. The majority do not. However, the legislation we are concerned with here ought to be clear—I agree with all noble Lords who have said this—which would mean a definition in the Bill. This has been a problem for this Government and previous Governments and we have to accept that we are dealing with a slippery and powerful opposition in trying to pin down this racket.
Whiplash injuries have an attraction for fraudsters because, as no doubt my noble friend Lord Ribeiro will confirm, they are difficult to prove or disprove on medical analysis—they do not show up on scans of any sort—and doctors have to rely on the veracity of the patient to satisfy themselves that they may or may not have whiplash symptoms.
We do not want to pin down a definition of whiplash injuries and the nation’s necks appear to improve, only for its lower backs to deteriorate, and suddenly we are invited to consider claims in which, as a result of some movement of the thorax, lumbar or cervical regions in an accident, all the symptoms are referable to the lower back, which is outside the definition and would be equally difficult to prove or disprove. I therefore counsel the House to use caution in saying that we must pin down the definition. As legislators that is of course desirable but we want to help the Government to deal with this problem.
A similar issue arose during consideration of the Psychoactive Substances Bill, when everyone in the House said that we must be clear as to what the substances are and put them in the Bill. However, the conclusion was that we should not do this because of the infinite adaptability of those who produce such substances. While I sympathise as a matter of principle with those who have spoken—I will listen with interest to what my noble and learned friend says—we should be careful not to do anything which may assist those who have perpetuated this racket.
My Lords, I support everything that has been said by every lawyer who has spoken this morning. Clearly, the Bill needs a definition. However, I also agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has said about the difficulty that has arisen in constructing the definition.
The House will not be able to tell whether the Bill will work as a matter of practical justice until we see the definition. It will need to be a broad definition for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. It is easy to foresee that when the Bill passes into law, as it probably will, there will then develop heavy tactical warfare between those acting on the claimant’s side and those acting on the defendant’s side, which will be focused on the precise wording of the definition. If there is undue looseness in the definition, that warfare will clog up the courts and be generally undesirable.
In short—I do not disagree with anything I have heard this morning—it is clearly necessary for the Bill to contain a definition and for this House to consider the proposed definition in minute detail and with great care to ensure that the Bill works when it passes into law.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and my noble friend Lord Faulks. In doing so, I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I too have sympathy for my noble and learned friend the Minister. This is a good opportunity to remind ourselves why we need this legislation. Late last night, at a most inconvenient time, I received a call urging me to bring a claim. I do not know how many noble Lords have had the same but there is an industry out there. That is why working out a definition will be quite a challenge.
This problem needs urgent attention. Noble Lords may know that I have been pursuing this line of argument for 15 years. I have watched this claims industry grow and make life intolerable for so many people. In the last 10 years, the number of reported road accidents has gone down by 30%, but in the same period the number of injury claims has gone up by at least 40%. We have a problem.
I received copious briefings from vested interests who are completely opposed to any whiplash reform on the basis that it threatens access to justice for injured people, but a lot of these briefings come from companies with a commercial interest in the presentation of these claims. I think that the threat is more to their income and profits than they are prepared to admit. I want to quote Sir Rupert Jackson, albeit from seven years ago:
“There is currently far too much money swilling around in the personal injuries system and the beneficiaries are not the claimants, but usually the referrers and (when no referral fee is paid) the lawyers”.
He made that point in a different context but it is a good reminder that we are dealing with a pretty serious problem. Governments have tried before to reduce the cost of whiplash claims but the measures used, including the banning of referral fees, have not succeeded in bringing the number of claims in check.
Some noble Lords will try to argue to the contrary although they have not participated so far in the debate, but any reported decrease in the number of whiplash claims is probably because they are being described as something else. A neck injury becomes an injury to the spine or the shoulder or the back. As my noble friend Lord Faulks pointed out, this is a moving target. I have a great deal of sympathy for my noble and learned friend the Minister.
I suppose that this set of reforms is different from what has gone before. It is targeted specifically at reducing the number of claims. In view of the reduction in accident numbers, this must surely be the right target. That is why we have provisions such as a tariff set by the Lord Chancellor. This is a socio-political problem, not a medical or even a truly legal one. It needs a political policy steer, not just to be handed back to judges to exercise controls. Indeed, the Judicial College has acknowledged that this is not its role:
“We stress again that we do not attempt to prescribe what levels of damages ought to be awarded”.
