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Industrial Diseases

6. Mr. John Cummings (Easington): What progress has been made to date in settling claims for vibration white finger and chronic bronchitis and emphysema; and if he will make a statement. [149006]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mr. Peter Hain): We have settled more than 20,000 claims for vibration white finger and made a further 23,000 interim payments, together totalling nearly £220 million in compensation. For lung disease, progress has been much slower, but payments are now starting to flow, with about £113 million having been paid out. In recent weeks, we have been paying out about £1 million per day across Britain for both.

Mr. Cummings: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that reply and wish him well in his endeavours to break through the logjam that is causing so much misery and distress to tens of thousands of seriously ill ex-miners.

Will my hon. Friend examine, as a matter of urgency, the possibility of accepting paper assessments of desperately ill ex-miners who find themselves unable to undergo the full medical assessment process? Is it not ironic that the Department should accept paper assessments in relation to deceased claimants but not in relation to living claimants who are desperately and woefully ill?

Mr. Hain: I shall examine my hon. Friend's suggestion afresh, although it has been considered before. Respiratory consultants prefer to see claimants in person because they can often provide a better deal as a result. That was the view of Mr. Justice Turner in his court judgment. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's long involvement with the mining industry and his strong commitment to justice for miners. That is a principle to which I am committed as the new Minister with responsibility for energy. I will work with my hon. Friend and anybody else to achieve justice for miners.

There have been delays, and we are putting the system right. Each day, £1 million is being paid out. The Conservative Government denied justice to miners year after year, and we are now delivering it.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I wish the Minister well in the vital task that is before him. As part of it, will he reconsider the invidious clawback--a bureaucratic nightmare, which does not bring much financial relief to the Government and causes great distress to miners'

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families. Will the hon. Gentleman talk again with his colleagues in government about relieving the clawback for miners' families?

Mr. Hain: Discussions are taking place to ensure that the system is as fair as possible. We are committed. Last week £1 million was paid out in compensation to miners in Wales. The system has been too slow and there have been too many problems. There have been faults on all sides, including the Government's. Healthcall, IRISC--the claims handlers--and solicitors have all been responsible for delays. We are driving through improvements and I call on the hon. Gentleman and his party, instead of sneering from the sidelines--I welcome his earlier comments, which go against that--to work with us to ensure that the system delivers what it is intended to deliver.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I am sure that my hon. Friend will be doing everything that is possible because he, like me and many other hon. Members, has constituents who are directly affected by the issue. What other steps does he think could be taken to speed up the process? Will he speak to the solicitors, who in some cases have been holding papers for more than five months? Ex-miners have contacted me about the slowness of progress with their claims.

Mr. Hain: In the Bridgend area alone, £5.5 million has been paid out in miners' compensation. That is an important contribution to the welfare of miners in my hon. Friend's constituency and in the surrounding area. This afternoon, I am meeting the solicitors' group representing claimants and I will discuss these matters with them. We have given a clear priority, and urged everybody to go with it, which is that the oldest and illest miners must come to the top of the queue, even if younger and fitter miners find their appointments rescheduled as a result.

I have identified several categories, including asthma cases and widows' cases, which have not so far been subject to quick payments. I have identified those categories and others so that we may get the money flowing as quickly as possible. That is being achieved. Much more needs to be done, but we will get there.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Does my hon. Friend agree that a satisfactory system for settling claims depends, at least in part, on the accessibility of test centres? In a written answer to me yesterday, my hon. Friend said that sick, ill and injured miners in Leicestershire should attend the centres at Cannock, Coventry or Nottingham. Without their own transport or public transport, these places are about as accessible to them as the dark side of the moon. Will my hon. Friend again review the location of test centres, to make them more convenient for miners in my constituency and in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd)?

Mr. Hain: I know of my hon. Friend's concern. I shall certainly look again at his proposition. Of course there are domiciliary services for the most infirm. In the context of driving forward prioritisation for the oldest, illest miners, we are looking at ways in which we can help with their

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travel needs to get them into centres as quickly as possible. They deserve attention, assessment and compensation in the shortest possible time.

