PI lawyers are blamed for kids turning to drugs and crime. That is ridiculous and the heroism bill is unnecessary.
At times it sounded like a script discarded by Brass Eye, the satirical TV show, for being too far-fetched. Yesterday’s House of Lords debate on the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (Sarah) was in parts so silly as to border on farcical.
Of course, as the former solicitor general Sir Edward Garnier has acknowledged, this is itself a ‘silly’ piece of legislation. It takes a problem that doesn’t exist and proposes a solution that doesn’t change anything. When one of the government’s justifications amounts to ‘don’t worry, this will hardly make a difference’, one wonders why this whole thing is necessary.
But in the eyes of some peers, action is desperately needed. Were it not for leeching, money-grabbing, ambulance-chasing lawyers, the nation’s good-hearted citizens would be free to volunteer and save lives. They would join St John Ambulance in their thousands and the Scouting movement would be overwhelmed with people suddenly free of the burden of litigation.
All of which is, of course, nonsense. The government’s own statistics suggest that volunteering has increased in popularity, while as the estimable barrister Lord Pannick pointed out yesterday, it is hardly realistic to think good samaritans will consult Halsbury’s Statutes before jumping into a lake to save someone in peril.
What was so brilliant about the debate was the evidence basis employed by some members of the house.
As if parodying himself, Conservative peer Earl Attlee explained that ‘only this morning my taxi driver explained to me that, on his statutory training course, he was advised he should use his first aid kit only on himself’.
Lady Browning surely took the ‘compensation culture bingo’ prize when she brought up the – largely discredited – old chestnut of a game of conkers requiring risk assessments.
Lady Hodgson of Abinger came up with a tale as rambling as it was irrelevant. She had been on the tube recently (take note Earl Attlee!) and seen a young boy separated from his mother. The point of the story, she said, was that two men who had seemed willing to help seemed anxious they might be seen as attempting to abscond with the child.
What this had to do with personal injury litigation was unclear.
But the high point was surely this contribution from Attlee again. He explained that children who were not members of the cadet force were barred from climbing on tanks for health, safety and compensation culture reasons.
The upshot: ‘These days, when cadets visit the museum, they cannot even be allowed to climb on the tank. Of course, youngsters outside of the cadets will still get their excitement and adventure but that might be from drugs, motor crime and other undesirable activities.’
Labour peers seemed so dumbstruck by this logic they couldn’t be bothered to vote against it, and Lord Hurd was right to call them out on their ‘feeble’ opposition.
Why is this ridiculous bill still alive? When the evidence basis amounts to conversations in the back of a cab, surely there are more important things to be legislating on?
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter