“Definition of whiplash injury
(1) In this Part ‘whiplash injury’ means an injury, or set of injuries, of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder that is of a description specified by the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health.
(2) For the purposes of this Part a person suffers a whiplash injury because of driver negligence if—
(a) when the person suffers the injury, the person—
(i) is using a motor vehicle other than a motor cycle on a road or other public place in England or Wales, or
(ii) is being carried in or on a motor vehicle other than a motor cycle while another uses the vehicle on a road or other public place in England or Wales,
(b) the injury is caused—
(i) by the negligence of one or more other persons, or
(ii) partly by the negligence of one or more other persons and partly by the negligence of the person who suffers the injury, and
(c) where the negligence of the other person or persons consists in an act or acts done by the person or persons while using a motor vehicle on a road or other public place in England or Wales.
(3) The fact that the act or acts constituting the negligence of the other person or persons is or are also sufficient to establish another cause of action does not prevent subsection (2)(b) being satisfied.
(4) For the purposes of this section references to a person being carried in or on a vehicle include references to a person entering or getting on to, or alighting from, the vehicle.
(5) In this section—
‘act’ includes omission;
‘motor cycle’ has the meaning given by section 185(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988;
‘motor vehicle’ means a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads;
‘road’ means a highway or other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes.”
This amendment would require the Chief Medical Officer to define “whiplash injury”.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(iii) unless in respect of 4(a)(i) or (ii) the person is in a motor vehicle during the course of their employment, in which case Clause 1 shall not apply.”
This amendment would exempt people suffering a whiplash injury during the course of their employment from this definition.
New clause 9—Exemption for vulnerable road users and people injured during the course of their employment—
“(1) Nothing in Part 1 of this Act other than Clauses 6 and 7 shall apply to a claim made by—
(a) a pedestrian, cyclist or horse rider; or
(b) a person injured in the course of their employment.”
This new clause would exempt vulnerable road users and people injured in the course of their employment from the provisions of Part 1 of the Bill, except Clauses 6 and 7.
Clause stand part.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. With amendment 8, we seek to address the Government’s perplexing lack of faith in experts and their overweening belief that their own judgment is right. In the Bill, the Government have chosen to sideline doctors and, as we will see later, judges—two groups rightly held in high esteem in our society. Apparently, the Government know better than them. Quite simply, with this amendment, we say, “This is a medical issue, so ask a doctor.”
Although we have seen the same arrogance that the Government know best and a lack of respect in other areas of policy in recent years, this is the most gratuitous and egregious example I can recall. The only explanation that I can think of as to why they do not want experts involved is that they think that their knowledge is greater and better—or perhaps this is an example of the nanny state that they say they do not believe in.
The Government have chosen not to ban all compensation for whiplash, which indicates that they accept its validity as a medical condition, but they attempt to define it themselves. If they accept that it exists as a medical condition, surely it needs a medical definition. The Minister may tell me that the definition in the Bill comes from doctors. If so, might I ask who? They make no mention of any input from medical experts. Could it be that they have not mentioned their sources because the adviser in this case was all too familiar from almost every other aspect of this Bill? And might the definition of a medical condition in this Bill possibly have come from the insurers, who stand to profit enormously from this huge shift in the law?
On Second Reading in the Commons, the Chair of the Justice Committee, Robert Neill, alluded to the possibility that in certain parts of the Bill the Lord Chancellor might be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, although I note that the Minister did not respond to that suggestion. However, even if that were the case, although he might be required to act independently he would not be transformed into a medical expert, which is what is required here.
Before I talk about amendment 9 and new clause 9, can the Minister confirm that vulnerable road users will be exempted from the Bill and from the small claims limit? Also, will he define who a vulnerable road user is?
Vulnerable road users will be excluded from the Bill and from secondary measures on the small claims court limit. A vulnerable road user is anybody who is neither driving a motor vehicle nor a passenger in one; in other words, the definition includes pedestrians, horse riders, motorcyclists or anyone else on the road who is not in a motor vehicle.
I thank the Minister for putting that on the record.
We absolutely agree that there is a need to act against insurance cheats; no one supports fraudsters. The amendment would not affect the pursuit of those who are claiming fraudulently. By accepting this amendment, the Government can still hit their target. Through this amendment, we simply want to protect those who are injured in the course of their work through no fault of their own. Before it is suggested that this somehow drives a coach and horses through the Government’s intentions, we are not talking about huge numbers of cases.
Thompsons Solicitors deals with workers’ injuries day in and day out. The majority of its work is for the trade unions. Just 16% of its case load consists of injuries from road traffic accidents, and of that number whiplash cases comprise less than 20% of the total. Once we eliminate the large number of these claims that are not work-related, we are left with a tiny percentage of claims related to whiplash that people have suffered in the course of their work.
