Civil Liability Bill

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Bim Afolami: I have done something a bit novel: I have listened to what has been said in the debate, and my remarks will focus on that. I did not come here with a prepared speech; I came here and listened to the contributions from both sides.

I would like to start by responding to Ellie Reeves and taking up a couple of points that she made. The first relates to the idea that the Government are somehow doing this because of special pleading from the insurance industry and that they are somehow in bed with the industry. The aim of the Bill is to reduce premiums for individuals. That is the focus of the Bill. If I were the insurance industry, I would want premiums to go up, but the aim of this package of measures is for premiums to go down for ordinary people. I therefore do not agree with her assertion.

Another point that the hon. Lady made was that the setting of the limit by the Lord Chancellor, or any future Lord Chancellor, was arbitrary, unfair and unjust, but that is why we have this House and why we have Ministers. They are not here just to do interviews on the “Today” programme. We have Ministers to make judgments that they are then held democratically accountable for. I accept that Labour Members—or, indeed, at some point in the very distant future, Conservative Members, when they are sitting on the Opposition Benches—might dislike a judgment that is made by a future Lord Chancellor, but we settle these things through the democratic accountability of this House. To reject that principle and to suggest that every limit in any area of law, whether this or anything else, should somehow not—

Ellie Reeves: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks with great passion about the democratic accountability of this House. Does he therefore agree that any changes to the small claims limit should not be done by negative statutory instrument, as the Government are proposing, and that they should instead be debated on the Floor of the House?

Bim Afolami: That is an interesting point. I have served on many Committees, as we all have, and some have huge amounts of engagement from lots of Members while others have less. But this House is not just this Chamber; it is also all the Committee Rooms. Negative statutory instruments provide a way for significant amounts of secondary legislation—I do not know how many pieces of legislation; probably hundreds—to go through Parliament. I cannot agree with the hon. Lady 100% that using that procedure will always result in a lack of democratic accountability, because frankly, in modern government, it plays a significant part in our governance process. I recognise the point she makes, however, and it is fair to say that sometimes people do not pay as much attention in Committees as they might do, but that is fundamentally the case for this Chamber, too.

Ruth George: Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that, on occasions, statutory instrument Committees do not provide a democratic procedure, as in the case of the cuts to criminal injuries compensation in 2012? At the time, one Committee completely overturned the Minister’s proposals and asked for them to be brought back. A separate Committee was then reconvened, made up of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and it railroaded through exactly the same criminal injuries compensation cuts. This House should not be seeking to use that kind of procedure for something that is so important to hundreds of thousands of accident victims.

Bim Afolami: I do not want to leave the House, or the hon. Lady, with the impression that I believe that statutory instruments are undemocratic. They are democratic, and they are a form of how we do things in this House. I was unaware of the case that she mentioned. The broader point is that getting primary legislation through, particularly in a hung Parliament such as this, will always be difficult—[Interruption.] No, primary legislation is not always the place where we make every single change. That is why we have a Committee system.

I would also like to draw attention to the personal anecdote offered by my hon. Friend Chris Philp about being phoned up by various claims management companies. I have had a similar experience—which I will not repeat in full—although I was going to Scotland rather than to the south-west. I am still receiving phone calls from the company, and the fundamental reason for that is the incentive structure under which the whole industry operates. Do I agree with hon. Members on both sides who say that certain things in this area need to change? Yes, I do, but does that mean that I should reject a piece of legislation that is designed to tackle certain injustices? No, it does not. So I agree with my hon. Friend on that point.

Bambos Charalambous: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of these claims companies operate on a no win, no fee basis? Therefore, if no payment is made and a claim is defended, the claimant will not be paid if they are defeated.

Bim Afolami: That is obviously factually accurate, but we need to ensure that we deal with the cause of these problems. As I have said, the Bill does not deal with everything, but it does deal with at least part of the problem. That, in and of itself, is a valuable thing.

Ruth George: The hon. Gentleman talks about the underlying cause that makes these changes necessary, as has the hon. Member for Croydon South. As they have both identified, that underlying cause is surely the fact that insurance companies should not be defending claims that could be fraudulent.

Bim Afolami: It is partly that, but the important point is that no single piece of legislation in this House can deal with every single problem. We can identify a particular problem and deal with it in a particular piece of legislation.

Huw Merriman: Does my hon. Friend agree that we can speak proudly from these Benches about the fact that civil litigation reform over the past few years has led to changes in no win, no fee, as well as to the banning of referral fees and the use of benefits by these companies? Government Members actually have something to say on this. Those changes have also led to a reduction of about £50 in insurance premiums.

Bim Afolami: I agree with my hon. Friend. I reiterate that the point of this legislation is to bring down insurance premiums for ordinary people by, I think, between 35% and 40%. I look to the Minister to check whether that is right.

Jo Stevens: The UK’s leading insurance companies earned more than £2.6 billion in profits in 2016, up on 2015. The proposed changes do not guarantee any reductions in premiums; they simply say that the premiums may fall. There is no guarantee that they will, and we know from previous Bills that this does not happen. Why does the hon. Gentleman suppose that things will be different this time?

Bim Afolami: I take the hon. Lady’s point. The industry has pledged to pass this on. My understanding is that premiums fell by an average of roughly £50 a year in 2012. When we talk about averages, we must bear in mind that if premiums were to fall by an average of, say, £35 under this legislation, the figure in some instances would be much greater—especially for young drivers, for example. Those are my remarks, based on what I have seen and heard today, and I commend this speech to the House.

 

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