Pleas for the government to dilute whiplash reforms have fallen on deaf ears, as opposition leaders vow to vote against them when they return to the Commons.
Labour’s shadow justice team had tabled a series of amendments to the Civil Liability Bill ahead of committee stage yesterday. But Conservative MPs voted down each proposed change, leaving the legislation largely untouched. The inevitable outcome is that the bill is subject to a vote in the Commons at third reading – likely to be after parliament returns following the party conference season.
Labour’s amendments included limiting the new tariff for damages to injuries lasting less than one year, as opposed to the two years currently in the bill.
Labour also wanted judges rather than the lord chancellor to determine compensation levels, and for judges to have the scope to intervene where they decide the amount of damages payable is too low.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon tweeted: ‘Very disappointed the gov’t voted down all of Labour’s amendments to the Civil Liability Bill. This bill will line the insurance industry’s pockets. Working class people will lose out. If gov’t doesn’t accept Labour’s radical changes we’ll vote against this bill at 3rd reading.’
Rejection of Labour amendments also means that measures to hold insurers to account over the savings they stand to make remain intact. The government will stipulate that firms report details about premium levels before and after reforms to the Financial Conduct Authority, although the results of this are not expected to be published until 2024 at the earliest.
Justice minister Rory Stewart was asked what exactly would happen at that stage if the reported £1.1bn savings had not been passed to consumers in the form of cheaper premiums.
He replied: ‘I remain confident that, if insurance companies are compelled to produce such a degree of detail and information to the Financial Conduct Authority and the Treasury, they will pass on those savings to consumers because, were they not to, they would be taking a considerable legal risk. The industry initially resisted this move, and understands that it is a serious obligation.’
The government has pushed through an amendment to have parliament set the definition of whiplash, rather than an individual minister or chief medical officer.
Stewart said this was a ‘medico-legal’ issue, adding: ‘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.’
Stewart was asked whether children might be exempt from the scope of the bill, given they would require solicitors and that a hearing would be necessary for there to be a settlement. He conceded this was an ‘interesting point’ that should be discussed further outside the committee.