Lord Hunt says the proposed Compensation Bill needs to adopt a thoughtful attitude if it is to work

' The Government's proposed Compensation Bill is being put forward because of a growing perception that our tort system is in some sense "out of control", that the delicate balance between justified compensation and frivolous litigation is now out of kilter.

It is also being proposed because there are serious concerns that the perceived threat of litigation has begun to hurt our industries.

Twenty years ago, no one even talked of a "compensation culture" or a "blame culture". Even if the phrases had been invented, they had not achieved the wide currency - the notoriety - they enjoy today. As society moves on, the media move on and human behaviour moves on, it is essential the law should follow suit. And it always does - sooner or later.

Whether or not "Compensation Culture" is an appropriate term for the situation in which we find ourselves, I do think there is indeed something rotten in the state of our litigation system.

As a number of high-profile cases have demonstrated with increasing clarity and vividness, society has moved on, while the corpus of law in this area has lagged badly - perhaps dangerously - behind.

That explains why, even before we have seen a draft of it, a tremendous head of steam has built up behind this proposed Bill. Everyone wants a "piece of the action".

The first new test for any new settlement is that it must be sustainable. That is to imply - and to pre-suppose - several things.

New legislation must commend itself to moderate, mainstream opinion. As the Prime Minister put it, it must embody not the values of a "Compensation Culture", but those of a "Common Sense Culture". That in turn suggests to me that the Bill must enjoy widespread support, well beyond the confines of the Government and the Labour Party.

It is never easy to forge a cross-party consensus on any piece of legislation that is redistributive, in the sense of necessarily creating at least some losers as well as winners.

However, in getting to grips with tort law reform, I do believe that breadth of support is not a luxury - it is a necessity. This will require everyone involved adopting a more thoughtful and less confrontational attitude than is the norm.

If it is to stand the test of time, this Bill will have to emerge from a sustained period of negotiation, often between individuals or groups who have hitherto adopted entrenched and polarised positions.

We must therefore face the fact no one will be able to get everything they desire from this legislation, as and when it goes onto the Statute Book. Everyone will have to compromise, to concede at least some ground. It could be a long process.

The Compensation Bill must become a robust, sustainable answer to the challenges of our time, enjoying the widest possible support. I hope ministers will adopt certain broad principles. I hope they will aim to introduce greater simplicity into the system.

And the government must now put rehabilitation at the centre of its plans for reforming the compensation system in the UK. Those who deserve compensation should receive it without undue delay or excessive expense.

But I would also like to see a radical speeding-up of treatment for those who have been injured, whatever the circumstances.

The one, overriding priority should be speedy access to acute treatment and then to appropriate rehabilitation. We need the entire system to focus far more upon getting the individual accident victim better, as quickly as possible.

Although the main demand for rehabilitation can be met only within the National Health Service, at the present time the NHS is hampered by a lack of resources and competing priorities.

An increased and improved capacity would come at a cost, which ought to be met by insurers - but can be met only if there are significant savings elsewhere.The solution must be 'joined-up' across the board.

We are not alone in grappling with these problems and we should look carefully at best practice - and also at mistakes that have been - in other developed countries.

Now is the time for action, not just words. IT

' Lord Hunt is senior partner at Beachcroft Wansbroughs. This is an extract from his speech to the recent Insurance Times Personal Injury conference