In truth, judges assess very few of these low-value claims; when they do, it is usually because there is an unusual factor involved.
The industry—it is a commercial industry—that brings these claims is highly adaptive. I welcome the opportunity given to us by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble and learned friend to look at the definition. The reforms in 2013 led to an early move by road accident solicitors into industrial deafness claims and clinical negligence claims, and the call that I received last night urged me to bring a claim because of some alleged sickness I had suffered on a holiday I never took. Let us not avoid the fact that we need to confront these waves of claims. There is time for more drastic action. Of course, I agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Noble Lords are well-versed in arguments about Henry VIII powers but in this case, with due respect to the committee, the concerns may be misplaced.
The action that the Government need to take must be radical but also fleet of foot. That is the key to understanding why the majority of the measures are subject to regulations. It is also essential that this Bill does not stray into narrow, overly medical or overly legalistic terms that are easily circumvented. Having said all that, I can hardly wait to hear what my noble and learned friend the Minister has to say.
I must apologise to the noble Lord for delaying his expectations slightly, and declare my interest as an unpaid consultant in my old firm of solicitors.
It is clear that we must have a proper definition. It is equally clear that the definition ought to be provided by a medical source. The groupings of this rather long day are such that the recommendation that I shall be making in the next group is relevant to this first group, in that the responsibility for defining a whiplash injury should be on the Chief Medical Officer and the definition incorporated into primary or secondary legislation. That takes the decision away from politicians. I disagree with the noble Lord—I do not think that the definition should be a political decision: it should emanate from the medical profession and be embodied in legislation. An amendment to that effect on Report would perhaps be helpful.
It is clear that there are problems; nobody denies that. There is an argument about the extent to which the current system is being abused, but any abuse is unacceptable and reflects on innocent people who have suffered genuine injury. Their cases need to be dealt with properly. So there has to be change. However, with due respect to those who tabled these amendments, who may well have drawn on medical advice, we should at some point incorporate a requirement for that medical advice to emanate from a medical source—I have suggested the Chief Medical Officer but it could be another source—rather than be determined by politicians.
There surely has to be a medical definition—and where better to get it from? The medical profession deals with injuries that are labelled “whiplash injuries”. There may be some argument about the definition, but surely it can be decided only on the basis of medical skills.
My Lords, I thoroughly agree with the proposition that is highly desirable for the definition used as the basis for later provisions in this part of the Bill to be on the face of the Bill. The difficulty I have had so far is in identifying what we want to do. It is the area of exaggerated claims, or something of that sort, that underlies the Government’s proposals. I agree that it must be, ultimately, a medical definition, because a medical report saying that you have this injury is an essential requirement for you to come under this part of the Bill.
The difficulty, however, is that the doctors have to know where these exaggerations take place. I have been instructed by people who suggest that if you go for the back, and the rest, you are extending the thing beyond the real position. I have, therefore, some sympathy with the amendment restricting that, which I think is to be moved or spoken to later. I do not, however, profess to know exactly what the problem is, in the sense of the area of medical expertise that is being used by the claimant industry to exaggerate claims. That is their idea: to exaggerate these claims and ask for more than they are worth. As I said at Second Reading, I have some experience long past of the difficulty of actually quantifying the correct amount for these injuries, particularly if they are serious—and they can be quite serious, I think. This is my problem and I would be glad of help when the Minister comes to speak.
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 am grateful for those last few sentences from the Minister, which were very helpful and reflect the strong mood of the House. I must say that if we had had a brief fee clock going, with the number of very expensive lawyers here, it would have been going round quite rapidly. I will make one point, following what the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said. I too am a non-practising barrister, but I would never do anything to suggest that advocacy was not valuable. Advocates are immensely valuable in our justice system.
I do, of course, have experience of sitting on the other side of the table from the “claims industry”, as I term it—and the last thing those people want is an advocate in the mix. Most of their companies do not employ that many lawyers: some companies have no lawyers at all, or just one on their writing paper. They want a paper-based or telephone-based operation, in order to process things as cheaply as possible. This would actually help advocacy, because it would try to push things back into the proper legal market and away from companies that have been commoditising the rather grubby process of grabbing money. But, on the basis of what the Minister has said, and knowing that we will be having discussions with a view to bringing forward some sort of amendment on the definition—no doubt several noble Lords who have spoken today will be involved—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments in my name. I have already effectively, I hope, spoken to Amendment 5. Amendment 4 is a probing amendment that seeks to alter the definition of a whiplash injury to confine it to neck injuries. I accept the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made about the precise definition, and also the fact that I am effectively in the position that I was questioning before, of not having the medical authority to give a prescription. That underlines the need for independent medical advice as to what constitutes the kind of injury that needs to be covered.
