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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you deprecate this House constantly being left out of the loop on legislation. The minimum wage legislation comes into effect on 1 April, but the House has not discussed the regulations until today. The Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation is being asked to amend the Minimum Wage Act 1998 by regulations. The amended Act is then being used to make regulations. The regulations that we are being asked to pass initially are ultra vires.

Where is the Committee to go if it discovers that it cannot make the regulations that are to come into force on 1 April because the legislation is defective? The Department of Trade and Industry announced that it finished its consultations in November. Surely the House should not be asked to bring in such important regulations, which affect almost every employer in the land and a large number of employees, without proper notice to allow employers can take the necessary action.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I support my hon. Friend in his point of order. At this late stage, owing to the lack of consultation, a children's charity providing holidays for children from deprived backgrounds may have to close because of the extra costs resulting from the regulations.

Madam Speaker: As both hon. Gentlemen know, when regulations are laid is not a matter for the Chair but a matter for the Government. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is fully aware that I am not in charge of the business of the House. That is dealt with by the usual channels. He might approach them. As for his point about the Committee, the procedure is that in the first instance the matter must be resolved by the Committee. It is then open to the Committee to make a report to the House if it is not satisfied.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence--a Department which might be involved in the oil-for-food programme--to make a statement on how the destruction of an oil pipeline might affect Iraq's ability to take advantage of the programme?

Madam Speaker: No, I have not had any indication that any Department is seeking to make a statement on that. The hon. Gentleman was fortunate enough to catch my eye during Prime Minister's questions, when he put a short and succinct question to the Prime Minister--one that I rather approved of, because most questions are

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too long. I tend to approve of his questions. On this occasion, however, he might have extended his question a little and got a little more information.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last Wednesday, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) asked the Prime Minister when an invitation would be issued to the European Commission to send inspectors to examine our facilities before beef exports could resume. The Prime Minister replied:


That afternoon, I tabled a question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asking when the invitation was issued. On Monday this week, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that he would reply as soon as possible.

I have a copy of a letter to the director-general of DG XXIV at the Commission from MAFF's chief veterinary officer, which was faxed to Brussels at5.04 pm on Thursday, issuing that invitation to the inspectors. I have spoken to the recipient, who confirms that was the first that he knew of the invitation.

It seems plain to me that the Prime Minister misled the House last week, and that a panic-stricken Government rushed out an invitation the next day. Agriculture Ministers clearly do not know what is going on. Will you, Madam Speaker, instruct the Prime Minister to come to the House, apologise for his answer to my hon. Friend and tell the House and the industry what is really being done about getting the beef ban lifted?

Madam Speaker: I have no authority to instruct any Minister, let alone the Prime Minister, to come to the House. Opposition Front Benchers had ample opportunities today to put such questions to the Prime Minister if further elucidation was required--which it seems to have been.

BILLS PRESENTED

Crown Prerogatives (Parliamentary Control)

Mr. Tony Benn, supported by Mr. Norman Baker, Mr. David Davis, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Derek Foster, Mrs. Teresa Gorman, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Rev. Ian Paisley, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Alan Simpson, Mr. Dafydd Wigley and Audrey Wise, presented a Bill to make the exercise of certain Crown prerogatives subject to the assent of the House of Commons: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 23 July, and to be printed [Bill 55].

Xenotransplantation

Mr. Norman Baker presented a Bill to prohibit the transplant of living cells, tissues or organs from animals into humans: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 April, and to be printed [Bill 56].

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1081

Motor Accident Injury Compensation

3.36 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): I beg to move,


My Bill seeks to deal with problems that remain outstanding. First, it takes a long time to secure any compensation payments for people who have been injured in road accidents. Under the Bill, rather than waiting for years, road accident victims would receive interim compensation within three months. Secondly, all of us who drive cars and take out comprehensive insurance probably think that we are covered. We know that our passengers are covered--they can normally sue for up to half a million pounds--but, as the small print shows, cover is limited to £5,000 for all but those who are exceedingly lucky and have gold-plated policies. To those who, through no fault of their own, but as a result of an accident that cannot be pinned on anyone else, become vegetables for the rest of their lives, £5,000 is nothing in comparison with the cost of maintaining themselves and, perhaps, their families for the rest of what would have been their working lives. The cover, such as it is, is grossly inadequate. Thirdly, there is the possibility of total evasion of any responsibility for the consequences of an accident.

