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The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson): The Government understand the concern of those suffering from asbestos-related disease as a consequence of employment in firms whose employers' liability insurance has been provided by Chester Street Holdings Ltd.
Mr. Clapham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I also thank her for meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and me yesterday to discuss the issue. As she is aware, it appears that Iron Trades dumped the asbestos liabilities into Chester Street Holdings in 1990. The company continued trading until the late 1990s, when it was sold to an Australian insurance company.
The insurance protection board will provide some protection for some of the cases, but the pre-1972 cases--that is, cases of men exposed before 1972--may not be covered by the protection system. Will my hon. Friend therefore set up an inquiry into Iron Trades? Will she also consider how she might urge the insurance industry to work with the Government with the aim of ensuring that each claimant gets compensation in full?
Miss Johnson: As an insurance company, Chester Street--and Iron Trades before it--was authorised to do business in the UK, and has been supervised by insurance regulators to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Insurance Companies Act 1982. Since 1 January 1999, the FSA has been responsible for prudential supervision of insurance companies.
The Policy Holders Protection Act 1975 offers protection for compulsory employers' liability insurance policies, which are required under the Employers Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. It is the employer who holds the policy with Chester Street, not the employee. The employer remains liable for claims made against it by employees or former employees. It is for the employer to establish whether any further protection is required under the 1975 Act, to the extent that Chester Street is unable to meet the terms of the insurance contract in full.
The House will wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 7 March, there will be a debate relating to motor vehicle distribution and servicing agreements in the European Community in European Standing Committee C.
[Wednesday 7 March 2001: European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Union document: (a) 12648/00 and (b) 12646/00, Health requirements for animal by-products. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 28-iii and HC 28-vii(2000-01).
On foot and mouth, can the right hon. Lady tell us what contingency arrangements are in place in case the crisis continues? In particular, I have in mind the need to collect national census forms across the country on 29 April and any change that may have to be made to county council elections scheduled for 3 May.
Can the Leader of the House tell us whether Downing street has yet received the report of the Hammond inquiry? She will know that there are press reports that it has. If the conclusions of the report are imminent, will she outline how the Government intend to convey that information to the House and what opportunities the House will have to question the Government on it?
May I bring the Leader of the House back to something that I raised at the last business questions: namely, the continuing problems with programming motions, especially in Committee? I have mentioned the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. The House was told that the Government intended to allow 16 sittings on the Bill but, in Committee, the Home Office Minister concerned offered only 14. I gather that in a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee, that was increased to 15 sittings. However, on the last day of its deliberations, the Committee will have to deal with no fewer than 50 clauses as well as new schedules, all of which will have to be compressed into a Thursday, when there are fewer hours for consideration.
I know that the right hon. Lady shares the concern that the programming procedures should be sorted out. I ask her to focus on our experiences with Home Office Bills in particular and to consider the case of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. It is a matter of grave concern to my colleagues that they will have to deal with that very important Bill in such a short space of time.
On the same subject, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill is due to come to the Commons soon from another place. Conservative Members in another place tabled many amendments to the Bill as a result of consultation with many large charitable organisations. It was a matter of great concern to them that they faced open criticism from Labour Members of another place for doing so. I flag that up now because I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the education team is responsive to the need for clauses and amendments to be properly scrutinised and discussed when the Bill comes to the Commons. It is clearly a matter of interest not just to us but to many charitable bodies with an interest in special educational needs.
The hon. Lady asked me whether I could say any more about contingency plans for issues such as the census and the local elections; these were well-concealed inquiries about the date of the general election, I thought. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Minister has issues such as the handling of census forms under active consideration. I cannot give the hon. Lady any more information about that at the present time.
The hon. Lady and the House will be aware that the time period is such that we are probably talking about outbreaks of the disease that were incubated before movement was stopped. How great the difficulties are and how speedily they can be resolved will depend on events in the next few days. I cannot tell her any more about that at the moment, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will wish to do so.
I would have assured the hon. Lady that there will be an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Minister in the near future but for the fact that two Departments will be answering oral questions next Thursday, so I shall handle that matter with some caution. However, there will come a point at which the hon. Lady and the House will be able to question my right hon. Friend.
I am not aware that the report of the Hammond inquiry has been received, although, of course, I am aware of the great interest in the matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it plain that he has every intention of publishing the report as speedily as possible. The issue is under consideration, but I understand that it is not yet resolved.
The hon. Lady again raises the issue of programming motions. I am mindful of the concerns that she expresses. We are extremely anxious, as she noted, to reach agreement on those matters. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill receives its Third Reading in the Lords today. Although I am aware that the Bill is progressing, I am not aware of the issues raised by the hon. Lady or of problems with regard to the amendments. I certainly assure her that the education team will take seriously any issues or concerns that arise during the Bill's passage through this House.