CAMPAIGNING Blackburn MP Jack Straw has welcomed new government plans to reduce the soaring growth of whiplash claims which have caused rocketing car insurance premiums in East Lancashire.

His endorsement of the move announced yesterday by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was backed by Burnley Liberal Democrat Gordon Birtwistle and Rossendale and Darwen Tory Jake Berry.

The minister launched a consultation on making it easier for insurers to challenge such claims.

Independent medical panels could assess the validity of whiplash cases and allow insurers to use the small claims court for cases worth less than £5,000, rather than just £1,000.

Mr Grayling said honest drivers had been paying for a system open to abuse for too long. Under gover- nment plans, panels would try to ensure genuine cases went ahead.

But he said fraudulent, exaggerated or misrepresented ones would be robustly challenged.

The government said there had been a 60 per cent increase in personal injury claims relating to road accidents since 2006, despite a 20 per cent fall in reported accidents, leading to 1,500 whiplash claims in the UK every day.

Insurers say that whiplash claims cost them £2bn a year, which is equivalent to £90 per policy with premiums in East Lancashire, especially in Blackburn, being among the highest in the country.

Mr Straw said: “I have been campaigning about this for 18 months and these moves should help bring down unnecessarily high insurance premiums in East Lancashire by bringing to an end ludicrous and fraudulent claims.”

Mr Berry said he was deluged by texts and calls from claims companies after a recent accident to make a whiplash claim. Bogus and fraudulent claims must be stopped.”

Mr Birtwistle said: “Bogus whiplash claims put up the cost of everybody’s insurance.”