Amendment 5, to which I referred before, would require the definition to be provided by the Chief Medical Officer. There may be other professional sources that would be as effective, but the independence and status of the Chief Medical Officer strikes me as highly relevant.
The other amendments in this group to which I will refer are, particularly, Amendments 8 and 10, which suggest a new tariff for 12 months rather than the two years in the Bill. I understand that the vast majority of cases are within that one-year period, so to extend it to two years seems somewhat invidious, given that there has to be proof of the effect of the accident. Two years is a long time to be subjected to, for what would be a pretty minimal level of compensation provided for in the tariff. I hope that that would improve the Bill somewhat.
In relation to Amendment 9, sub-paragraph (ii) seems superfluous because it requires the claimant to have mitigated the damage suffered, but in common law the plaintiff has to demonstrate that he has done precisely that. Sub-paragraph (ii) does not seem to add anything to the current legal position and, for that reason, it should be removed.
Amendments 15 to 20 are in this group. They would remove references to psychological injury from Clauses 2 and 3. That is a matter which we feel should be dealt with in the ordinary way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 15 to 20 and to explain why leaving out the word “psychological” benefits the Bill. As currently drafted, the Bill captures soft tissue injury and minor psychological injury only. If a claimant sustained a whiplash injury and, say, a bruise on their knee at the same time in an accident, the bruised knee would not be captured by the definition, which is limited to neck, back and shoulder in the current Clause 1. Damages for the bruised knee would therefore fall outside the tariff damages but would remain compensatable under common law. As I said earlier, there is a great prize for simplicity here, for being able, as an honest and genuine litigant, to go to a web portal to fill a claim and have predictability about what you are going to get. We will no doubt discuss the tariff a lot later on today. By removing the word “psychological” we bring minor injuries into the tariff so that if you have an accident and get a set of minor injuries, which we loosely call whiplash injuries, but which include bruised knees, you know what you are going to get and there would be a simple web way of doing it. We have tried to do that, and that is the sole reason for removing “psychological”. It would mean that injuries without the word “psychological” include psychological injuries. In fact, the definition I referred to earlier on the pre-action protocol for small bodily injury claims specifically includes psychological injuries. I think I have made the point.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to Amendment 21, which is tabled in my name. I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.
I shall follow the theme in the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, with regard to physiotherapy and psychological treatments in claims under this clause. The debate at the moment is with regard to probing amendments, and I hope very much that the Minister, in his reply, will be able to give us a little more explanation on how he sees this particular section of the Bill operating.
I should also say as a caveat that, while I accept the very strong point continually made in the Chamber, and rightly so, about the creativity of some claims management companies—the ones making the telephone calls—to find ways into this area and to cause considerable difficulties, I hope that we will not lose sight of the genuine claims of individuals and the hardships they suffer when they seek to make a claim but cannot represent themselves and whose access to finance for such a claim does not exist. In our rush to deal, quite rightly, with unwanted claims, I hope that we will not undermine and damage the very valuable claims that are necessary for individuals—not just adults but children as well.
With regard to my proposed amendment, Clause 2(6) states:
“Regulations… may provide”,
that a person has taken,
“reasonable steps to mitigate the effect of … whiplash injury or minor psychological injury”.
As I have said, I want to talk about physiotherapy as well.
The reason I ask the Minister to give us more information is in the background of the very public debate about, for example, the provision of mental health services and, in particular, where such services are provided and how the claimant would get access to them and therefore have taken reasonable steps not to undermine a subsequent claim. The King’s Fund, in its analysis of NHS trusts, clearly identifies, through their financial accounts, that approximately 40% of mental health trusts have received a reduction in their funding and therefore in their services.
The type of claims made that require psychological support may involve children who, having been with their parents in a car accident, have problems with nightmares, so they need access to proper support and therapy. Such a claim may involve, and has involved, parents travelling in a car where the mother is pregnant and therefore suffers stress as well as physical injuries. Again, where is the access to psychological injury and, reasonable steps having been taken to mitigate that, given the connection between pain and one’s mental health well-being?
