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Whiplash Claims

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017

Measures to disincentivise minor, exaggerated and fraudulent whiplash claims are being taken forward in the Prisons and Courts Bill and through changes to reduce the cost of litigation by increasing the small claims limit.

Whiplash claims have increased by 50% over the past decade, at a time when cars are becoming safer and the number of road traffic accidents is falling. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is time for reform? Can he confirm the extent to which consumers will benefit through lower car insurance premiums, and how does he intend to hold insurance companies to their side of the bargain?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the fact that as cars have become safer there have been fewer road traffic accidents. It is shocking that whiplash cases have gone up by over 50% in the past 10 years. The reforms I mentioned will, taken together as a package, ensure that the genuinely injured receive compensation, and fraudulent and exaggerated claims are tackled.

22. Six thousand vulnerable road users—pedestrians and cyclists—responded to the Justice Department’s consultation on the reforms, expressing concerns that cyclists and pedestrians would be disproportionately affected by any increase in the small claims limit. Will the Minister discuss the proposals with officials and consider excluding vulnerable road user claims from the increase, as discussed yesterday by Cycling UK? (909109)

I pay tribute to the work of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, which the hon. Lady co-chairs. We have taken account of the overall effect of the measures and looked at the representations made. She will have noticed that some of the original proposals have not been taken forward, and the ones we have taken forward we believe are proportionate.

Obviously, none of us wants fraudulent claims for damages, but have the Government made any assessment of the effect the changes proposed in the Prisons and Courts Bill will have on the numbers of litigants in person?

Yes. The Government are keen to change the way in which the courts work to make them not just the best in the world but the most modern. This involves new procedures that use online technology—virtual hearings for some small matters and so on. The overall effect is to improve access to justice and improve life for litigants in person. We also have a special strategy for litigants in person, which helps them.

It is very important that we keep insurance premium payments low. However, there is also a need for a framework that ensures there is adequate compensation for serious accidents. How can a balance be struck?

It is important for that balance to be struck. The whiplash proposals relate to the most minor claims—cases in which the pain and suffering lasts for up to two years. Even then, there is provision for judges, in exceptional cases, to award more than the tariff that is proposed. When serious injuries are involved, however, the system will continue as it is now. It will still be designed to recompense people properly for the injuries that they have suffered.

A few years ago, I was shunted up the backside—my car was, I mean. Although I was perfectly well, I received a phone call from someone who asked me whether I had whiplash. I said, “No, I do not have whiplash.” The person said, “Oh, go on! Say that you do have whiplash.” I did not do that, because I am an honourable person. My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to reduce the number of bogus claims.

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so accident-prone. I remember serving on a Bill Committee with him many years ago, and receiving the distressing news that he had been bitten in a sensitive place in the course of an excursion overseas. He really does seem to suffer a disproportionate share of ill fate.

In those circumstances, my hon. Friend showed the strength of character that I would have expected of him. It was, of course, shocking to hear from colleagues, during our Westminster Hall debate, of the experiences that they and their constituents had had of this dreadful cold calling. People are being begged to start proceedings when they have not had an injury.

The Minister claims that there is a compensation culture surrounding whiplash when, in reality, the number of claims has been falling for five years. Even if that were true, however, I should like to know why he is penalising workers throughout the country by increasing the personal injury limit to £2,000, rather than focusing solely on whiplash.

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman—with his background as a personal injury lawyer—raising those concerns. [Laughter.] I see another one behind him, waiting to ask a question.

The simple answer is that it was right to increase the personal injury small claims limit to £2,000. That just reflects inflation. The last increase was in 1991, so it is time for another. As for the whiplash cases, I stand by the £5,000 limit, which I think will get rid of the exaggerated claims.

The Minister has mentioned inflation. In his 2009 review of civil litigation costs, Lord Justice Jackson opposed any increase in the small claims limit until inflation justified an increase to £1,500. The Government now propose to increase it to £5,000. Can the Minister explain, here and now, precisely how that specific figure was arrived at?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are plagued by a series of minor, exaggerated and fraudulent whiplash claims, and we want to tackle that. We believe that the combination of no settlement of claims without a medical report, the tariffs in the Bill, and the raising of the small claims threshold will disincentivise those claims. The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that the limit for ordinary money small claims is £10,000.