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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I wish to present a petition that has been signed by 2,500 people, opposing the Government's proposals to abolish the right of oral appeal for visitors to this country, to limit the definition of family members, and to take away the right of appeal for overseas students who wish to come to this country.
Declares that the right of oral appeal and current definition of family members for visitor's visas and the right of appeal for overseas students are very important to Institutions of Higher Education as well as to ethic communities throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I am pleased to have this opportunity of presenting a petition on behalf of 500 constituents, including the Chard and Ilminster pensioners forum. The petitioners are concerned about the high level of council tax, and want it to be replaced by a fairer tax.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons vote to replace Council Tax with a fair and equitable tax that, without recourse to any supplementary benefit, takes into account ability to pay from disposable income. Such tax to be based on a system that is free from any geographical or politically motivated discrimination, and that clearly identifies the fiscal and managerial responsibilities of all involved parties.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I rise to present a petition containing the names of 148 of my constituents, collected on behalf of the IsItFair council tax protest campaign. It draws attention to the year-on-year increases in council tax.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons vote to replace Council Tax with a fair and equitable tax that, without recourse to any supplementary benefit, takes into account ability to pay from disposable income. Such tax to be based on a
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier today at oral questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Minister of State said that neither he nor the Secretary of State was familiar with a quotation from the Secretary of State that The Guardian and The Times ran in October 2004. I have since checked with the Press Association and Amanda Brown, the journalist who wrote the story, and although she no longer has her notes or the tape recording made at the time of the teleconference with the Secretary of State, she stands by the fact that she gave an accurate report of what the Secretary of State said to the Press Association, which was subsequently quoted in The Guardian and The Times. DEFRA did not protest at the time that the story had been misfiled.
In the light of that and of the inadequate response to other elements of my question to the Minister of State this morning, I intend to raise this matter in an Adjournment debate, as I was advised privately by the Minister that unless the journalist in question could produce her notes or the tape he would not return to the House to make a correction. Am I therefore correct in saying, Madam Deputy Speaker, that an Adjournment debate is the only way to take this matter forward?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): That certainly is not a point of order for the Chair. The matter has been raised here and noted, and it will now be on the record. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House and his suggested route is perhaps the most appropriate one.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I begin by referring the House to my entries in the Register of Members' Interests. I am a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, and of the Minister's English coal health claims monitoring group and the Yorkshire coal health claims monitoring group, which were set up way back in 1999 to deal with some of the challenges that we faced in maintaining the mining communities' commitment to the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease scheme.
I thank the Government for what they have done for former miners and their families, and for mining communities generally. The COPD scheme, which came into being following the February 1998 court case, had 576,000 registered claims. The scheme is now closed but it has already paid out some £2 billiona figure that will increase substantially as all the cases move to settlement.
I want to make two main points. First, I want to show that it is illogical and unjust not to include surface workers in the COPD scheme. Secondly, I want to suggest to the Minister that there are alternative options, one of which could be a no-faults option. The COPD scheme is administered under the handling agreement that has been agreed by the judges who oversee the process and receive progress reports on the scheme.
A major defect in the COPD scheme is the fact that it does not include surface workers who have had to work in dusty areas of the colliery. The Government accepted the case for the inclusion of surface workers in the scheme and laid a minute before the House on 10 July 2000. I shall quote from paragraphs 5 and 6 of the minute. Under the heading, "Surface Dust", paragraph 5 states:
"Many of the existing claimants also have potential extended claims for exposure to dust in jobs on the surface at mines. In addition, some surface-only workers have test claims pending. Exposure to dust on the surface leads to the same lung diseases as dust underground. The DTI has investigated the levels of dust prevailing in surface jobs in British Coal mines, measures which could have been taken to reduce dust and those which were taken. The DTI proposes to accept that British Coal did not fully meet its responsibilities towards certain categories of workers in dusty jobs on the surface. (If the liability is not accepted these issues will be put to the Court to decide.)"
"In accepting this liability, the DTI would propose to miners' solicitors that compensation for surface dust exposure be handled within the current Agreement for underground exposure. How this would work would need to be negotiated in detail. Agreement would be needed on what jobs would be covered and on what levels of dust could reasonably have been avoided."
As I said, that minute was laid before the House on 10 July 2000. It accepted that it was unjust to keep surface workers out of the scheme, yet despite the minute, by 16 July 2000 there had been reversal.
It appears that, following a report from Dr. Moore-Gillan and Dr. Ford, who I understand carried out an analysis of dust levels on colliery surfaces, the DTI set out its position in compensating
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1069
surface workers in a position paper of 16 July 2000notwithstanding the fact that the minute had been laid before the House.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I, too, have seen the minute and referred to it in my Adjournment debate on the subject. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the minute was signed by Ann Taylor, director of the coal claims health unit and the senior civil servant dealing with claims throughout the administration of the scheme?
Mr. Clapham: I have a copy of the minute with me. It is entitled, "Non-statutory liability to pay compensation to miners for exposure to surface dust" and it indeed carries the name of Ann Taylor, director of the coal health claims unit, Department of Trade and Industry, and the date of 10 July 2000.
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