I have seen no complaint of fraud levelled by the Government against workers nor any suggestion that they are anything to do with the compensation culture of which there has been so much talk, although notably Lord Young said in his report, “Common Sense, Common Safety”, that in any case that view was a perception and not a reality. The Association of British Insurers, which has been very active around this Bill, has produced no examples of fraudulent claims by workers.
This amendment is an opportunity for the Government to exempt employers’ liability claims from the Bill and at the same time exclude them from the small claims limit. If the Government refuse to exempt workers, are they saying that any whiplash claim is evidence of fraud, whoever it is made by? If so, why have they not banned all whiplash claims? If they refuse to exempt workers, are they saying that the police officer, the paramedic, the school bus driver or the firefighter who suffers whiplash while working hard for our communities is scamming it?
Given that the Government have exempted vulnerable road users—horse riders, pedestrians and cyclists—from both the Bill and the associated small claims changes, what is their justification for not exempting workers? Are they saying that vulnerable road users are worthy of more protection than workers? Perhaps the justification is that the cyclist, the pedestrian and the horse rider do not take out motor insurance for their road use, but neither does the professional driver. If the justification for the exemption of vulnerable road users is that they are uniquely exposed, surely the professional driver is, too? For instance, there is the police officer in a high-speed chase or the HGV driver who is on the road for eight hours a day. The reality is that the Government have exempted vulnerable road users because including them would be politically untenable.
I just do not see any reason why someone who drives as part of their employment should recover a different sum to somebody else—one of our constituents, for example—who is driving in the normal daily course of their life, because they can still claim loss of earnings. The Bill does not change that, so they can still be compensated if they lose money as a result of being unable to work.
It would be grotesque nonsense for a cyclist or a pedestrian injured through no fault of their own to find themselves subject to a tariff and a £2,000, let alone a £1,000, small claims limit when the target is whiplash and, in turn, apparently fraud. The same applies to workers. What on earth have they to do with whiplash for the purposes of fraud? If the Government will not move on this point, the only conclusion one can draw is that there is one rule for the small number of those wealthy enough to own a horse and another for the tens of thousands who drive for a living, many of them not in well-paid jobs—say, the paramedic or the refuse collector—who run the risk of whiplash when going about their jobs.
It is deeply disappointing that the Government are sneaking through crucial parts of their changes via a statutory instrument in order to avoid this sort of scrutiny. I wish to make perfectly clear today where the Opposition stands on workers for the entire package of measures. Workers, like vulnerable road users, should be excluded from both the Bill and the small claims increases.
It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Thank you again for the serious involvement that has gone into the debate. It has been a real privilege, as somebody who is not a legal specialist, to see how many well informed and distinguished colleagues we have on both sides of the House contributing to these interesting questions of definition.
Many of the amendments we are dealing with today reflect the work of the House of Lords and, in fact, of Opposition Members of the House of Lords—Labour Members, Liberal Democrat Members and Cross Benchers—who introduced many of the clauses into this Bill, which were not originally there and which we are now discussing. With your permission, Mr Chair, I will move quickly through amendments 8 and 9 and new clause 9 and then discuss why we feel clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
The definition of whiplash, which is dealt with in amendment 8, was placed in the Bill after extensive debate pushed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of the House of Lords. In the initial version of this Bill, we had not sought to define whiplash. The DPRRC argued carefully and at great length that it felt strongly that it was inappropriate to have legislation of this sort if a definition was not in the Bill. The Committee felt it was not appropriate for any individual, whether a Minister or a chief medical officer, to make this definition on their own. It should be made by Parliament as a whole and it should be made fully explicit.
After a great deal of debate in the House of Lords, we conceded this point. The clause was inserted and everybody—Cross Benchers, Opposition Members of the House of Lords—nodded the amendment through. It was then inserted. The reasons for this are both those brought forward by the DPRRC and, I would add, to assuage some of the concerns put forward by the Opposition. Clause 2 also allows for a review of the definition by the chief medical officer, along with others, every three years to make sure it remains in touch with medical science and medical expertise. The definition is in the Bill and not purely provided by medical experts because, as the House of Lords argued, this is a medico-legal definition. In other words, it is not simply a question for medical specialists; it relates to the operation of law and the way in which the law of tort would operate.
The final reason for which I ask that amendment 8 be withdrawn is that I am afraid it refers only to the chief medical officer for England, whereas, of course, the legislation applies to England and Wales. That is why we feel strongly that clause 2, which refers to the chief medical officer for England and the chief medical officer for Wales and, indeed, the Lord Chief Justice and the Law Society in consulting on the definition of whiplash every three years, is the appropriate way to proceed. On that basis, I respectfully ask that amendment 8 be withdrawn.
It is easy to understand why amendment 9 was tabled and that the Opposition would be concerned. Again, we would respectfully argue that the key point is that the injury has occurred and not why the individual is in the car. The question of why they are in the car would be a distinction without a difference. There are many pressing reasons why somebody might be in a car. I, like many Members here, represent a rural area. Somebody might be in a motor car, for example, because they were having to drive their child urgently to a hospital. They might be in a motor car for any number of reasons that left them with little choice but to be in the car. It would seem invidious to distinguish between them and somebody else who is in the car for the purpose of employment, purely on the basis of the injury. The key is the injury and the fact that the third party who is liable for that injury is held liable.