Aerospace Industry

7. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): What steps he is taking to safeguard employment in the aerospace industry. [149007]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers): We have taken a number of steps, for example launch investment in BAE Systems to develop the wings for the A380 aircraft. On Tuesday, I announced launch investment in Rolls-Royce for further development of the Trent aero-engine. As a result of the action taken by the Government, employment in the aerospace industry has increased since 1997, with the latest figures showing more than 15,000 more people being employed in the sector.

Mr. Prentice: I extend my hearty congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his wisdom, perspicacity and foresight--you do not often hear that, Mr. Speaker, so savour it--for putting £250 million in launch aid into Rolls-Royce, which is an important company in my constituency and that of my next-door neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike).

This week, Rolls-Royce said that the £250 million grant will sustain 7,000 jobs in the company and the supply chain. I am worried that some of those jobs in the supply chain may be overseas. What conditions were attached to the grant to Rolls-Royce to ensure that as many jobs as possible stay in the United Kingdom, and do not go to other places such as Canada and eastern Europe?

Mr. Byers: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The 7,000 jobs which have been safeguarded are in Rolls-Royce and the supply chain here in the United Kingdom, hopefully bringing benefit to my hon. Friend's constituents and people in neighbouring constituencies in Lancashire.

I also understand my hon. Friend's concern about the restructuring on which Rolls-Royce has embarked, especially its intentions on its research and development work. We need to do all that we can to encourage Rolls-Royce to regard the United Kingdom as a good place to continue its research and development. Even at this late stage, I hope that Rolls-Royce will think again, consider that item for a few more weeks, and perhaps see what the Chancellor may announce in the Budget. We know from the pre-Budget report that my right hon. Friend is looking at the whole area of research and development support for large businesses as well as small and medium-sized enterprises.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating Boeing on the inward investment that it has announced in Yorkshire and the Humber--the homeland of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition--as recently as last week? Will the Secretary of State be particularly robust in standing up against any aggressive or protectionist standards from

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the United States authorities, especially in any contest between Boeing and Airbus Industrie over the future of aerospace in this country?

Mr. Byers: The hon. Lady touches on an important point--how we can make sure that the trade disputes that have blown up between the European Union and the United States over the last few years do not occur under the new US Administration. We have already made very good contacts with the new US trade representative, and I know that he is acutely conscious of the need to ensure that we have mechanisms in place that will ensure that we can move in quickly and stop those disputes developing into the sort of problems to which the hon. Lady referred.

Boeing's decision to invest, with the university sector, in state-of-the-art facilities in Yorkshire, is a good demonstration of how universities and businesses can work together. The fact that world-class companies such as Boeing are coming to Yorkshire is a demonstration that, under this Government, Britain is a good place to do business and research. As a result, we are creating British jobs.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): May I tell my right hon. Friend that many of my constituents working for BAE Systems have welcomed the launch aid and the various military orders that the Government have announced in the past few years? Despite that, they have seen round after round of redundancies in Lancashire and the threat of further redundancies in the months ahead. As for BAE Systems, the company seems to have no clear strategy for the future. In discussions with the company in the weeks ahead, will my right hon. Friend make clear to it the concerns of Lancashire MPs and their constituents about the future of BAE Systems and its commitment to the UK aerospace industry?

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for the interests of BAE Systems workers in Lancashire. I understand the concerns that he has expressed and I shall certainly raise them with the company's management. Global competition means that BAE Systems is going through a period of restructuring. It is not the job of the Government to try to stand in the way of that, as the company must make commercial decisions in its interests to ensure employment opportunities. Our task must be to help individuals through this period of change. One of the things that we are trying to do with BAE Systems is to ensure that it can secure more contracts in export markets. I hope that there will be some good news in the near future on the securing of major contracts by the company.

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