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House of Commons

Thursday 9 December 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Miners' Compensation

1. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): What action she is taking to ensure fair payment of compensation to coal health claimants. [203414]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): In the past four years, as part of the largest health compensation scheme in the world, the British Government have paid more than £1.1 billion to compensate more than 171,000 miners for injuries relating to vibration white finger, and more than £1.2 billion to more than 221,000 miners for injuries relating to respiratory diseases. We have paid a total of £2.3 billion to nearly 400,000 people, with individual payments of up to £130,000 for vibration white finger and £370,000 for respiratory disease. We have paid a total of more than £75 million in the most affected constituency.

Mr. Watts: When does my hon. Friend expect full payment to be made to private mine claimants?

Nigel Griffiths: The House will be pleased to note that we have made compensation payments to miners who spent all or part of their working lives in private mines. However, I regret that it took far longer than it should have done to persuade private mine owners to accept their liabilities and agree a formula for compensation for 2,600 miners who have submitted claims. I have asked for claims to be expedited so that payments can be made as quickly as possible.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): The Minister cannot stress strongly enough the fact that the hold-up in many cases is for miners who worked for British Coal and subsequently for private employers such as Cementation—there is a long list—when the pits closed. The net result is that miners worked for those companies for a few years. British Coal is prepared to settle as a result of the Government's intervention, but the private
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mine owners are holding out. My hon. Friend must lay it down strongly that they must pay their fair whack of the bill and get the matter settled.

Nigel Griffiths: I am certainly willing to do that—indeed, I have been doing that. Private mines use two excuses: first, they dispute the length of time people spent in the mines; and, secondly, it is suggested that the amount of dust to which they were exposed in the private mines might have been different and that, therefore, matters could not be proportioned for someone who had worked for former British Coal for 80 per cent. of the time and for a private mine for 20 per cent. of the time. We have said that that is nonsense and asked for the proportion to be worked out in relation to the amount of time spent in private mines. I understand that all the private mines have now agreed to that. Payments have already been made to some miners but, to my mind, that is not only four years too late but far too late. We will certainly convey a strong message to private mine owners.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend knows that some of my constituents have received substantial sums from the fund. Does he know that more than 3,000 miners in the United Kingdom have received less than £200, whereas solicitors have received substantial funds for those cases? Will he confirm that there is an agreement on a minimum payment of £500 for every ex-miner who suffers from respiratory disease? If that is the case, when will the payments be made?

Nigel Griffiths: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing the case of miners who have received woefully inadequate payments. That has happened because compensation payments can be drastically reduced, for example, if a miner had a history of heavy smoking. I have been pressing for a minimum compensation payment of £500 to be funded out of the solicitor's fee, which is £2,300 per case. Solicitors have agreed that in principle and I urge them to implement that agreement in full without further delay. So far, we have paid solicitors more than £400 million for their services. I do not want any delays in making the minimum payments of £500.


2. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): What action the Government are taking to address intellectual property crime and the trade in counterfeit goods. [203415]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): On 10 August, we published details of a new national strategy for intellectual property crime to ensure that the Patent Office, the police and trading standards officers work together more effectively to tackle counterfeiting.

Ms Stuart: Will the Secretary of State acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the creative industries make to this country's prosperity and condemn those who illegally copy video games, other videos and DVDs? They not only undermine our future prosperity, but the
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funds that those illegal activities generate are often used for serious organised crime. Will my right hon. Friend therefore assure me that the Government will not only condemn people who do that but take action against them?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Britain is a world leader in the creative industries, and I completely condemn the counterfeiters who threaten jobs and profits in those industries. It is estimated that about a quarter of the counterfeiters are also involved in drug smuggling and money laundering. That is why we are strengthening our efforts here and working with other Governments internationally to try to catch the criminals behind the counterfeiting.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): I share the Secretary of State's view that this form of fraud is significant and important. What would she say to businesses in my constituency and elsewhere about the fact that missing trader fraud—or carousel fraud, as it is also known—has increased significantly in recent years? What steps has she taken over the past six months to try to address that problem?

Ms Hewitt: As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a matter of real concern, and we have asked trading standards officers and the police to work more effectively together to deal with the problem.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that she is doing on intellectual property and counterfeiting matters, but will she acknowledge my disappointment at the apparent insufficient zeal that is being displayed by the Department of Trade and Industry in pursuing those UK companies, their associates and agents, who, it is alleged, have been involved in bribery and corruption, and who will now be subject to far less severe strictures than had been expected when the first announcement on this matter was made in the spring of this year?

Ms Hewitt: I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed. In fact, the new bribery and corruption laws will provide us with some of the strongest anti-corruption laws in the world. I am sure that he agrees, however, that we should not impose unnecessary bureaucratic regulations on our exporters. We should work with them and demand only the information necessary to ensure that they comply with our bribery and anti-corruption laws, which is precisely what we and the Export Credits Guarantee Department are doing.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that, while the entry of China into the World Trade Organisation was a welcome move, China has serious deficiencies in its approach to the protection of intellectual property rights? What steps have the Government taken to help China through those deficiencies, and what success have they had?

Ms Hewitt: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of China's entry into the WTO. I have taken every opportunity—most
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recently, when I was in Beijing in October—to raise the issue of counterfeiting and piracy with the Chinese Government. They are aware of the problem, and I am glad to say that British companies operating in China are now beginning to see evidence of a more effective approach by the Chinese authorities. However, we will keep the pressure up, in order to protect the intellectual property of our companies.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that people are moving out of the drug trade into counterfeiting. In Scotland, we have done a lot of work, particularly under the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to get money back from the drug barons. Will she assure me that the Government will do their level best to ensure that the counterfeiters are also dealt with under those provisions, so that we can get the money back from people who are taking food out of the mouths of others, particularly those in the music industry? If things go on like this, it will have a detrimental effect on the music industry.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right. I have discussed this matter frequently, particularly with representatives of our music industry. We shall certainly ensure that the police do everything possible to use the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 against these criminals, and the Serious Organised Crime Agency that we are establishing will also improve the way in which we deal with this kind of organised crime.

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