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Mr. Blunt: I thought that the golden rule was something to do with the cycle. Has it somehow changed?

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman is right. The golden rule refers to the cycle as a whole. If he is saying that he supports the golden rule, that would be a step forward. However, the hon. Gentleman appeared to say that, as soon as there is a need to start spending more on social security, it is necessary to start borrowing for it. That is not the approach that we have taken. We want a sustainable level of debt, and that is what we have achieved and will continue to achieve. We will not go back to the days of boom and bust. That has been a key element in our success in managing the economy.

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the radical implications of our changes in capital gains tax. After four years, with the accelerated taper for business assets, the rate of capital gains tax will fall to 10 per cent. That will undoubtedly unleash a huge new wave of enterprise and investment in every community throughout the country. We should all be pleased about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East referred to the complimentary remarks of the new Archbishop of Westminster about the Budget. I am glad that he did that. He welcomed particularly, as did the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), the new investment in Manchester metrolink. I was interested in what my hon. Friend had to say about the work that he has been doing in bringing together unemployed people, employers and others in his area, to discuss how best we can together tackle the barriers that still face people in moving into employment, and in his proposals, which were based on the discussions that have taken place. I shall examine them closely.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the really significant change over the past three years is that there are nearly 800,000 fewer people on income support now than there were at the time of the general election. All those people are no longer receiving benefit and are paying taxes. That is why we are able to make the huge new investments in education and the health service.

As well as welcoming the Manchester metrolink announcement, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West said--I think that I have this right--that he does not immediately discount the possibility that the new deal may have done some good. He got really carried away later on and said that it had probably brought some

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benefits. That is as close as we will get to a recognition from a Conservative Member of the triumph that has been achieved through the new deal.

Mr. Brady: I have been consistent in the Education and Employment Select Committee and in the House in recognising that some benefit may have come from the new deal, but one expects quite a lot of benefit if one is spending £5 billion of public money, and it is far from proven that the Government are getting the bangs for their bucks.

Mr. Timms: The evaluation shows clearly that we are. The figures are in the Red Book. Long-term youth unemployment is 40 per cent. lower, according to the independent evaluation, than it would otherwise have been. That is a massive change for the better in the life chances of tens of thousands of young people who were abandoned by the previous Government and who can now look forward to a decent future. The whole House should welcome that. The hon. Gentleman has had the benefit of examining the details in the Select Committee. We are grateful to him at least for some grudging welcome of what we have achieved, but he has not recognised its true scale.

Mr. Blunt: The Labour party in opposition had a target of taking 250,000 young people off benefit and into work. The only sour fact is that the total was collapsing so fast when the Government came to office that there were only 187,000 people in the entire group. They inherited the welcome trend of a collapse in youth unemployment.

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. We will have achieved 250,000 youngsters going from benefit into work in the life of this Parliament, as we said that we would.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North for what he said about the excellent business breakfast that he organised this morning. The occasion was encouraging and useful.

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) talked about the aggregates tax. The Treasury and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have worked closely together on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said at the time of the pre-Budget report that we were minded to introduce an aggregates levy unless there were a substantial improvement in the voluntary package that had been put together by the industry under the leadership of the Quarry Products Association.

The QPA has undoubtedly worked hard. It has had difficulties, because some of the smaller quarries defected and made it clear that they did not like the package that was being developed. It then started to add new strings to the package, and one aspect of its proposals was seriously

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anti-competitive and not compatible with European Union law. The reality is that, when the time came for us to reach a decision, which we said we would do in time for the Budget, there was no viable package on offer from the industry, so we went ahead, exactly as we had said in November that we would, with the announcement of a revenue-neutral aggregates levy to take effect from April 2002.

There was some confusion among Conservative Members about tobacco smuggling. The costs of the Budget announcements on that are indeed £209 million over three years, but the yield could be as much as £2.3 billion over the same period, massively exceeding the costs. Our approach--being tough on smuggling and ensuring that the benefits of higher tobacco charges are carried through into the health of the nation--is absolutely right.

We have made important announcements about how we will create stronger, more enterprising and innovative British business. The significant measures that we have announced include the radical changes on capital gains tax and the 40 per cent. first-year capital allowances being made permanent for small and medium-sized firms--a measure that has been demanded by such firms' representatives for a long time. We have--

It being Seven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.

BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

Ordered,



(1) the House shall meet at half-past Nine o'clock, and shall between that hour and half-past Twelve proceed with a motion for the adjournment of the House made by a Minister of the Crown;
(2) the subject for debate on the said motion shall be 'matters to be considered before the forthcoming adjournment';
(3) at Eleven o'clock the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in her opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members;
(4) at half-past Twelve o'clock, the proceedings shall be interrupted and the motion for the adjournment shall lapse;
(5) a further motion for the adjournment of the House shall thereafter be made by a Minister of the Crown, and, subject to the Order of 1st March, if the Question on the said motion has not previously been agreed to, at One o'clock the Speaker shall adjourn the House without Question put; and
(6) there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Competition Act 1998 (Director's Rules) Order

Ordered,


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Asbestos-related Diseases

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

7 pm

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise what is an important issue to a modest but growing number of people. They suffer the results of working in industries that used asbestos. Asbestos can cause pleural thickening, which is not in itself a great problem, but it can lead to further disease. It can cause asbestosis, which can be a crippling respiratory disease, but most importantly, it can lead to malignant mesothelioma, which is an especially pernicious cancer that is extremely resistant to any treatment and is usually fatal within six to 48 months of diagnosis.