I am not a lawyer, and if my comments are considered ill-informed I will not be embarrassed by being corrected by the very many experienced noble and learned Lords in this Chamber. At the heart of this, and the objective that the Government seek to achieve, is how to stop those who are using the system in a way that, frankly, undermines the rights of good, honest people who are not making fraudulent claims. How to correct that system without preventing worthy, correct and needy claims is a huge challenge. At the moment, while I understand why the ABI talks in its briefing about the need for it to have flexibility to adjust and evolve as the industry does, I see nothing in the Bill that puts that same flexibility into protecting the rights of legitimate claimants in this area of physical damage.
I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this whole area, because I fear that otherwise we may need to return to this. There is not enough protection at the moment for the individual legitimate claimant.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 8, 10 and 49A in this group. I join with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, in relation to genuine claimants. As I understand it, even the insurance companies accept that the majority of claimants in this area are genuine. It is a high burden on your Lordships’ House to ensure that the Bill hits the target of fraudulent claims as accurately as it can without the shrapnel hitting genuine claimants. Fundamentally, someone with a bruised knee, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, mentioned, may find themselves with more compensation when assessed under Judicial College guidelines than someone who has genuinely incurred a potentially six-month whiplash injury.
Amendments 8 and 10 relate to reducing the length of the period of these symptoms from two years to one. It is important to remember that while, yes, there is a portal, which the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to, and the small claims track, even today 35% of claims are outside the portal. These are the nuts and bolts of people’s access to justice through the small claims track, but that is without legal representation.
The important reason to reduce the scope of the Bill to a year is that the overwhelming majority of whiplash cases, even including those that the insurance companies maintain today are fraud or suspected fraud, are resolved within a year. However, a bulk of cases—15%—last longer than that, and of those there are about 5% where someone has a long-standing chronic condition as a result of the whiplash injury. They might have an early onset of osteoarthritis, a chronic pain condition or fibromyalgia—these are cases that I have seen—which are seriously long-term disabling conditions. It is very important for those people that there is representation, perhaps more in-depth medical reports looking at what has happened to their symptoms, and legal advice so that they are not pressurised into settling a claim too early and getting a sum of money within the first year when actually the prognosis is not definite. If we reduce the scope of the Bill—the Government’s stated intention relates to minor injuries and fraud—down to one year, it would give protection to those people who, hopefully, if they were advised properly, would wait to settle their claim to ensure that their symptoms had resolved.
I hope this is not going to be a complicated amendment. It would do a lot to protect genuine claimants. We do not seem to have evidence of people who are exaggerating and claiming to have fibromyalgia, chronic pain or early-onset osteoarthritis as the result of a fraudulent claim. At the moment the Bill does not do sufficient to protect claimants in those categories, and reducing the limit from two years to one would deal with the fraud problem but also give them some protection.
Amendment 49A is one that I was given advice on by USDAW. The policy reason that Her Majesty’s Government have given for creating this section of claims is that we are aiming at fraud where they will not be covered by the Judicial College guidelines. That will lead to ordinary people not necessarily understanding why claim X merited much more than their own claim. This is serious in people’s fundamental understanding of compensation and justice.
If fraud is the reason for changing the principle of the Judicial College guidelines, I have tabled Amendment 49A because the Bill currently will catch ambulance drivers, police officers or anyone who is driving within the course of their employment and is affected by a whiplash injury. I hope that the Minister will provide some evidence as to whether insurance companies or others—the Faculty of Actuaries or someone else—have identified fraud in that type of case, when someone is driving in the course of their employment. That is fraud in a different category. It is not saying, for example, “I’ve been called at 11 o’clock at night”, but is also saying to one’s employer, “This happened to me while I was work”. That is in a different category and, as far as I have been able to detect, there is no evidence that any of the problems that insurance companies are talking about happen in that scenario.
Driving “within the course of employment” is a well-recognised legal term. It has been the subject of case law. For instance, if you have left home to go to work in your work car, are you driving in the course of employment? It is a well-defined, well-established category that could provide a limitation in the Bill and ensure that genuine claimants who are driving in the course of their employment would not be caught by the provisions. I hope that the Minister will provide evidence of fraud when people have claimed whiplash injuries while driving in the course of employment. Without that, the policy reason stated by the Government for introducing the Bill does not exist. We will have missed the target and hit a whole bunch of genuine claimants.