The Minister mentioned choice. The fact is that if somebody is driving in the course of their employment, they do not have a choice because they are doing so on the instruction of their employer. Does the Minister accept that his argument on choice is not relevant when talking about an employer liability claim?
The argument I am trying to make is that, in many ways, travelling in a motor car in a rural area is, in effect, not a choice. If you were heavily pregnant and had to get to a hospital, you would have to get into that motor car. You would have no more choice than an individual who was in a car for employment purposes. In my constituency, very sadly, there are simply not the public transport links. People are obliged to be in a motor car, whether or not they are travelling in the course of their employment. Were they to suffer a whiplash injury, travelling in a rural area through no choice of their own, because they were suffering some kind of emergency or they were having to respond, it would seem invidious that they would receive different treatment from an individual who is, for example, driving a postal van.
I, too, live in a very rural area with a great scarcity of public transport in recent years. However, the difference between a lot of drivers who drive for a living and those of us who have to drive to get around near where we live, is that drivers who drive for a living are often doing so for eight or even more hours a day. If they are in traffic, it is more likely that they will be involved in a collision with a rear shunt of the sort that creates whiplash. If they accumulate different incidents of minor whiplash, it can cause a much greater injury on the neck than a single incident. People who work for a living put themselves in this situation every day because of their employment. Often, that is their only source of employment and what they feel able to do. Will the Minister reconsider in the light of that point?
Thank you very much, Mr Stringer. Those two arguments were based on the question of frequency of travel and probability of an accident. Again, the key point in any form of injury claim is the nature of the injury and the liability of the third party that caused it, not the reason someone is in a car. It would be difficult to argue that somebody who travels in the course of their employment is necessarily travelling more frequently than somebody who is not. Somebody in a rural area might, for example, be commuting 5 miles to work in the morning and 5 miles back in the evening. A farmer in my constituency could be travelling between one field and another. There is no necessary reason to feel that they would be travelling more frequently than, for example, a parent taking their child to school in exactly the same area.
Arguments based on frequency or probability of impact should not be relevant. A more fundamental reason is that, in the end, the law is about the injury and the obligation that the third party who caused the injury owes to the injured person, regardless of how frequently that individual is in a car or why they are in a car in the first place. To be blunt, they could simply have gone to the car to get something from it, and could not be driving anywhere, and be struck and suffer whiplash. They would be entitled to exactly the same compensation as an individual driving that car.
The Minister mentioned children. I am conscious that children are not regarded as vulnerable road users. They would still need to go to court and have infant settlements made in their name. What consideration has been given to children who are injured in an accident through no fault of their own, obviously, and who have to go to court for a settlement?
In this regard, it is correct that the age of the individual within the motor car is not relevant within the law in assessing the injury, except in so far as the injury is specific to the age of the individual.
The Minister makes an excellent point about rural areas. Many of my constituents have to travel for at least two hours to visit a GP or a hospital. The point I make is about the frequency of travel. I used to work for Royal Mail, driving for eight hours a day. My driving skill was much higher then than currently. Surely, such a person is less likely to have an accident because they are on the road more?
The key point, which goes against both Government and Opposition Members, is not the likelihood of having an accident. That should not affect the level of compensation that someone receives. That should be relative to one thing only: the nature of the injury and the prognosis. It should not be relative to why someone is in the car, how well or how frequently they drive or why they are driving. On that basis, I politely ask that amendment 9 be withdrawn.
New clause 9 reiterates some of the arguments in amendment 9; in other words, it focuses on the question of people injured during the course of their employment. However, it also references vulnerable road users. I have attempted to argue the relevance of someone driving a vehicle in the course of their employment in our discussion on amendment 9. On vulnerable road users, we respectfully request that new clause 9 be withdrawn for the reason I gave in my intervention on the hon. Member for Ashfield—vulnerable road users are already exempted by the Bill, so new clause 9 will be otiose.
On that basis, I respectfully ask that clause 1 stand part. This was a good and serious reform introduced with strong cross-party support by the House of Lords, driven by the DPRRC, which provides a much more accountable, transparent and predictable definition of whiplash to guide the legislation. We owe the Lords a huge debt of gratitude for that. We ask, on the basis that Members of the House of Lords from the Labour party, the Lib Dems, the Cross Benches and the Conservative party all agreed to it, that clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
I have listened to the Government’s arguments, but do not accept them. The Bill’s objective is to reduce fraud. I have not heard anybody suggest that workers injured in the course of their employment are scammers. However, I have heard from Labour Back Benchers that workers drive all day and do not have a choice about whether to drive. I will divide the Committee on the amendments.