Let me give a simple example. Let us suppose that someone driving down the high street is unfortunate enough to suffer a heart attack, become unconscious and accidentally drive the car into a bus queue, killing half the people in it. As the law stands, that person's insurance company can deny all liability, because the person was not in control at the time of the accident, and therefore cannot be blamed. The whole culture of blame leads to a great deal of hardship--not, fortunately, for a massive number of people, but the results can be stressful and harrowing for individuals, groups of individuals and families who are caught out.

It has long been recognised that a serious problem exists. A few years ago, the Lord Chancellor's Department took that problem seriously enough to issue a report that considered ways of tackling it. One suggestion was the establishment of a no-fault compensation fund. That suggestion did not find much favour. It was the first solution that occurred to me, but, as soon as I discussed it with others, I realised that it would get nowhere. I have approached the matter by way of the conventional structure of insurance.

Two constituency examples illustrate the problems that I have in mind. In one case, a young woman, her husband, her sister and her sister's husband were driving home from the weekly supermarket shopping when they were in collision with a police van, which veered on to the wrong side of the road and hit them head on. All the family were seriously injured and laid off from work for months on end. The young woman driving the car lost her baby--which was due in a month's time--and had to be hysterectomised to save her life because of her critical condition.

For two months, the driver of the vehicle--who wasto be prosecuted for dangerous driving--tried the automatism defence. He tried to pretend that instead of having simply fallen asleep at the wheel, he had suffered

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a blackout because of a previously undiagnosed brain problem. Had he succeeded, the insurance company would not have accepted any liability or paid any compensation.

Fortunately, the family were able to keep their home. They had no way of making their mortgage payments and ran into heavy mortgage arrears. They were able to keep their home only with the support of friends and family. In addition to suffering horrendous physical injuries, enormous physical stress and emotional trauma, they had enormous financial stress. It is those stress factors and inadequacies that I wish to remove.

The second example is of a man who, while driving along the motorway, fell asleep at the wheel. He ended upside down, and is now a paraplegic. He does not contest the fact that it was his fault, but he now requires a total 24-hour care package from the local authority, and he must be housed at the expense of the state. The costs to the state over his life will be probably about £1 million. If an insurance system equivalent to the one that I am proposing had been in operation, the costs would have been borne by insurance, instead of being picked up by the state.

I propose, first, that there should be interim compensation payments within three months of an accident and, secondly, that automatism should be eliminated as an excuse for evading liability in road accidents. To finance the system, there should be compulsory appropriate first-party cover in motor insurance. I have talked to the Association of British Insurers, which could live with such a system and would be happy to operate it.

Everyone has reservations about increases in insurance premiums, but they would not be outrageous--they would be of the order of 5 per cent., and up to an absolute maximum of 10 per cent. For that, people would have the peace of mind of knowing that they and their family were totally covered. We would not have a situation where everyone could walk away from an accident, leave a mess and deny liability.

I fear that the proposal does not have Government support. We are not at loggerheads--it is much more polite than that. However, there is difficulty, because the proposal is thought to be no-fault compensation. It is not. It is no different in principle from the way in which we regard the insurance of the car.

We are quite happy to deal with the bent metal through the insurance mechanism, but not the bent people. The Bill advocates dealing properly with the bent people. It will save enormous problems for the few--we hope--who suffer very badly. It is workable and cost-sustainable and I think that it will save considerable public expenditure.

The problem will not go away, and, even if I cannot persuade my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to lift his objections this Session, I hope that the Government will consider the matter seriously in the near future, so that we can resolve it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Desmond Turner, Mr. Michael Jabez Foster, Mr. David Lepper, Mr. Ivor Caplin, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews and Dr. Michael Clark.

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