(1 year, 4 months ago)Read Full debate
Are there any other declarations of interest?
Copies of the written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. The selection list for today’s sitting is also available in the room.
“Whiplash injury” etc
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I thank the hon. Members for Ashfield and for High Peak for their powerful speeches. Before I move on to amendments 12 to 15 and Government new clause 4, I will clarify some points raised by the hon. Member for High Peak.
Many things are covered by insurance besides the ability to get compensation for whiplash. It would be absurd if the entire purpose of an insurance scheme was simply to give someone an annual pay-out for whiplash, and they paid £450 for that insurance when such claims were capped at £450. The hon. Member for High Peak is right that that would be an absurd system, but insurance covers many things besides whiplash claims. In fact, we are trying to move to a world in which the majority of someone’s insurance would cover things other than their whiplash claim.
This goes to the heart of the discussion so far, and to a point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge. Fundamentally, the number of road traffic accidents has decreased by 30% since 2005. At the same time, cars have become considerably safer: headrests and other forms of restraints have made it much safer to be in a motor car than it was in 2005. During that same period, whiplash claims have increased by 40%. Whether we define these as fraudulent or simply exaggerated, there is no doubt of the trend. There are fewer road traffic accidents and cars are safer, yet whiplash claims are going up.
The answer is that judging fraud in whiplash is almost impossible except statistically through the measures that I have used, because for minor whiplash claims of the sort that are covered in the tariff—not the type of whiplash injury that the hon. Member for High Peak experienced—there is no way of proving whether an injury has occurred. That is why The New England Journal of Medicine has done research on this.
There has been interesting research on what happens if someone sits in a motor vehicle with a simulated accident and a curtain behind them, so that they are unable to tell whether the accident has occurred or not. It shows that 20% of people experienced whiplash without the collision actually occurring. This is clearly a complex medico-social phenomenon. The polite way of putting it is that there is an asymmetry of information. It is close to impossible for an insurance company to prove that an individual did not experience whiplash, particularly at the three-month rate.
I am very happy for the record to say exactly that, provided we explain why that is the case. The nature of this injury is such that it is impossible to know, in most cases, whether the individual is making a fraudulent claim. In the case of the kind of injury experienced by the hon. Member for High Peak—a much more serious injury—it is possible to detect things through MRI scans, but for the majority of injuries that we will be talking about in the three-month to six-month period, no physical evidence can be adduced one way or the other.
In the end, the qualified GP has to sit down and reach some kind of judgment, through discussion with the individual and gathering the evidence of injury, that the balance of probabilities holds that the individual is experiencing subjective pain, but it is impossible to prove that through the kinds of medical evidence that one would adduce in a normal medical case.
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With permission, I will proceed. There is still no answer to why the number of claims has risen, particularly when the number of road traffic accidents has dropped. The hon. Lady suggested that she would answer the question but did not. I look forward to someone answering that question, but I would like to make progress.
The statistics suggest very strongly that what happened to an individual in a motor car in 2005 would, on average, have been much more severe than what happens to an individual in a motor car in 2018. A 30% reduction in the number of road traffic accidents, combined with the improvement in safety procedures, would suggest that an individual having a motor vehicle accident today would be considerably less likely to suffer whiplash than would have been the case in 2005. Therefore, the fact that the number of claims has increased by 40% is a very peculiar anomaly that requires explanation, which nobody has produced so far. Will somebody please explain why the number of claims has increased by 40% when there has been no physiological change in the human body since 2005 and motor cars have, if anything, got safer?
In 2016, there were 7,572 confirmed fraudulent motor claims and 58,576 suspected claims, resulting in 66,147 detected motor fraud claims. However, my point goes much wider. Because of the asymmetry of information and because it is impossible to prove whether the injury has occurred—particularly at the three to six-month period—it is impossible to put a precise number on it. We can be confident, through the soaring inflation in the number of these claims, that many are exaggerated, to put it mildly, even though we cannot prove the exact number beyond the 66,147 that are actually fraudulent.
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We certainly will move to introduce an amendment exactly in relation the hon. Gentleman’s question—he has campaigned well on this, as have other hon. Members—setting out that we should consult the Lord Chief Justice on the level of tariffs as well as on the percentage uplift for judicial discretion. Those are two important concessions that I hope will reassure the Opposition.
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, clause 5(5) merely states:
“The Lord Chancellor must consult the Lord Chief Justice before making regulations under this section.”
We intend that to be done in an accountable, responsible, transparent and predictable fashion that would give the Lord Chief Justice a serious amount of time to consider and respond, but, ultimately, it is a consultation and the power of decision rests with the Lord Chancellor, as is implied in the legislation.
That remains to be determined by regulations introduced by the Lord Chancellor and is not included in the Bill.