Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2001

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Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is helpfully explaining some further details that concern us. Will he confirm that there are no relevant clawbacks? My hon. Friend—if I may call him that—the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr touched on that. Will the Minister refer to the points that my hon. Friend and I made about rejigging the scale with a view to greater sensitivity for the older worker?

Dr. Whitehead: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which anticipates a point that I was about to make. There is no remit in the 1979 Act to reclaim awards made under it, but the question arises of compensation paid in respect of loss of past earnings, past care or past mobility being reduced to take account of benefits paid for the same purpose. However, that applies only for a maximum of five years from the date of claim to benefit in respect of the accident, injury or disease. It is not possible to reduce the compensation for pain and suffering that is the essential point of the scheme.

Adam Price: Under the sister British Coal pneumoconiosis scheme, is not it standard practice to undertake a medical reassessment?

Dr. Whitehead: I am concentrating on the narrower point of this scheme. Even in the case of respiratory diseases for which British Coal was liable, which also have a long onset and can date back many years, compensation claims show that about 99 per cent. of all miners whose claims are successful are unlikely to be affected by compensation recovery.

Compensation recovery is now, in effect, a small issue, and the Department of Trade and Industry has decided not to consider recovery of benefits from claimants in whose case the total value of benefits to be repaid to the Department for Work and Pensions is £100 or less. That adds a further element to the figure. It reduces the administrative burden and speeds up the processing of claims. The DTI recovers relevant benefits from the very small remainder because it would be unfair not only to miners and their families, but to other workers who suffer industrial injury to do otherwise.

Adam Price: With the greatest respect to the Minister, I am at fault—the impatience of relative youth, I suppose—for jumping in on a subsequent point, but I should like to get the matter clear in my own mind. My understanding is that the sister scheme under the British Coal, formerly the NCB, involves pneumoconiosis compensation regulations and allows for medical reassessment in the event of deterioration—

The Chairman: Order. We are straying from the essence of the matter that we are debating.

Adam Price: My question is, if the principle is established and the Act was based on it, why—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying the patience of the Chair.

Dr. Whitehead: Thank you, Mr. Cummings.

I emphasise that the genesis of the scheme is the idea of a lump sum payment, based on either 20 per cent. disability or 100 per cent. disability. It might be argued that that is a less than completely flexible method, although greater flexibility was introduced under the 1979 Act than had been available under the original NCB scheme in respect of apportionment of years and various other matters. The scheme therefore differs in intent and operation from the British Coal scheme, whereby people assessed under DWP benefits can return to the scheme if the percentage disability increases by more than 10 per cent.

As the scheme involves two methods of claim—20 per cent. and 100 per cent.— and a lump sum payment, the issue was not intended to arise. In fact, it does not. One may wonder whether the original intention was different, but that is the reality of the scheme. We should reflect on the fact that there are other benefits that can attach additionally and which alter over time, over and above the benefit obtained by this scheme.

We have dealt at length with some of these detailed issues, and it is important that they are clear and on the record. I hope that we now have a clear view of what the scheme is about, why it is necessary to uprate as suggested and why we should continue to operate the scheme generously to ensure that the sufferers of these dreadful diseases receive some compensation and assistance.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on what I sense is his move towards a peroration. I would like him to take away and consider some observations that have been made, but which may not be suitable for examination in Committee, particularly, for example, the weighting of the scales. We will not make progress by debating that issue today. Given that the Minister is taking a positive view of the objectives of the whole system and given that we are endeavouring to support him, I hope that he will reflect at leisure. Perhaps in the next uprating, we will have some beneficial changes.

Dr. Whitehead: The review will certainly take into account a number of the wider issues raised today, including whether the uprating should be automatic and made without the assistance of Committees such as this.

As all hon. Members here will agree, no amount of money can compensate for the misery and suffering caused by these diseases. The amounts provided, which I hope will be uprated, provide some assistance, in addition to the social security benefit payable, for those affected by the diseases who cannot get compensation through the courts. The Government will continue to review the payments to keep them in line with the value of money. We are determined to ensure that risks to health are properly addressed so that future generations do not have to suffer in such a way. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2001.

        Committee rose at Twenty-three minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Baron, Mr.
Barron, Mr.
Bellingham, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Brazier, Mr
Cairns, David
Ennis, Jeff
Holmes, Paul
Mann, John
Price, Adam
Sheridan, Jim
Watson, Mr.
Watts, Mr.
Whitehead, Dr.
Woolas, Mr.

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