New Clause 28

Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Limitation period

‘In seeking to bring a claim for damages in relation to any injury sustained during any period in which C was a looked after child, the limitation period for bringing such a claim shall be—

(a) three years from the date of becoming 18 years of age;

(b) three years starting from the date he discovers, or ought reasonably to discover, that he has a legal claim; or

(c) 10 years from the date of the act or omission which gives rise to the claim,

whichever is the latest.’.—[Mr. Kidney.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department for Transport

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Limitation periods provide cut-offs on people’s ability to bring cases to court. There are limitation periods in criminal courts and civil courts. There are different limitation periods for different behaviours and there are different rules about disapplying limitation periods and extending them. The Law Commission was asked to examine the state of the law in 2001 and concluded that the law was needlessly complex, outdated and, in some respects, unfair. It gave as an example of complexity and unfairness sexual abuse cases. Unfortunately, many sexual abuse cases that have come to the public’s attention over the years have related to children who were abused  in public care. They are particularly powerful cases, because the public feel that very vulnerable children, whose protection the public were charged with, have been let down a second time. We are seeing that all over again at the moment in the cases being investigated in Jersey.

The Law Commission said that the law should be reformed, and in 2002 the Government said that that was a good idea and they would do that, but still there has been no reform. Several hon. Members, myself included, have been asking parliamentary questions about the Government’s intentions. Last year—2007—the Government told me in written answers that they would start to reform the law at the beginning of 2008. When I asked a written question at the beginning of 2008, they said that they had not got round to it yet and they might do so later in the year. Now we are in the second half of the year and still there is nothing.

It might be fun for me to criticise the Government for being slower than they said they would be, but it is now several years since they said that they would amend a law that has been shown by the Law Commission to be complex and unfair. Still there are cases of people who have been deprived, by a limitation period, of the ability to bring a claim for compensation for sexual abuse sustained when they were in public care. Potentially, other people will suffer in future years until we amend the law. I am therefore trying to provoke a debate through new clause 28, at least in respect of children in care—I recognise that limitation periods apply much more widely than simply to this group of people and this type of case—to see whether the Minister can tell me whether the Government will finally make some progress.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

There are three reasons why I am resisting my hon. Friend’s new clause. I hope that I can also say something at the end on his final point.

First, the current law contained in the Limitation Act 1980, as interpreted by the recent House of Lords ruling in A v. Hoare, already achieves much of what the new clause is designed to achieve. Indeed, the current law is in many ways more generous to claimants. I will write to all members of the Committee to outline my reasons for saying that—

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

I was on the first of the 47 points—I correct myself, three points—that I was going to make in response to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.

My first point was that the current law is more generous to claimants than the new clause would be in practice. I said that I would write to my hon. Friend and Committee members to outline why that would be the case.

Secondly, there is no need to create a special limitation category for looked-after children. My hon. Friend acknowledged that in his remarks, and I shall be happy to elucidate in my letter.

Thirdly, any reform of the law of limitation in this area should be undertaken as part of a wider exercise addressing the whole topic. I sensed from my hon. Friend’s comments that in tabling the new clause, he was trying to stimulate action by the Government on the reform of the law of limitation. I can confirm that it has taken longer than expected for the Government to issue the consultation in this area. However, it will be issued as soon as possible—hopefully, in the near future. If it is deemed to be appropriate, based on the consultation, the Government will consider legislating in this area. On that basis, I ask him to consider withdrawing the motion.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department for Transport

There are some inadequacies in the drafting of the new clause so I will not press it to a vote. As the Minister says, the issue is not simply limitation periods as they apply to former children in care; a wide range of cases are affected. Some hon. Members will recall that there is a lot of interest in this matter in relation to health and safety at work cases for people who develop conditions such as mesothelioma many years after they have finished work. There are questions about when the limitation period stops them from making claims against employers arising from events that happened many years back.

There is a need to review the law in this entire area, as the Government said it would in 2002. If we have helped to speed things along a little by making this proposal and by the Minister making inquiries of the Ministry of Justice about where it is with its proposals, we will have done some good. I would like to stress to the Committee that in my capacity as chairman of the associate parliamentary group on looked-after children and care leavers, I still come across dreadful cases of people who have suffered atrociously, first by going into care, secondly by being sexually abused when in care, and thirdly by their experience of the legal system, because they could not make a claim for compensation when they finally realised that a claim was possible.

This is an urgent and pressing matter and I hope that the Minister will write not only to me and members of the Committee, but to the Ministry of Justice to hurry it along. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.