My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to enter into a debate that is so well populated by lawyers and people who know a lot better about these things than I. Perhaps I should declare a sort of interest or make an admission that while I am not a lawyer, I live with one—and her advice to me the other day was not to get into this debate. I have set that on one side for what I hope is a good reason.
I shall speak to Amendment 27A on the supplementary list. It pursues the same point that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, explored. I too am worried about what the Bill—a welcome, reforming Bill in many respects—will also capture and that it will put off, deny and deprive access to proper compensation to those who, in the course of their employment, drive for a living. I am thinking of public service workers, ambulance drivers, firefighters, police officers and those in the distribution sector. I am worried that the Government have it wrong and that the legislation will capture people they do not want to. I cannot see, and we have not yet seen, evidence that there is widespread fraud. I am also concerned that in cases involving people who drive as a product of seeking their living and who are injured in the course of their work, perhaps by someone else’s negligence or when they have been working for a supplier contractor, they end up being undercompensated.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I should like to probe the Minister’s intent. Can he assure us that such claims will not be affected in the way in which they potentially are? We are both seeking assurances, some evidence and a hope that damages suffered by those in the course of their work will continue to be assessed in the usual way. That is only fair, right and proper. I am sure that the Government would not want to unwittingly—perhaps inadvertently—damage such people’s interests. While a claim culture exists, stimulated by an industry that is very driven, we do not want to harm those who are rightly seeking compensation for an injury that they have suffered.
My Lords, I follow for a moment the line that previous speakers have addressed. I understand that the Scottish position is different from that proposed in the Bill and that people injured in the course of their employment are treated differently from others. It would be interesting if the Minister, with his extensive knowledge of the Scottish position, could outline what the different reasoning might be. I am not asking him to speak for the Scottish Government, but I am sure he understands how Scottish practice has developed in a different way.
A number of us are concerned that this is a Bill for the insurance industry, tackling problems that it should have addressed itself. If insurance companies were paying out claims without properly investigating, if they were making money available just because it was too much trouble for them to assess the honesty of those making the claim, they have spawned the industry that we are now grappling with and trying to make sense of. The insurance industry should put its own house in order, not come crying to the Government too often to say, “You should do this for us with legal changes”.
I am conscious that we could have a problem with drivers who get injured and are covered by the road traffic laws being treated differently from a driver of a forklift truck, say, who has an accident in the factory or depot, and is not covered by road traffic law. There are inconsistencies here which, I understand, the Scots have addressed differently from the position under the Bill. The Minister shakes his head, and I stand to be corrected, but I should be interested in his observations on that point.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monks, makes a good point: the insurance industry has its share of responsibility for what has occurred in its eagerness to settle claims which may not have been genuine to save the cost of going to court to argue the matter, but to describe this as an insurers’ Bill may be to overstate the case. In the Bill, we are all concerned to stamp out what has been a widespread fraud—not at the expense of genuine claimants, of course, but I do not think anyone looking at the statistics could deny that there has been a serious and long-standing problem that needs a solution.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentions the Chief Medical Officer in one of his amendments. Of course, the definition of whiplash and the approach to it should be informed by medical opinion, but I respectfully suggest that, ultimately, we as a legislative body have to grasp that definition and approach, bearing in mind medical evidence but nevertheless seeking to identify what is going on in the real world, rather than simply tying ourselves to a medical definition which may of itself be imprecise.
As to where the cut-off should come—whether it should be 12 months or two years—it will always be somewhat arbitrary. However, there seems to me a risk that if we reduce it to 12 months rather than two years, we can anticipate a number of medical reports suggesting that matters should resolve themselves in, say, 18 months—not the more reputable medical experts, but, I am sad to say, not all of them have in the past been in that category.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, about the availability of therapy in various contexts is good but, as I understand it—my noble and learned friend will correct me if I am wrong—we are concerned here with damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. That does not preclude damages for loss of earnings or for the cost of medical expenses, whether for therapy or otherwise, which can be recovered in addition to the tariff claim. I hope that that is some answer to the question of whether those matters can be attended to following an accident.
As to the argument about whether employment should be an accepted category, while that might have some initial attraction, I would counsel against that approach. I can imagine a revision to the standard message following any such amendment. It would be, “We understand you have recently been involved in an accident while you were driving in the course of your employment”. That would inevitably follow if we narrow or exclude incidents arising from employment. Whether you are driving in the course of your employment, recreation, or whatever the reason, you are equally likely to—
I hate to interrupt my noble friend, but in principle, what is wrong with a call saying that? If someone is driving in the course of his employment, it is in a different category because the employer will have to give evidence that he was indeed driving in the course of his employment. There is a danger that we are saying all these calls are a bad thing, or that all claims management companies are a bad thing and all insurance is a good thing. What in principle is wrong with a call of that nature that can be substantiated by evidence, and would need to be from the person’s employer?
