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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have just debated Clause 1 as being all about sending messages and trying to bring about a change of culture. In that sense, neither the Bill nor this amendment can be seen in isolation. Changes of culture do not happen overnight and, as we plough through the detail of the Bill, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. We should ask ourselves how we think people should conduct themselves when an accident or other unfortunate event occurs.
Time and time again, we hear the litany from those who have been on the receiving endan apology would have been nice and it took far too long for the all-important process of rehabilitation to commence. I recall that the Minister conceded that in Grand Committee when she said that, from her experience,
"as chair of a health authority, what people often wanted was someone to say 'I am really sorry'. That would have made a huge difference. The stress and anguish that is caused in some circumstances is to a degree relieved if someone says, 'I am really sorry'".[Official Report, 20/12/05; col. GC283.]
So we must ask ourselves, regardless of whether we believe that there is a compensation culture, whether there are not now in place perverse incentives that actively discourage people from doing the decent thing. I believe that there are such incentives, which is why I not only support this Bill in the broadest possible terms, but also seek to improve it substantially with the
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amendments that stand in my name. However, the Compensation Bill's title is apposite, and there is no doubt that, by taking the heat out of situations where there has been an injury and encouraging basic human civility, we can do a great deal to improve the way society responds to such incidents.
Speaking as a solicitor, I have to say that the present system of claiming compensation is just too adversarial. It creates frictional cost and delay when the focus should be on making sure that all injured individuals receive what they need to get them back on their feet as soon as possible. Members of this House will have heard me speak before about rehabilitation for injured claimants, and initiatives that focus on returning to work and independent living as soon as practicable.
Our Amendment No. 4 covers not just apologies, but also offers to make amends, offers of rehabilitation and other forms of treatment. It is important that there should not be any artificial, unnecessary or avoidable obstacles in the way of rehabilitation. That is why I propose in this amendment that such apologies and offers of rehabilitation should be promoted within this Bill, and should not be seen as admissions of liability. When we debated this concept in Committee there was broad support on all sides for the idea behind this amendment but some concern about the detail of its application. I was therefore grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas, who suggested a way in which a substantive amendment might be drafted to address those concerns. I hope that he will feel pleased that we have adopted his proposal, and that the Minister will feel that the amendment in its current form could properly be incorporated in the Bill. This, therefore, is the Lucas amendment.
The impetus for this Bill came from the Better Regulation Task Force, which produced a report in May 2004 entitled Better Routes to Redress, in which David Arculus and his team concluded that there was a perception of a compensation culture in this country, and something must be done about it. The report singled out the beneficial effect of an apology:
"The case for prompt intervention through rehabilitation could not be better made. Rehabilitation was mentioned at every meeting we held as an area where more work should be done to increase its availability and uptake".
I know that the Minister is already working with a range of stakeholders in this area; if I recall, she said that there were 10 Ministers on the working party she chairs on a number of aspects of the compensation system, and she is working particularly closely with my namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. We need to ensure that there are no obstacles to quicker and greater uptake of rehabilitation. When we come to Part 2 of the Bill, we will see how adverts from claims farmers, focusing on the amount of compensation available as some sort of windfall, have brought the system into disrepute.
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The Better Regulation Task Force's report emphasises that there is everything to be said for people with genuine claims having those claims sorted out as quickly as possible. The purpose of compensation, however, should always be to try as far as possible to get people back to the position they would have been in had the accident never happened, and the best way of achieving that is to encourage appropriate and effective treatment, not as an afterthought, but as the number one priority. I beg to move.
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