Harrison’s antiphrasis

This title may sound like a very unwelcome medical condition. What I am actually describing is what yesterday appeared to me to be the ability of the new Roads Minister – Trudy Harrison MP, or perhaps those who prepared her speaking brief – to say one thing but mean more or less the opposite during her speech at the end of the short Parliamentary debate on the impact of the Vnuk and Lewis cases on motor insurance.

It seemed to me that the antiphrasis here – or ‘doublespeak’ in George Orwell’s memorable neologism – turned on (a) Ms Harrison’s statement that removing the cases from UK motor insurance law “is a priority for government” but not, it seems sufficiently high enough to have merited government legislation at any time during the past seven years or so and (b) her follow-on remark that “it has not proved possible to provide a slot for a Government vehicle to disapply the effects of the Vnuk and Lewis judgments during this parliamentary Session.”

This means that the only option for reform at present remains Peter Bone MP’s private member’s Bill. It has not yet been published and is listed last on the order paper for 22 October, neither of which can be regarded as positive. Despite the Minister inviting “the whole House to lend their support” to the Bill, the reality is that it could be defeated by a single MP objecting to it next month.

Yesterday’s debate (reported here) was the Minister’s first appearance in her new role. The subject matter is technically complex – one MP called it “a rather niche topic” – and she had an awkward message to deliver, in essence: ‘we get this, but we’re not able to do anything about it just yet’.

The odds on Mr Bone’s Bill might just have improved slightly because of the government’s ‘in-principle’ support signalled again by Ms Harrison during the debate, but the Bill still looks to be very much an outsider rather than one of the short-odds favourites.  In any event, 22 October is a key date.

Although there was little new or revealing in the debate, perhaps the sharpest political point was made by the SNP spokesman in pointing out (perhaps with some relish) the irony of a Bill in Westminster “taking back control to allow our retained legislation to match what the EU is going to be doing anyway”.

Alistair Kinley at BLM
Alistair Kinley, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at BLM

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