I am grateful for that intervention. My point is that if someone has been genuinely injured, whether in the course of employment or not in the course of employment, they are entitled to make a claim, and nothing should preclude that, regardless of whether they receive a message in the current form or in an amended form. It seems to me that it would be inappropriate to make a distinction between the circumstances in which you may or may not suffer a whiplash injury. My point was simply that if there is an amendment to the law, those seeking to encourage not the genuine claimants—of which there are certainly some—but those who are not genuine may revise their message to take into account the revision that we make in the law. Of course I am not against genuine claims. On the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson, although I understand the disaggregation that lies at the heart of their amendment, I am not for the moment persuaded that this is not a matter that is catered for under Clause 2(3) and (4). I shall listen with interest to what my noble and learned friend says.
Perhaps I may invite the noble Lord to refer to the provisions that refer to MedCo. He talked about doctors’ reports as if they could be made by rather unscrupulous doctors at the behest of a client. Would not use of the MedCo system pretty well ensure that the reports would be valid and authentic?
The MedCo system has contributed very considerably to the improvement in the standards of medical reporting. For those of your Lordships who are not familiar with it, it was a system to prevent what was undoubtedly an abuse of the system by some doctors, to allow the random allocation of medical experts to deal with whiplash injuries. It is certainly an improvement. My point is that there is still a risk in certain cases of there not being reliable medical evidence.
Before the Minister responds perhaps I may, in the probing spirit of the amendments, mention one point that has occurred to me in light of the noble Earl’s proposed deletion of the word “psychological” from various provisions in Clause 2. I completely understand what the Government are hoping to achieve by using the term “minor psychological injury” in those provisions. I imagine they have in mind the fact that in cases of the type we are considering, it did become routine, and probably still is routine, for claimants to be advised to get a supportive report from a psychiatrist that uses the term “post-traumatic stress neurosis” or something similar as a way of enhancing the eventual award. I can see that that is a problem that the use of the term “psychological injury” is directed at.
The noble Earl makes a significant point when he refers to the bruised or gashed knee of the claimant in this type of case. I am not sure how that type of case, where there is a whiplash injury but also some other injury that is outside the definition of whiplash injuries, will be satisfactorily addressed. I imagine that the tariff award for whiplash injury will be fairly low. I do not have the answer to this problem, but I am contemplating the position that will arise when a claimant has suffered a whiplash injury and is entitled to the tariff award, which may be only a few hundred pounds, but has also suffered a probably rather less serious injury to, say, his or her knee. A gashed or bruised knee might stop them from playing football, skiing or whatever it may be, and would be worth, I guess, a few hundred pounds—it might edge into £1,000. You might get an anomalous outcome that would involve claimants recovering more for very trivial injuries to the lower part of the body than they are entitled to recover, pursuant to the Bill, for the relevant whiplash injury. I do not know what the answer is, but it is a potential problem.
Clause 2(8) begins to address that problem. I want to mention, again in a probing spirit, and without having any answers, what may be a difficulty in the drafting of Clause 2(8). It contemplates that the court may award an additional amount of damages for an injury that falls outside the scope of the definition of whiplash injuries. At the moment, I am puzzled—I do not know if the Minister can help me on this—by the effect of the words in brackets at the end of the subsection, namely,
“(subject to the limits imposed by regulations under this section)”.
I am not sure what “limits” refers to there, because the subsection appears to create tariffs rather than limits. I am not sure what it is intended the court should do when confronted by a claimant who has suffered a whiplash injury which attracts the tariff award but who also places before the court a number of other minor injuries that fall outside the definition. There are serious problems here and I have sympathy with the drafters.
My Lords, I return to the issue of employee exemption, which several noble Lords have mentioned in this debate. I have a lot of sympathy with it. In my Amendment 23, I shall be seeking some kind of exemption for vulnerable road users. My worry in these amendments is the definition of who is driving in the course of their employment. My understanding is that under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, you are covered if you are driving to work in your car and you are employed. The car does not have to be owned by your employer; it can be hired or your own. You are at work and, therefore, covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. I assume it is the same for Uber drivers, truck drivers and anyone in between.
