I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 16 together.
I am aware that some concern has been expressed at the cost and availability of liability insurance. Difficulties in this area reflect the large underwriting losses on liability insurance incurred by insurance companies in recent years; these losses came to £36 million in 1983.
The level of losses and of premium rates are largely determined by the amount of awards and the number of claims. The amounts of awards appear to be higher here than they are, for example in the UK.
The level of awards is ascribed by many commentators to the existence of the jury system. However, the Prices Advisory Committee on Motor Insurance, which reported in 1982, did not consider that the jury system should be abolished. An alternative measure, to the effect that the trial judge should be permitted to guide the jury on the going rate of general damages, is being considered by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure at present.
The most important factor in reducing the number of claims is action by individual enterprises to improve safety procedures in the workplace.
In so far as the availability of insurance is concerned, I have arranged with the representative body of insurers an agreed procedure for handling any case where a company or organisation has difficulty in obtaining liability cover. Anyone experiencing difficulty should contact the insurance section of my Department.