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Miners' Compensation

8. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): If she will make a statement on progress in determining the position of former surface workers in relation to the miners' compensation scheme. [211118]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): A total of 396,000 compensation payments have been made to sick miners, or their widows or relatives, for respiratory diseases and vibration white finger, totalling £2.3 billion. I outlined the latest position on surface workers in my letter of 13 January to the hon. Gentleman and others. Following a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, I have given an undertaking to re-examine the position.

Adam Price: I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware of the enormous distress that this issue is causing to former surface workers. Will he tell us whether the Government are insisting on costs being awarded against litigants if they are unsuccessful in any test case? I understand that solicitors acting for the miners have offered to undertake this work at no cost. Could not Government counsel make a similar undertaking?

Nigel Griffiths: Solicitors acting for the miners have had £450 million in public money, so they are not short of such funds. Clearly, with legal aid and other avenues open to miners, those who suffer from disease and who are on low incomes or low pensions can have their legal costs covered through apportionment of costs, as the hon. Member will know. I hope that he will urge solicitors approaching him and his constituents to follow that route.
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Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I pay tribute to the Government for what they have done with regard to the scheme for underground workers, but my hon. Friend will be aware that there is a question regarding surface workers. There were areas on the colliery surface that were extremely dusty, such as the coal prep plant, the screens and the coke batteries. Will he consider introducing a separate scheme from the current one, which need not involve solicitors and could be drawn up in a similar way to the pneumoconiosis scheme, which, by the way, covered surface workers?

Nigel Griffiths: I have been advised of the medical evidence in relation to surface-only workers. Unfortunately, the levels of respiratory disease and dust in their lungs do not appear to make them eligible, and would not appear to do so under the other scheme. I opened up our records to miners' solicitors, so that test cases could be brought forward. Towards the end of last year, 15 cases were identified, and I hope that solicitors can find a way of pursuing those cases, so that we can get to the facts. The medical evidence so far is that dust damage done to lungs on the surface is not comparable to that done to deep-mine workers in dusty pits. We are trying to explore that evidence with miners' representatives.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Will the Minister also accept my congratulations on the fact that underground workers in my constituency have received almost £79 million from the compensation scheme? Having said that, I am pleased that the Minister has announced that he is reviewing the Government's stance. Will he explain to me and my constituents who suffer from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, who worked for many years in the washeries and the screens on the surface, where they contracted their CBE if not at work?

Nigel Griffiths: There is nothing to stop a miner taking a civil case. Indeed, the whole scheme arose from a civil case about that. The medical evidence so far has not in any way been conclusive as to whether they have suffered because of other factors. The medical evidence has been presented, and we have worked with miners' representatives to ensure that they have the most open access and the best possible help in bringing a test case. As I have said, 15 miners have been identified, and I hope that one or more of those cases can be taken forward.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

10. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): If she will make a statement on the work of the national contact point in respect of allegations made by the UN panel of experts with regard to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [211121]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The national contact point works to raise   awareness of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines for multinational enterprises and to promote their use by companies in developing their own codes of conduct. When specific instances regarding their implementation are raised, such as by the UN expert panel on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic
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Republic of the Congo, the national contact point contributes to the resolution of issues raised, for example, by offering a forum for discussion between interested parties.

Norman Lamb: The Minister will be aware that the UN panel concluded that the conflict in the Congo, which claimed the lives of up to 5 million people, was sustained as a result of what it described as the multi-billion dollar theft of the country's mineral assets by companies and other Governments, and yet the NCP process seems deeply flawed in investigating and considering those concerns. Avient Ltd has recently admitted to supplying services to the Zimbabwe defence force in the Congo, yet it seems to have had the mildest of tickings-off. Is he prepared to consider meeting me, other Members and non-governmental organisations to examine those grave concerns?

Mr. Alexander: It is worth reminding the House that the UN expert panel was originally established to consider allegations of sanctions busting involving the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but found them to be unsubstantiated. However, a number of lines continue to be investigated, and I would of course be willing to meet Members to discuss the matter.

China (Cashmere Imports)

11. Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD): What steps she plans to take to increase the level of monitoring of the importation of cashmere knitted garments from China. [211122]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Surveillance licensing of EU imports from China on a range of textiles and clothing products, including cashmere knitted garments, was introduced by the EU and implemented by the UK on 1 January 2005.