It is difficult to accept an exemption that would cover all those things, whether you are self-employed or employed by a company or by somebody else. It would be fine if one could find a definition, but there are so many loopholes nowadays in driving and road safety law. I have had many discussions with Ministers over the years about whether road safety and driving legislation should be led by the rules of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. In other words, you are at work all the time. That applies to drivers’ hours, driving safety and everything else. I worry about the definition of driving when in the course of employment, and I have a lot of sympathy with anyone trying to find a definition.
My Lords, I intervene briefly, having put my name to the noble Earl’s amendments. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, quite followed the idea behind this, which is that psychological injuries are specifically identified at various places in this clause but minor injuries are not. The purpose of the amendments is therefore to remove psychological injuries as a specific category and reinsert them further down, through Amendment 22, with minor injuries, so that we sweep up everything concerned with a whiplash unless it is a serious injury, such as a fracture of a leg, which is clearly a different issue. However, the issue is picked up by the reinsertion by Amendment 22 of the words “minor injuries”, such as a bruised knee.
I am obliged to noble Lords for their contributions to the Bill in Committee. I begin with Amendment 4, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, which would limit the definition of whiplash to soft tissue injuries of the neck. There is then a further amendment that would require the definition of whiplash to be set by the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health. The amendment to remove the back and shoulder from this definition would significantly reduce the number of claims subject to measures in the Bill, namely the tariff and the ban on settling claims without medical evidence. It would also encourage claims displacement into other areas to avoid them being subject to the tariff. That would be a serious issue.
The definition in the Bill has been adapted from that in the Prisons and Courts Bill following feedback from stakeholders that the definition in the latter Bill was not broad enough to capture the intended claims. The current definition, with the draft regulations that have now been produced, is intended to achieve that objective.
The amendment requiring the definition of whiplash to be set by the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health would provide an independent person who has responsibility for advising the Government on medical issues, but the definition of whiplash injury needs to reconcile the current legal understanding with an accurate medical definition that covers both injuries and their symptoms. This is why the Government have developed the definition of a whiplash injury with input not only from medical experts, but from other expert stakeholders, including claimant and defendant solicitors.
Amendments 8, 9 and 10 restrict the scope of the tariff provisions by reducing the injury duration of affected claims to 12 months from two years. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, observed this would reduce the number of claims captured by these reforms, but have the negative effect of encouraging claims displacement or claims inflation. Having an injury duration of up to two years will ensure that genuinely injured claimants seek timely treatment for their injuries, as well as enabling the Government to reduce and control the level of compensation in whiplash claims and consequently—as is one of the objectives—reduce insurance premiums for consumers.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, spoke to Amendments 15 to 20 and 22, which would widen the types of injuries affected by both the tariff of damages and the ban on settling claims without medical evidence. It would remove the term “psychological” from the clause, so that the measures in the Bill would apply to all minor injuries related to road traffic accidents, regardless of whether they are psychological or physical in nature. Consequently, this would apply the single-figure tariff to all those injuries, irrespective of number and type, by reference to the duration of the whiplash injury alone. This would result in the reduction of damages for a substantial number of personal injury claims outside the scope of our proposed reforms. The proposed reforms are intended to reduce the number and cost of particular claims—“an industry”, some people have referred to; “a racket”, others have mentioned. We are committed to addressing the issues that arise with whiplash injury.
I understand the point made about the bruised knee. I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, on the potential for discrepancies between awards made under the tariff for the whiplash injury itself and awards made for other minor injuries.
Clause 2(8) makes provision for the fact that the court will take into account other minor injuries and will make an award that is not related to the tariff itself. That is my understanding of the words in parentheses: that, in the context of the whiplash injury, regard will be had to the limits imposed by the tariff and the regulations but that, with respect to the other injuries, there will be no such limitation. That is why we do not consider it appropriate to delete the term “psychological” and extend these provisions to all minor injuries. Including minor psychological claims within the original tariff, as the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, indicated, was done in order to meet the way in which claims develop in this area. Indeed, it is in line with the Judicial College guidelines for personal injury compensation, which indicate that minor psychological injuries such as travel anxiety are not in themselves separate injuries attracting compensation; they have to be linked to physical injury itself.
