Gareth Thomas MP speaks out against Civil Liability Bill
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Gareth Thomas MP speaks out against Civil Liability Bill

March 8, 2020

Gareth Thomas MP – If the speech of the Honourable member for Croydon South was a bid to get on the committee of the Bill then I think his speech was an excellent one. But I fear I cannot agree with any of the substantive points he made in practice. As I see it this bill will simply increase the profits for insurance companies whilst reducing the compensation available for those injured in road traffic accidents. Hidden behind this bill is an attack on all injured people through an increase in the small claims limit. I fear as my honourable friend for Jarrow implied it is a classic Conservative bill using the pretense that a serious problem exists in even in the face of there being little independent evidence that it actually does and and practice achieving the reduction again of the rights of ordinary working people. In this case the alleged serious problem is with whiplash claims yet the evidence there that a substantive problem actually exists is questionable to be generous. there have been a storm of stories suggesting we have a whiplash injury crisis but the number of whiplash claims registered with the government’s own compensation recovery units has actually fallen consistently in the past 6 years, indeed by a total of 41 percent since 2010/11. Even when whiplash statistics are combined with the number of injuries registered by insurers with the compensation recovery unit as neck and back injuries, there has been a significant fall of 11 percent since 2011/12. Indeed the claim of an epidemic of fraudulent claims is a popular canard repeated many times by members opposite today. Yet the Government’s own report from Lord Young, after 13 years of a Labour government, concluded that such talk of a compensation culture was a perception and not a reality. As my honourable friend for Cardiff Central noted. According to the Association of British Insurers own data just a tiny fraction. In 2016 just 0.17 percent of all motor claims have proven to be fraudulent. Now like every car owner and insurance buyer I would welcome genuine measures to prevent fraud, greater punishments for convicted personal injury fraudsters and as my own well friend for Lewisham said an outright ban on cold calling from dubious claims management companies would do more to prevent fraud than the measures in this bill. Indeed this bill and the package it is part of appears to start from a position that every claimant is a fraudster or a charlatan trying to make a quick buck from a car accident. It will mean a substantial reduction in compensation for all claimants including those, the vast majority of whom with genuine injuries. Now as the claim that this is going to lead to a substantial reduction in the cost of motor insurance. As for that claim I think we are entitled to be sceptical. Previous reforms in 2013 have provided insurance companies with the windfall of eight billion pounds over the last five years yet we’ve all seen premiums rise and rise again. According to the ABI’s own figures. Average premiums have increased by almost 17 percent each year between 2013 and 2017. Now I do appreciate that Ministers have been written a letter from some insurers promising that this time if the bill passes they will cut their premiums. The Secretary of State has claimed that there will be an amendment to hold insurers feet to the fire. Well that amendment could and should have been published already ahead of this debate. I struggle I have to say to think of a single measure that Ministers could introduce to add to the Bill that would guarantee premiums were cut. Perhaps that’s why such an amendment hasn’t been published today. Perhaps the only measure that might work would be a cap. A legal cap on motor insurance premiums. Of course there have to be a little bit of consultation first and I appreciate that those of us who sat through the debates on an energy price cap might be sceptical given that that hasn’t stopped energy bills rising either. So at the moment this bill looks like it will amount to a £1 billion pound boon to some very big companies indeed. The bill proposes a new tariff based system which conveniently for the insurance companies reduces the average compensation paid out to injured victims of road traffic accidents. In 2015 the average compensation for a whiplash claim with an injury duration of around six months was eighteen hundred and fifty pounds under this bill compensation for the same injury will be reduced to £450, a reduction of almost 80 percent. To remedy this supposed over compensation for the genuinely injured the government wants to make it even harder to bring a claim by forcing an increased use of the small claims track. Where your legal costs aren’t recoverable. So this would see injuries such as facial scarring, fractured ribs, whiplash to the neck classed as small small claims. It amounts, as trade unions and the Law Society, of all set out to a huge inequality of arms in the court system for those who have experienced road traffic accidents. Individuals deprived of legal advice, having no choice but to act for themselves whilst the insurance company’s defending claims will still have huge resources to pay for lawyers to take on the unrepresented. Until now it has been left to independent judges to decide on levels of compensation. This bill stifles that very independence and replaces the flexibility of our judges to independently appraise each individual case of injury on the roads on merit with a tariff that reduces value for all of us who pay motor insurance premiums. If the tariff system as proposed in this Bill is introduced it may well – madam Deputy Speaker, open the door to similar tariffs based systems being introduced to any area which currently provides a lucrative saving to the insurance industry. Lord Woolf, from the other place, and notably noted the dangers of this tariff model being applied to holiday claims, industrial deafness claims and so on. I think this is a Bill that benefits the insurance industry I do not believe it will it will lead to lower motor insurance premiums and I hope the bill will be substantially amended or defeated.

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