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All hon. Members have agreed on the importance of regulating claims management services and putting in place vital safeguards for consumers. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and others, especially those representing coal mining constituencies, have described some of the problemsto put it mildlythat arise with those intermediaries and the way in which they mislead people who make claims. The regulatory
framework that we have set out is both proportionate and targeted at the areas where there is the greatest potential for consumer detriment. It is consistent with the Governments better regulation agenda, and will ensure that standards are raised in the industry.
The regulation of claims management services is a necessary step for protecting consumers. The safeguards that we propose will ensure that bad practices stop and the era of unregulated claims management companies misleading consumers and leaving them out of pocket will be brought firmly to a close.
A number of hon. Members have raised the Barker decision in the House of Lords relating to mesothelioma. I reiterate what the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) said: it is the Governments intention to address this issue as soon as possible. Hon. Members have stressed the importance of speed, because of the nature of the disease. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made the good point that unless new legislation is introduced, if we leave it to the courts, it could be years and years before the matter is properly resolved. Colleagues will be reassured not just by my words but by those of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in opening the debate, and those of the Prime Minister the other day.
In the same vein, we await the decision of the House of Lords on pleural plaquea subject that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). It is not appropriate to say what we will do until we have heard the final decision.
Mr. Heald: One concern is that it is not only insurers but the Government, too, who have substantial liabilities. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the estimated costs of those liabilities in respect of the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Education and Skills, both of which could have significant liabilities for mesothelioma?
Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman is right. Other Departments have, or will have, significant liabilities, but the fact remains [ Interruption. ] The judgment is not that old, but all Departments are considering it. Our position is that we want to try to assist claimants who are, rightly, arguing for joint and several liability.
Several Members spent time on clause 1, and I shall try to address some of the many points that were raised. The Government do not believe that putting a definition of desirable activity into the Bill is appropriate. The provision gives the court the flexibility to consider all the relevant circumstances in the case, to reach a fair and just decision. Including a definition of desirable activity could imply that certain types of desirable activity had more weight than others.
Clause 1 addresses a misperception of how the law works, which has taken hold to such an extent that it affects behaviour. It is a legitimate function of legislation to address such matters. The law may be familiar to lawyers and insurers, who deal with it on a daily basis, but it is not familiar to people and organisations concerned about possible litigation. The clause will show them the
importance that the Government attach to the issue and will make the law more widely known.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) believe that the inclusion of clause 1 will lead to a tsunami of litigationI think that was the phrase that my hon. Friend used. The Government do not believe that will be the case. The clause reflects the existing law and the guidance given by the higher courts, and should not fuel any increase in litigation. It will discourage the bringing of claims based on the proposition that reasonable care involves all steps required to prevent accidents in any conceivable circumstances, regardless of the effect of requiring those steps.
Mr. Dismore: A few moments ago, my hon. Friend said that the interpretation of the phrase desirable activity would be a matter for the courts, thereby implying that the courts would have to try cases to decide what it was. He has now said that there will not be more litigation as a result of the clause. How can he square those two arguments? If the courts have to interpret the phrase, more cases will go to trial and there will inevitably be more litigation.
Nick Ainger: Every court that has to settle a claim will have to decide on the facts. The provision will not increase the number of cases; it merely notes that desirable activity is an important factor.
Nick Ainger: I appreciate that point, but the Government do not take that view. I am sure that the matter will be debated in Committee. I hope, for the sake of my hon. Friend the Minister who will be there, that it will not be debated at quite such length as it was in the House of Lords, but I am sure that Members will spend some time on it.
Mr. Brazier: The point that the splendid legal adviser to the Scouts, Andrew Caplan, made to us is not only that he welcomes the clause, but that it may encourage other organisations to show the courage that the Scouts showed in fighting those wretched people when an unjustified vexatious claim is put forward.
The concept that we have sought to capture by the term desirable activity is the well-established one of taking the wider social value of activities into account. That reflects the existing law. The courts are already able toand dotake these matters into account when considering all the circumstances of an individual case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood raised his concern, and the concerns of the TUC, in relation to the impact of clause 1 on certain employees. May I try to reassure him? It is suggested that clause 1 would change the law so as to put at a disadvantage those who are employed in public service occupations that are arguably desirable, such as firefighting, compared with those employed in commercial operations such as retail sales, which may not be seen as desirable. However, that
is not correct. It appears to be based on a misconception, first, as to the purpose and meaning of the term desirable activity and, secondly, as to the existing law. That is to say that the approach of the courts is to balance risk and the effect of preventive measures on an activity. On the first point, desirable was expressly chosen by parliamentary counsel as a term wide enough to encompass the wide range of existing case lawin contrast to terms such as socially useful.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) raised the need for a good communications strategy. The Government recognise that. There is a ministerial working group, together with a stakeholder group, which is developing that communication strategy with the idea of using champions in the volunteering sector. Volunteering England is involved. There will be that communications strategy in relation to part 1.
I am grateful that colleagues have endorsed the usefulness of clause 2 and the benefits that it will bring. I can assure the House that we have no intention of removing or amending that clause in any detrimental way. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), I am assured that clause 1 will apply to volunteers working during the Olympics.
All Members welcomed part 2. The only dissenting voice that I could hear was from the Opposition Front Bench in relation to the exemption for trade unions. I reiterate that trade unions will be subject to a code of conduct, and that if they are found to be acting like claims handlers, their exemption will be removed and they will be subject to the same regulation as a claims handler. In relation to the abuses of the coal health scheme, as chairman of the coal health monitoring group in Wales, may I reiterate the call of my predecessor that the parasites living off the back of what is undoubtedly the biggest industrial claims scheme everwe have paid out £3 billion to miners and their relativesshould return all the fees that they have claimed from the claimants?
That the following provisions shall apply to the Compensation Bill [ Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
Proceedings in Standing Committee
2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to conclusion on Tuesday 27th June 2006.
3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including proceedings on any message from the Lords) may be programmed. [Mr. Cawsey.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Compensation Bill [ Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of expenditure of a Minister of the Crown attributable to the Act. [Mr. Cawsey.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Compensation Bill [ Lords], it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees by the regulator appointed under the Act. [Mr. Cawsey.]
That the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment of Section 61(1)) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 3rd May, be approved. [Mr. Cawsey.]
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 115(1) (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (delegated legislation)) and Standing Order No. 116(1) (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)),
(1) the draft Budget (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 be referred to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee;
(2) the Committee shall meet at Westminster on Tuesday 20th June at Four oclock; and
(3) at that sitting
(a) the Committee shall take questions under Standing Order No. 110 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (questions for oral answer)), and shall then consider the instrument referred to it under paragraph (1) above; and
(b) at the conclusion of those proceedings, a motion for the adjournment of the Committee may be made by a Minister of the Crown, pursuant to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)). [Mr. Cawsey.]
Declares that the campaign for global justice on trade, aid and debt must continue in 2006 even more strongly than in 2005. The Petitioners further declare that it is vital that the Government continue to increase aid for developing countries in order to Make Poverty History and reach the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons pass the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill 2005-06 which would enshrine a target of 0.7 per cent. GNI for spending on overseas development aid and create a requirement for an annual report to Parliament on the UKs international development assistance.
And the Petitioners remain etc.
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