The Arculus report into personal injury claims was an excellent inquiry, but now we need an excellent response from the government, says Lord Hunt
Recent weeks have seen another exchange of views about whether we have a 'compensation culture' in the UK - or if it's all a myth. The shadow home secretary, David Davis MP, has certainly warmed a few tabloid hearts with his pledge to confront the culture of "blame and claim".
Two months ago on these pages, I praised the report Better routes to redress that had been produced at the end of May by the Better Regulation Task Force, under the chairmanship of David Arculus.
It was this report, you may remember, which set out proposals for dealing with the perception of a 'compensation culture', by putting genuine claimants at the centre of the process, regulating "claims farmers" (and their advertising) and through urgent action to improve rehabilitation arrangements.
My plea then was that this excellent and timely report should not be allowed to gather dust. The government normally responds to such reports within 60 days, but almost three months later we are still waiting. I am not, however, dismayed by this. The Arculus report raises issues of considerable importance - and governments that respond in haste often repent at leisure.
Many of us can be forgiven for feeling impatient, but speed is not necessarily the key on this. What ministers must do is to get their response right - making sure it is a 'joined-up' one. If that takes a little while, so be it.
It may be that a few heads need to be banged together: they usually do when vested interests are being challenged.
This is particularly true on the critical question of rehabilitation. According to the report, "rehabilitation was mentioned at every meeting we held as an area where new work should be done to increase its availability and uptake".
The attitude of the task force was admirably straightforward and robust: "Liability for costs can be sorted out later on. The most important thing is that the injured person receives prompt treatment and does not have to wait until his 'advisers' work out who is going to pay the bill as too often happens at present."
This is not just about more public money. The situation demands a complete rethink on how the system works - in particular how departments relate to one another and how incentives within the legal system interact with the services that are available.
Is it not absurd that the hands of the courts are still tied by the one surviving vestige of an Act passed on the nod in the year in which the NHS was born - namely Section 2 (4) of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act , a section which was not even discussed in Parliament during the passage of the Bill?
Cynics may argue that the response to this report has been delayed purely by the intransigence - or the summer holidays - of ministers and civil servants.
I prefer to think that the delay may in fact be good news, heralding a wide-ranging and radical response to the excellent Arculus proposals. Let us hope so. If that prize is almost within our grasp, I am willing to be patient for a little longer.