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19 Nov 2008 : Column 236

Charity Funding (Icelandic Bank Deposits)

12.32 pm

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate a specific and important matter that requires urgent attention, namely,

Naomi House provides emergency support for terminally ill children living in my constituency and in the constituencies of a great number of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. Some six weeks ago, Singer and Friedlander, a British bank that was taken over by an Icelandic bank in 2006, was put into administration by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Naomi House had £5.7 million on deposit with that bank, which amounts to one third of its assets.

When the Government took that action, specific reassurances were given to charities such as Naomi House that special arrangements would be made for them. Indeed, the Leader of the House made it clear on two separate occasions, both here in the House and in the media, that charities such as Naomi House would receive particular support. Yet now it would appear that under the Financial Services Authority regulations, Naomi House may not be eligible for any such special protection and faces the prospect of a protracted fight to recover any of its money at all.

That would have serious consequences for the services that this unique charity provides for very ill children in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Dorset, West Sussex, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Surrey. There were plans to extend to other areas the outreach service provided in my constituency, but if the money is not recovered, those plans will not come to fruition. That would be devastating for the children involved and their families and for the staff and volunteers, and would be a blow for the people who raise money for this important organisation.

This could take years to resolve—years that many of those children simply do not have. Naomi House was using a bank that was regulated by the British Financial Services Authority and, indeed, that was on a list specifically approved by the Charities Commission. There are very serious questions to be answered, Mr. Speaker, including whether the Prime Minister himself was aware of the impending banking disaster in Iceland as early as March this year. A full debate in the House will certainly help Members get the information and certainty that charities such as Naomi House need at this difficult time, and I hope that you feel that it is right to grant such a debate at this time.

Mr. Speaker: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said. I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that she has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24. I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 237

Road Traffic (Accident Compensation)

12.35 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I beg to move,

As the House knows, British civil law says that in cases where an accident has taken place, negligence and liability must be established before compensation can be paid. In the vast majority of cases, negligence and liability are established through insurance firms and compensation is awarded to the injured party. Where liability and negligence are contested, the case may go to court and the decision on the levels of compensation will be made by a judge.

Every year, a small number of people are injured in road traffic accidents where liability cannot be established and a defence of automatism, or involuntary action, is used by the defendant. The victim is left injured, with no compensation to ameliorate the situation. It is because of such a case in my constituency that I have been moved to act on this issue and to seek to introduce this Bill.

In 2004, my constituent, Mr. Rajendra Vanker, a research chemist, was seriously injured when he was hit by another car while helping his father to load boxes into his car at the roadside. The driver of the other car had suffered a heart attack prior to the car’s impact on my constituent. Tragically, that driver died later in hospital. My constituent was left unable to walk unaided and in considerable pain. He was unable to return to work, so his career in the chemical industry was ruined. Four years on, he has not received any compensation for the injuries he suffered and he is still receiving medical attention, despite the fact that he played no part in the accident and is an innocent party.

The deceased’s insurers, Halifax Insurance, have refused to pay out any compensation, citing the defence of automatism because the deceased was unconscious at the time of impact and not considered liable for his actions. Halifax Insurance says that, because the deceased cannot be said to be negligent as he was not suffering from cardiovascular disease previously and could not have known that he would suffer a heart attack, it is not liable for any compensation claim for injuries sustained by my constituent, Mr. Vanker.

Where the defence of automatism is being cited by an insurer to avoid paying compensation, the case must ultimately be tested in the courts. Naturally, my constituent sought legal advice and received various experts’ opinions that, even if his case came to court, he was extremely unlikely to succeed. That left my constituent in a difficult position. He is not a wealthy man, particularly since he has not been able to work during the last four years, and he felt unable to take the risk of mounting a court case that he was advised he was unlikely to win.

The Association of British Insurers advises me that cases like this, where liability cannot be established, happen extremely rarely and that insurance companies are often prepared to look sympathetically at such cases and make ex-gratia payments to the injured party. That is not an admission of liability, but it does at least mean that the injured party receives some compensation.
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However, in my constituent’s case, the deceased’s insurers, Halifax Insurance, have refused to do this. Despite the small numbers of people affected by this legal situation, I feel that it is unfair that anyone injured in an accident where they are not at fault must either pursue such cases to court at their own risk or simply accept that they will not receive any compensation for what is sometimes a life-changing injury.

This issue has been raised periodically in the House. Most recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) made two attempts to change the law with his Motor Accident Injury Compensation Bill, introduced in both 1998 and 1999. That Bill was a little wider than mine, in that it sought to change the way in which compensation entitlement was determined to ensure that payment was made more swiftly, and that everyone injured in an accident, regardless of liability, would be compensated. Despite the excellent intentions of my hon. Friend’s Bill, it made no progress in the House.

In the 1970s, attempts were made to change the law surrounding compensation to ensure that when people had been injured and liability could not be established, they could receive some compensation through their insurance companies. Campaigning on the issue culminated in the formation of the Pearson commission, which reported in 1978 and made some fairly radical proposals. It recommended that the traditional tort law applicable in such cases should be replaced by non-fault insurance and strict liability. Disappointingly, neither the Government of the day nor successive Governments have been receptive to the commission’s recommendations, which have fallen by the wayside. In 1991 the issue of compensation and the workability of a no-fault compensation scheme returned to the agenda when it was examined by the Lord Chancellor’s Department, but the Department’s report concluded that the current system should remain in place.

