CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

PROMOTION OF VOLUNTEERING BILL – 17 July 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: In support of the Right hon. Gentleman's [Frank Dobson's] point, I should like to quote a letter that the commanding officer at the Sea Cadet Unit in Southampton sent to his Member of Parliament. He wrote:

"I am ever conscious of the increasing amount of bureaucracy and the fear of being taken to court by a disaffected young person or their parents/guardian. I have tried to encourage other local people in supporting the cadets but they too are reluctant to commit themselves because of the fear of litigation."

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Dr Lewis: Applying the principle of reductio ad absurdum, can my hon. Friend [Owen Paterson] envisage circumstances in which – heaven forbid – a party of children came to the House of Commons and a terrorist attack took place? The headmaster would end up being sued for not having predicted the degree of risk that the party might face.

[Owen Paterson: My hon. Friend shows extraordinary perception. The day on which I did entertain a group of children here was the day on which an object was thrown at the Prime Minister. That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey): children must learn about risk.

Andrew Dismore: These are some of the myths that develop in personal injury law. If someone were injured in such circumstances, the answer would be a straightforward claim under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. There would be no question of suing anyone else, as any decent personal injury lawyer would tell the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Paterson: Oh dear! It is obvious that the hon. Gentleman is not going to join our common-sense coalition. …

Mr Dismore: Let me begin by declaring an interest. As my entry in the Register of Members' Interests states, I have been a personal injury lawyer for some 25 years. … I have observed a good deal of prejudice against lawyers during the debate. [Laughter.]

Mr Dobson: Shame!

Mr Dismore: Members may scoff, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr Dobson). … As far as I am aware, no one has stood up for the rights of victims today or in our previous debates on the Bill. No one has spoken for those who are injured, maimed or killed. It is my job to do that today, as throughout my professional life I have stood up for people who have been injured or killed through the fault of others.]

Dr Lewis: Does that include people who are injured through no one's fault but their own?

[Mr Dismore: Of course not.]

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[Mr Dismore: I do agree with a lot of the views that have been expressed so far today. … Believe it or not, I also agree with a lot of what the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) said. He said that the judiciary should exercise more common sense, and I tend to agree, but in fact they often do so. For every case that can be cited in which compensation was dubiously awarded, I can cite a case in which compensation was not awarded but perhaps should have been.

The basic point is that the judiciary are remarkably good at sorting the wheat from the chaff in such cases. The fact remains that we hear about some of the more outlandish cases because part of the tabloid agenda is to hype up the concept of having a go at lawyers. However, there are also cases of people being injured but no compensation being payable, and in such cases the tabloids are equally willing to jump into that other camp, when it suits them, in order to sell newspapers.]

Dr Lewis: I find the hon. Gentleman's logic a little hard to follow. He said that for every case in which compensation should not have been given but was given, he can cite a case in which compensation should have been given but was not, and that that is a sign that the judiciary are getting things right. However, that seems to suggest that the judiciary are getting things wrong in all such cases and right in none.

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[Mr Brazier: Let me first put on record the fact that I have no intention of impugning the hon. Gentleman's integrity, although I believe him to be deluded in this matter – ]

Dr Lewis: As in so many others.

[For the Speech to which this exchange relates, click here.]