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Column 1178implementation and of making proper administrative arrangements. We did that, both in terms of pure administration by the Benefits Agency and the Department of Social Security and by making arrangements for proper medical tests to be conducted smoothly and efficiently. Special arrangements were set up with British Coal and the mining unions to help to make the operation a success. We can rightly claim that in administrative terms it certainly has been a success, however disappointed hon. Gentlemen may be at the moment by the number of miners and former miners who have satisfied the existing conditions for qualification. In my view, there continues to be a positive, constructive and successful dialogue between the unions and the Benefits Agency--a relationship that is valued by both sides. We staggered the take-on of claims in two six-month stages. The first stage has just been completed and the second started on 1 March, two days ago. Manifestly, the burden of work has been largely confined to traditional mining areas, and we had to make a number of special arrangements, including setting up special centres in some areas to cope with the groups of applicants.
On the medical side, we have sought to design procedures to minimise the inconvenience to those who claim the benefits. The procedures ensure that they do not have to attend for tests or examinations more than once, whenever it is possible to arrange that, and handling arrangements have been enhanced to control the flow of cases throughout the organisation and to provide us with proper and valid criteria.
In the last two minutes or so, I shall emphasise a couple of points. First, whatever I may feel personally, the Government--and I, in view of my responsibilities--have to rely on the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council on the prescription of industrial diseases. The council in turn relies on acceptable scientific evidence. We have implemented in full its recommendations on chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The scheme is still in its early days. We are still talking on the early cases. I read out Professor Harrington's advice on reviewing the conditions after a suitable period of operation, and I am certainly willing to receive correspondence from Opposition Members expressing any concerns that they have about their experience of the scheme.
However, we should be pleased that the council eventually came to the conclusion that it did, and I hope that the Government can get some credit for swiftly accepting the recommendation and implementing it successfully. The first phase has gone well, thanks to the careful planning, special resources and considerable effort that have been put into this extension of the industrial injuries scheme. We are committed to a similar successful implementation of the second phase, and we shall continue to see how it all works out in practice. Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.
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