'Compensation culture' means equal access to justice for all
'Compensation culture' means equal access to justice for all
Sir: I write in connection with David Davis's human rights proposals and in particular the so-called "compensation culture". To suggest that spurious personal injury claims have been made is beyond belief. In my eight years' experience dealing with personal injury claims I personally have had two clients who have tried to make a false claim.
Prior to claims companies setting up in the mid-Nineties the only way a person who had a non-fault injury could make a claim against a third party was either if they had insurance cover, which was not usual, or if they could afford to go directly to a solicitor. In the latter case they often had to pay up-front and pay all costs if the case was lost, and therefore this scheme was only available to those who were better off. Now everyone has access to justice.
In my experience, the coming into being of claims companies has generally made councils and companies aware of the need to take safety measures. In the last few years I have noticed that councils are more rigorous in checking footpaths for potholes and raised paving slabs and repairing them quickly, thus making public areas safer for pedestrians. Companies are giving more training in health and safety and carrying out risk assessments to ensure that employees work in a safer environment.
Director, Eagle Claims Ltd, Leicester
A Nazi past and a multicultural future
Sir: Angela Lambert has been on holiday in southern Bavaria and used her experience of the lack of ethnic diversity in a very exceptional part of Germany to make wild generalisations about Germany's need to "join the present-day multicultural, multiracial, inter-marrying reality of 21st-century planet Earth" (Opinion, 31 August).
First, Berchtesgaden is not Bavaria, an enormous state which includes major cities such as Munich, Nuremberg, and Augsburg, where she would have been able to see thousands of people from ethnic minorities. Secondly, her comments are unfair even to rural Bavaria. The family of a German colleague of mine, whose wife is from Papua New Guinea and who has mixed-race children, lives in a small village in the countryside near Bayreuth in Bavaria, an area which has a right-wing reputation. The family is totally integrated into the village and meets with no prejudice whatsoever.
While it is true that Berchtesgaden itself was very Nazi, that was hardly surprising given the fact that it was Hitler's home. However, in most of the rest of southern Bavaria the Nazi vote was below average, as it is staunchly Catholic and, therefore, more voters preferred the Catholic Centre party.
This is not to say that Bavaria in general and southern Bavaria in particular are beacons of enlightenment. It is a conservative state with conservative values. However, before Ms Lambert makes any more such criticism, I suggest she comes down to the West Country, where she will find areas where there are also no black faces to be seen and where the vote for Ukip is extremely high!
Sir: Angela Lambert is upset by the whiteness of Bavaria, even though it is no whiter than, say, the Scottish Highlands, which it in some respects resembles. In fact, Germany has a higher proportion of foreign-born inhabitants than Britain but as Germany's colonial empire in Asia and Africa, such as it was, was dissolved in 1919 few of the largest groups of immigrants in Germany are non-white. Almost half are from Turkey and its former territories in Europe, and a third are from other states of the Union. Less than a sixth are physionomically distinct from the natives. Her implication seems to be that only black or yellow skin is foreign enough to add to cultural diversity.
Ms Lambert describes Turkish immigrants as "slave labour". Turkish immigrant workers have always been employed on the same terms and conditions as native Germans. German trades unions would not have settled for less, nor the German courts, nor indeed the Turks themselves. Like German labour in general, they have thrived mightily as a result.
Sir: I was sorry to hear that Angela Lambert's holiday in the Bavarian countryside was ruined by the lack of racial diversity there. I've had similar experiences when visiting relatives and friends in Norfolk or Wales, where the lack of brown faces has been quite shocking till I remember as I wade through horizontal rain and muddy fields, that most immigrants quite sensibly prefer to move to established communities in the cities rather than try their luck in the sticks.
I'm half Chinese and grew up in the Black Forest in Germany in a community not unlike the one described in the article. I never suffered racial abuse nor was my family in any way marginalised. At school we learnt in detail and at great length about Nazi atrocities and the complicity of the German people in these crimes and the lessons to be learnt.
It was only when I moved to multicultural Britain that I started to be called a "Chink" and a Nazi, something my German neighbour's daughter still gets called.
Germany, like the rest of Europe, has its share of problems with the far-right, especially amongst the youth from the former DDR, but to accuse it of a secret programme of ethnic purity on the basis of politenes, a high standard of living and a beautifully maintained countryside is at best paranoid, at worst racist.
Sir: Angela Lambert's perception of Bavaria as characterised by an unreconstructed "Aryan" ethos rings a bell with this family.
A decade or so ago our daughter, who was studying German, worked for a summer in a family-owned gasthof, located in a small town in deepest Bavaria. House rules imposed a strict heirarchy, by nationality, on members of staff. Yugoslavs were confined, out of sight of guests, to the back quarters while an Italian girl was allowed into guest areas, but only to tidy bedrooms; our daughter, being Scottish, was granted the most privileged non-German role, being permitted to wait at table and serve in the bar - on condition that she did not get into conversation with guests, lest they perceive they were being attended to by a foreigner.
Sir: The exaggerated generalisations made by Angela Lambert after a six-day trip through Bavaria are deeply offensive.