Malignant mesothelioma typically occurs 20 to 40 years after exposure and, interestingly, in 1968, it caused 200 deaths, in 1999 there were some 1,500 deaths, and in about 10 years' time, it is projected that there will be some 3,500 deaths. That trend will probably continue for the next 15 to 25 years.

It has been understood that asbestosis carries a risk for some time. Undisturbed asbestos is not a great problem, but disturbed asbestos, as seen in industrial applications, has been under suspicion since the early 1950s. It is sad to record that no meaningful legislation was introduced until the 1970s. People now face the consequences of having worked in what were essential industries, such as shipbuilding. My interest is predominantly in those people who worked in the shipbuilding industries on the south coast, notably in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and who are now presenting with that malignant disease.

I am aware that the industrial injuries disablement benefit applies to employed earners who contract the disease and I know that payments are made under the pneumoconiosis workers compensation legislation. I have also noted the update that will be applied this year. However, the payments under those schemes are hardly generous. They do not compensate the sufferer in any way for the disease, nor do they compensate the family and carers of the individual concerned.

People are, therefore, encouraged to turn to litigation to obtain compensation and to take actions against their former employers. That is a difficult job for those vulnerable people. If one knows that one has only 12 to 24 months to live, one does not really want to spend some 12 to 18 months going through the courts.

The state benefit system requires strict proof of the disease and, in that instance, the diagnosis is not usually in doubt. Bronchoscopy usually produces a specimen that can be proven histologically--it is awful that someone in my trade still stumbles over the technical terms--which means that it can be proven microscopically. There is no doubt of the type of disease that the claimant is suffering. It is particularly irksome, therefore, that when people are encouraged to go through the courts, many of the procedures are repeated and multiple expert opinions are sought while litigation is resisted.

I have been encouraged to seek this debate by a constituent, who visited me a week after the successful completion of his court case last month. He was given the diagnosis of his fatal disease on 4 January 1999 and it took him 12 months, which is a short time for such cases,

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of the rest of his life to establish decent compensation for himself and his family. He has written me a good letter, which I will quote. He says:


    The existing law in these cases is ludicrous!!. At the present time the defence pleads "not guilty" routinely and to obtain proof of guilt the claimant's legal team have to employ a number of "experts" to prove the case. Defence then employs a similar number of "experts" to disprove these arguments.

He makes some useful suggestions, to which I will return. He believes that


    in MOST cases the following would be a better procedure.


    1. A suitably Qualified Surgeon and a Pathologist make a diagnosis. (this is the basis that later "experts" use to write their . . . reports.


    2. A suitably experienced Litigation Executive should then prove where the claimant was employed, exposure to asbestos, loss of earnings, pension rights, etc.

The matter could then be placed before a judge or a tribunal and a decision made expeditiously.

At the moment, the company responsible uses time in a war of attrition, hoping that it will wear out the claimant and the case will be dropped. I have been told that there have now been many hundreds of cases, which have been strongly resisted but have all been settled, often just before the court hearing, and that 95 per cent. of those claims have been successful.

The present situation is not reasonable. The state system compensates, and rightly so, but the compensation is inadequate. Companies and their insurers know that they have a liability--there is enough case law now to know what is likely to succeed in court. The contribution made by the companies to the Government scheme is grossly inadequate to provide decent compensation.

We now have an opportunity to get the companies together with the Government and the legal side to find out whether a more meaningful compensation scheme can be constructed. As a minimum, one would expect a more expeditious legal way for people to claim--perhaps with specialist judges, or by having expert lawyers and with the acceptance that one does not have to replicate everything whenever an expert opinion is sought.

There is much interest in the House in the issue. Parliamentary questions have been tabled by the hon. Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). The House of Commons Library has produced an excellent research paper. The all-party group for occupational safety and health, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), has recently set up an asbestos panel.

The only people to benefit from the present system are some of my medical colleagues, and lawyers. I hope that the Government will develop a system under which the people who benefit are those with a reasonable claim to have suffered a disease that was foreseeable because of the industry involved. The industries that I am thinking of were often of strategic significance to this country. A system such as I have advocated would allow us to deal with the anomalous situation faced by ex-service men, which I know has exercised the House a great deal.

I am grateful to the Minister for being here. I was not sure whether the most appropriate Minister would have come from the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, or the Lord Chancellor's Department. I am very

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glad that the Minister attending this debate represents the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which has the widest experience of dealing with industrial claims of this sort.

I hope that the Minister, who is well known for expertise in her field, will also do a bit of joined-up governing and negotiate with her colleagues to see whether a system cannot be set up that would be in the interests of my constituent and people like him, and in the interests of insurance companies and former employers. Those organisations must be wasting a vast amount of time and money contesting claims, 95 per cent. of which fail in the courts.


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