Turning to Amendment 21, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, if one considers Clause 2(6), persons who are unable to locate treatment for either their physical or psychological injuries are in fact only required to take appropriate steps to seek such treatment. There is no requirement for them to undertake it if it is not available for any number of practical reasons. I would therefore suggest that this amendment is unnecessary in the circumstances.
Can the Minister explain, then, what the point is of putting a subsection into a Bill that will have no effect, given that we know that psychological and physiotherapy services are under enormous strain and vary around the country? On the point he makes about people just adjusting how they make their claim, surely the answer would be, “We tried and it wasn’t available”. If it is to be a test, should it not be a test that is capable of being judged?
With great respect, the relevant text can be judged, because the requirement is that a person should take reasonable steps to secure those services where they are required. If they are not available then that is an answer to the point.
May I move on to Amendments 27A and 49A, on the course of employment? I have to confess that, on this matter, I am inclined to side with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. It appears to me, with due respect, that there is perhaps a misunderstanding here. If we look at Clause 1(3), we see that it is concerned with a situation in which a person suffers whiplash injury “because of driver negligence”. Whether a person is in the course of their employment or not, if they suffer a whiplash injury because of driver negligence, the third-party driver’s negligence will be responsible for the injury and, therefore, the insurer of the third-party driver will respond. If, on the other hand, the injury is the consequence of the driver himself, then he will have no claim, because you cannot claim in respect of your own negligence. In neither event would there be a legitimate basis for claim against the employer. It is for that reason that we do not consider it necessary to exclude a group to that extent.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but is that the point? The point of these amendments, as I understood them, was to exempt those who drive in the course of their employment from the rigour of the new provisions of this Bill when they are claimants, so that the claimant in the course of his employment has a legitimate claim. We may assume it is a legitimate claim because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, it would have to be backed up by the employer’s evidence saying, “This claimant, driving my lorry on a perfectly legitimate delivery, was injured”. It is the claimant who counts, not the defendant.
With great respect, if the claimant is driving, his claim will be against the third-party driver whose negligence caused the claim. There is no reason why, in those circumstances, you should distinguish between a claimant who is in the course of his employment and a claimant who is not. They are both liable to suffer the same injury in the same circumstances as a result of the negligence of the same party. The distinction is one without a difference, with great respect. There is no justification for making such a distinction. I recollect discussing this with the noble Baroness, and she talked about the distinction between motor insurance and employers’ liability insurance, but there is no question of the claim being directed against the employer’s liability insurance in such circumstances.
That is not the point that is being made here. I would be grateful if my noble and learned friend could address the question. We are all, I believe, in your Lordships’ House working on the assumption that the target of the Bill is fraud, not genuine claimants. So the specific question is, where is the evidence that people who are claimants when they drive in the course of their employment and are injured by a third party’s negligence—the claim is not against their employer but against the other driver—are fuelling any of the calls or the fraud that is the underlying principle of the Bill? Because that is an injustice.
With the greatest respect to my noble friend, there is no basis for distinguishing between the cohort which is driving in the course of employment and the cohort which is not driving in the course of employment when an injury is suffered due to the negligence of a third-party driver. I am not aware of any examination, study or evidence that would seek to distinguish, or of any conceivable basis for distinguishing, between those two cohorts. So, with the greatest respect, I would suggest that it is a distinction without a difference.
May I just try to assist—I hope—the noble and learned Lord? The fact that the employer can authenticate that the accident was caused while the driver, the claimant, was acting in the course of employment does not authenticate the fact that he suffered a whiplash injury, and that is the vice that this legislation is designed to attack. Why, in any event, exempt from these provisions that particular class of driver? Why not the man taking his wife to hospital to have a baby, or a whole host of perfectly legitimate drivers? I hope to have helped.
I am grateful for the noble and learned Lord’s assistance. In the past his interventions have not always been of assistance, but they certainly are on this occasion. I would go further and suggest that it would make no more sense to exempt people who were driving red cars at the time of the accident. It is a distinction without a difference; it is as simple as that. That is why we do not consider this to be a helpful line of inquiry, and it is not one that we intend to pursue further.
With regard to the other amendments that were spoken to in this group, I have endeavoured to address the points made. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, about the potential for anomalies where someone suffers a whiplash injury and other forms of injury as a result of the same accident. That is there, and there is no obvious answer to that. Nevertheless, the Bill is structured with the intention of addressing the vice we are really concerned with here and which is generally acknowledged to exist. In these circumstances, I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.