Sir Archy Kirkwood: Does the Minister acknowledge the importance of cashmere knitting to south-east Scotland, an area that he knows well? Does he also acknowledge that cashmere garments are unique in that the raw material is, by definition, sourced exclusively in China? China's admission to the World Trade Organisation rules makes it important for dumping regulations to be monitored carefully. Will the Minister give an undertaking that, during the EU presidency later this year, he will make it his task to assure the local industry in both the borders and the rest of the United Kingdom that that monitoring will be carried out diligently?

Mr. Alexander: Of course I am aware of the significance of the cashmere industry to the borders region of Scotland, and of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in that industry. There are real opportunities for the industry, given the potential for exports to the expanding Chinese market with China's accession to the WTO. Specific steps have been taken—not just the surveillance licensing that I mentioned, but the continuation of the EU dumping regulations that he mentioned. I am sure that, not least on the basis of his interest in the matter, we will continue to give it consideration.
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The Minister for Women was asked—

Social Care (Pay Rates)

16. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): If she will make a statement on pay rates for women employed in social care. [211129]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): The median female wage for health and social work is £8.72 per hour, which is above the £7.95 hourly wage for all women in employment. Registration of social care workers is being led by the Department of Health and it is hoped that that will help to raise the status of this important sector of the work force.

Angela Watkinson: The Minister will know that local social services departments have great difficulty in meeting the demand for social care workers, especially when a 24-hour care package can require six or more   people to care for one client. The employees are almost exclusively women with complex domestic commitments, so the jobs involve flexible hours and are often local. The women are tied into the jobs and have no pay bargaining power because they are locked into the terms and conditions that go with the jobs. How can we raise the status of those women and set them on a career path, so that when their children are older they can move to other jobs where their skills are transferable?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Lady is right about the vital contribution made by care workers in many communities throughout the country. She asks what we can do. First, we need to improve the training of those in social care. Secondly, we need to ensure that local authorities have the resources both to recruit and retain the workers on the pay that they deserve for their efforts. That is why the £150 million grant that authorities will receive in 2005–06 for recruitment, retention and training is so crucial, and that is why I am sure the hon. Lady will share my disappointment that it will presumably be subject to one of the cuts proposed by her party's Front Benchers.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I am worried by the Minister's figures. She said that the median female hourly wage was £8.72, but earlier this year the Equal Opportunities Commission said that 5 per cent. of the social care work force earned around £5 an hour. Home owners say that they cannot afford to pay more on the rates provided by social services departments. What does the Minister think the minimum wage for the job should be, and what action are the Government taking to ensure that social services pay enough for that minimum to be paid to these hard-working and much-needed employees?

Jacqui Smith: As I said in my earlier answer, if we are to ensure that the people carrying out this vital work can be paid a decent rate, we must make certain that our social services departments are funded properly. In particular, we need to make certain that the resources
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are directed towards recruitment, retention and training. The £150 million grant—the level of grant has increased in the past few years—is crucial in that regard, but so is training itself and the status of these workers. In both those areas, the Department of Health has taken important action and the ongoing registration of social care workers will ensure that their status and pay reflect the contribution that they make to our communities.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Minister has touched on the critical issue: the resources allocated to local government to enable it to pay for social care workers. I am frequently approached by representatives of residential care homes and nursing homes in my constituency, who say that they cannot find sufficient women to do the job because our area, fortunately, is economically vibrant and well-off and the demand for labour is tremendous. Will the Government not take account of this issue in allocating resources to local authorities and thereby enable them to provide the extra pay needed to employ these care workers, who play an essential role in looking after the many vulnerable people in our society?

Jacqui Smith: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Of course it is crucial that we allocate to local authorities the resources necessary not only to train and recruit these workers, who are doing such an important job, but to retain them on decent rates of pay. Members are right to say that the majority of such workers are women, but it should be part of our task to attract more men into this sector, to increase the total number of workers available. Yes, we do need to ensure that local authorities have more resources and, through the training and recruitment grant, we are ensuring that they will get an extra £150 million next year. I am sorry to return to an earlier point, but if the Conservatives' sums are to add up, that grant must form part of their proposed cuts—should they ever get into power.

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