She describes her brief experience in and around Berchtesgaden, a town in the deep countryside of Bavaria, which has pretty much only one source of income, tourism. One can compare it to deepest Suffolk, where I spent four weeks of holiday recently. I could not detect any graffiti there either and everyone was as helpful, neither did teenagers "challenge adults with aggressive sexual displays". But that is because people of such disposition do not live in Suffolk. I encountered similarly few black or Indian faces, but was not naive enough to expect to.
How can she claim "nobody tells you" and "very few local people even know" the facts she now reports about Berchtesgaden and its historical connections with Hitler? In Germany and the UK there are hundreds of books and TV programmes on the Third Reich that provide exactly these widely known facts about Hitler staying in several locations in Bavaria.
Sir: Angela Lambert says that Bavaria "must join the present-day multi-racial ... reality of 21st-century planet Earth". Her Utopia cannot be guaranteed without the imposition of the social engineering which she derides and condemns as the mistakes of the past. Are people to be encouraged or forced to emigrate to Bavaria, based upon their ethnic background?
The first paragraphs of her article describe a society which a large number of people, from whatever country, would see as a stable ideal. Somehow she sees it as a challenge to disrupt it.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Sir: Reading Angela Lambert's piece about her inability to enjoy the delights of Bavaria because it was just too Bavarian I also felt a growing sense of unease.
It is not enough now for immigrants thankfully to feel comfortable in European cities, they must now set off in small groups for the outer reaches of tiny European towns. True, in the UK one is often pleasantly surprised by a curry house in the tiniest village, but that is the result of three centuries of Empire-building and dismantling. It is ridiculous to expect the same results across Europe.
It would be just as true to say that large swaths of rural Spain, Sweden, Scotland or France were devoid of multicultural and multiracial shops, galleries and winebars, but it's always just easier to say it about Germany, isn't it?
Lindfield, West Sussex
Sir: Suppose Angela Lambert spent a leisurely six days touring a remote valley in the Himalayas or Andes, and happened across a land of happy, healthy, indigenous people. Would she propose a similar multicultural solution to their non-existent problem ?
Sir: Your front page item (31 August) about lawyers putting profits before ethics struck a resounding chord with me, because I am a lawyer myself and for several years I have specialised in acting for clients who have a complaint against such a solicitor. The problem is that I think the approach you report by the Law Society is too directed at the top end of the profession.
My experience tells me that it is the little man who relies on the integrity of the less high profile lawyers that really needs the protection. If all the Law Society can do is to worry about the sort of large company that uses the large law firms, and is usually perfectly capable of looking after itself, then who is going to look after the "widows and orphans"?
Sir: As Jeremy Warner notes (26 August), Ofgem no longer sets retail energy prices. However, this is not because Ofgem is "washing its hands" of consumers' interests, but because it thinks competition protects customers better. If Ofgem still set British Gas's prices, the company would have been entitled to ask for a re-opening of price controls as a result of higher wholesale costs, which would probably have meant larger increases for retail customers.
We constantly monitor the energy market to ensure competition is benefiting customers. Our latest report shows that around half of all customers have now switched supplier - a switching rate far higher than in any other country.
Ofgem takes our primary duty to protect customers very seriously. We have extensive powers to tackle market abuse and we are not afraid to use them to protect customers. This week we imposed a £700,000 fine on Powergen for preventing customers from moving to another supplier. However, the market empowers consumers to defend themselves against price rises: by changing to one of the suppliers who now undercut British Gas they can save up to £127 per year on average.
Director Consumer Markets, Ofgem
Sir: Well done to David Alexander (letter, 30 August) for highlighting the ecological and townscape dangers arising from the widespread practice of paving over front gardens.
John Betjeman's beloved suburbs, defined by gables and dormers as seen through the filter of hedge and tree, are being rudely transposed into a very different world. The loss of one or two hedges and gardens has little impact but suddenly, as we awaken to the continuous carpet of concrete that hosts a sea of glistening motor cars, we might ask what loss is the memory "of that dark privet hedge where pleasures breed ... I watched the looping caterpillar feed ... till, a week on, from the chrysalis burst the moth".
Test for Britishness
Sir: I thought I would test Richard Logue's assertion (letter, 26 August) that "we Irish" do not use the term "the British Isles". I examined the Irish government website where I found 17 references to the British Isles.
Bin Laden's aims
Sir: David Bishop (letter, 31 August) wonders whether enough is being done to find out what Bin Laden is trying to achieve, with a view to reaching a political solution. His aims were made clear in his Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders in 1998. Niall Ferguson summarises them in his book Colossus: "to get American forces out of ... the Middle East, to overthrow Arab governments sympathetic to the United States and to destroy the state of Israel." What political solution is possible in the face of such an agenda?
Hard to account for
Sir: Several years ago, I worked four hours a week as a book-keeper (untrained) for a small local charity, and was required to produce a summary of accounts for each monthly meeting of our (lay) management committee; I once had to track down why our accounts were 20p short. How did nobody at Hollinger notice that $400m went missing over seven years?
Lost in the post
Sir: If the Royal Mail is fined for poor service (report, 1 September), where does the money come from? Since the Government effectively owns Royal Mail, any fine would eventually be laid at the door of taxpayers. Maybe it is to our benefit to accept poor service and avoid paying yet more tax!
New Malden, Surrey