The principle of no-fault compensation exists all over the world. Perhaps the most well-known scheme is that of New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation, which ensures that anyone injured in an accident—even if he or she was responsible—receives compensation. In return for the scheme, New Zealanders are not allowed to sue for personal injury other than in exceptional circumstances. Similar schemes operate in certain states in America and Australia and, in various different forms, in European countries such as Sweden. The introduction of such a scheme here would be a radical departure from our current civil law, and would have wide-ranging implications. I believe that there would be considerable merit in the Government’s re-examining the issue of no-fault compensation and investigating the workability of introducing a scheme such as New Zealand’s in this country.

I am determined that other people should be protected from experiencing the unfairness of the position in which my constituent finds himself, and my Bill would help to do that. When a driver who causes an accident through negligence has no insurance, or leaves the scene and is untraceable, the Motor Insurers Bureau steps in and provides compensation for the injured party. The MIB is funded by a levy on all insurance underwriters. I believe that a small scheme, possibly administered through the MIB, providing for compensation for injured parties when the defence of automatism is used could be a
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solution to this problem. The cost of such a fund would be unlikely to impose a great burden on our insurance industry, and my Bill would ensure that the guidelines for administering the fund were strictly defined in order to ensure that insurance companies did not try to get out of their responsibilities in regard to compensation.

I believe that the establishment of a fund to allow compensation to be made available to the very small number of people who are affected by the present situation would go some way towards ameliorating the unfair position in which a tiny minority of people, such as my constituent Mr Rajendra Vanker, find themselves every year, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Brian Iddon, Dr. Desmond Turner, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mr. David Kidney, Mark Lazarowicz and Christopher Fraser.

Road Traffic (Accident Compensation)

Dr. Brian Iddon accordingly presented a Bill to provide for no-fault compensation for personal injury in road traffic accidents where liability cannot be established: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed [Bill 167].

19 Nov 2008 : Column 240

Counter-Terrorism Bill (Programme) (No.3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A ( P rogramming bills),

Question agreed to.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 241

Orders of the Day

Counter-Terrorism Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Speaker: I have to inform the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 2, 82, 113 and 127. If the House agrees to these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Before Clause 14

Lords amendment: No. 2 .

12.46 pm

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment (b) to the Lords amendment and the Government motion to disagree thereto.

Damian Green: The Bill has returned to us from the Lords markedly improved. Public attention has focused on the historic defeat of the proposed extension of pre-charge detention, but there were many other improvements, including on the use of DNA samples. The amendment would improve the Lords amendment by tweaking it to make it more practical. This is key, because it illustrates one of the big failures of Government strategy throughout the passage of the Bill. The Home Secretary evidently believes that the tougher we sound, the more effective we are in fighting terrorism. The Conservatives believe that to fight terrorism successfully, we need precise, proportionate and effective legislation. That was the intention of the Lords amendment, and it is what our amendment seeks to do as well.

Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to draft and lay before Parliament regulations governing the procedures by which people can discover what information is held about them, and in what circumstances a request can be made for any samples that may have been taken during an investigation to be destroyed. We have sought to improve the Lords amendment by ensuring that Ministers will be able to decide which agencies are affected, because we fully accept that there will be covert operations where different rules may need to apply. However, at present the underlying problem in all possible situations is that there is simply no transparency, and it is extremely difficult for completely innocent people to be able to ensure that their details are not kept indefinitely, thereby infringing their privacy but serving no purpose in terms of increasing the security of the country.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is not just a question of getting information removed; lack of information is also a problem. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the case of his party colleague, the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who has been trying to get certain details removed. He is totally innocent of any crime, and he has written letters, but not, I think, received replies. Such a lack of information is the main problem.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 242

Damian Green: The right hon. Gentleman is completely right. I agree with him on this matter, and I am, of course, familiar with the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands). I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s indication of support in this area. None of us disputes the value of DNA information in identifying not only criminals but, at least as importantly, terrorists, and it will, of course, continue to play a useful role in identification and bringing criminals or terrorists to justice.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): DNA is not only a detective tool; it is a huge deterrent in itself. Because it is such an effective detective tool, it stands in the way of anybody who might be planning offences. I am in the minority, but I think that there is a great case for extending the DNA register.

Damian Green: My right hon. and learned Friend is correct that he is in a minority in holding that position, and I know that that will not disturb him one wit. However, there is indeed a case to be made for, and a debate to be had about, a universal, national DNA database. I would disagree with him on the issue, but the debate would be worth having.

Mr. Hogg: Why do we not include it in this debate?

Damian Green: We could include it in this debate, but you might feel, Mr. Speaker, that that pushed the boundaries of order. I should tell my right hon. and learned Friend that many of us, both in this House and outside, have been pressing for a proper debate on the use of DNA for some years now, but so far the Government have resolutely refused to have it. It is convenient for the House that we can have the debate today.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am a little concerned about amendment (a), because it would afford a latitude to the Secretary of State that I am not sure is entirely appropriate. It would enable him to pick and choose the agencies that hold the information and include them in regulations. The Secretary of State already has the power to make the regulations, and therefore to exclude matters that might have the sensitivity to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Why does he feel that it is okay to give carte blanche to the Secretary of State simply to decide, if he wishes, that no Government agency is appropriate for such national guidelines? That would be out of kilter with the intention of another place.

Damian Green: The hon. Gentleman may well feel that the amendment, which seeks to improve markedly the rights of the citizen vis- -vis the Executive, does not go far enough. I am always happy to be persuaded. It was in his power to table an amendment if he felt that mine was in some way inadequate, but he did not do so.

Mr. Heath: I should tell the hon. Gentleman that his amendment would act against the interests of the citizen in favour of the interests of the state. I am content with the Lords amendment.

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