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As I said, Dr. Ford carried out an analysis of some of the dust levels that had been recorded on colliery surfaces, but the DTI's reversal of position took place notwithstanding the minute. I cannot understand why the important evidence of Dr. Moore-Gillan and Dr. Ford was not considered before the minute was laid, or why, within a matter of six days and on the basis of the evidence supplied by those two doctors, the minute was reversed.
There are a number of flaws in the DTI's position and I intend to list them. First, the coal preparation plants operated by British Coal were not subject to routine sampling procedures. That point is made in the minute to which I have referred, and the DTI accept it. There was no schedule for taking dust readings above ground, although that was not the case with underground workings. That was one of the factors that caused the claimants group of solicitors to decide not to go to court, and I shall return to that in a moment.
Mr. Skinner: Does my hon. Friend accept that the screens on the surfaceprobably the dustiest place of allmeant that the doctors in 2000 were probably unable to see the sort of conditions that applied for all the years beforehand? What is more, does he agree that the doctors involved in the pneumoconiosis settlement knew about those screens?
Mr. Clapham: My hon. Friend is right, and his point about the pneumoconiosis scheme is extremely important. That no-fault liability scheme, introduced in 1974, covered surface workers, and it accepted that they worked in dusty conditions and were likely to contract pneumoconiosis. The claimants group of solicitors have already traced some 34 cases of men who worked only on the surface but who contracted pneumoconiosis.
Mr. Clapham: I hope that the Minister will consider the very important points raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)that the pneumoconiosis agreement applied to those who worked on the colliery surface, and that a number of surface workers developed pneumoconiosis.
Secondly, the COPD scheme is flawed because there was little routine monitoring of dust levels on the surface. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover mentioned the screens that were used. They were extremely dusty, and all the more so after the introduction in the 1970s of the procedure known as bunkering. If a conveyor belt running from the colliery bottom, through the drift and up to the coal preparation plant broke down, production at the coal face was not held up. Instead, the coal would be put in bunkers, some of which could hold as much as 600 tonnes.
The coal in the bunkers would dry out before it was run out to the colliery surface and on to the screens. The chutes used were often badly designed, with the result that coal held in bunkers over a weekend, for example, produced so much dust that one could not see across the coal preparation plant. Many workers in the coal preparation plant were therefore subject to large amounts of dust.
Thirdly, I draw the Minister's attention to the rest-of-the-world protocol in the COPD agreement. That protocol allows anyone who worked in British Coal mines after 1954 to make a claim, regardless of where in the world he subsequently went to live. For example, a claim could be made by a former miner who had gone to live in America. However, a surface worker who spent all his life in collieries is unable to make a similar claim. That is surely a grave injustice.
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I assure him of my support in his campaign. Is he aware of pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a series of treatments, advice and interventions for people suffering from COPD? That rehabilitation is not currently available for people in my constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale. Does he agree that pulmonary rehabilitation should be made universally available for people suffering from COPD?
Mr. Clapham: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is important that there be intervention in respect of this disease. I refer him to the Government's investment, for example, in a constituency next to mine, Rotherham, where a new rehabilitation centre is to be built. It will allow families to come along for respite when the person suffering from COPD is undergoing treatment.
The claimants group of solicitors considered taking the matter to court. The difficulty with a court casethis is why I think we need a political settlementis that there is no schedule of dust readings on the colliery surface because British Coal did not carry them out. There was no routine, as there was undergroundunderground workings were routinely monitored and
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dust readings were taken. The evidence clearly showed that British Coal failed to take steps to mitigate the level of dust. That evidence is not there for colliery surface workers.
The claimants group of solicitors was advised by its legal adviser that, were it to take the case to court, there would be grave difficulties. One was created by the Department of Trade and Industry, which said that, if it won the litigation case, it would seek the cost of that litigation and that could fall on individual claimants. Therefore the claimants group of solicitors decided that it could not take the case to court.
As I have pointed out, it is acceptedthe minute in part accepts itthat British Coal was negligent in respect of surface dust. Therefore, how do we proceed? I refer the Minister to the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on coal health compensation schemes which was published on 6 April 2005. At paragraph 44, page 18, the Committee says:
"We were encouraged that, after discussing the legal arguments against allowing claims from this group of workers and the correspondence between the DTI and the CSG on this issue, the Minister gave us an undertaking that the Department would give 'maximum consideration to resolving' [the issue]."
"We hope that a solution can be found which allows ex-surface workers to be admitted to the COPD scheme. While we recognise that the DTI's current position may be legally watertight, it does not seem to us to be just."
There are a number of options. The Minister could do as the minute suggests and include all colliery surface workers who have worked in dusty conditions, such as in the coal preparation plants, in the current COPD scheme. He may wish to have a COPD scheme specifically for surface workers, but based on the principles of the current scheme. Alternatively, he may wish to consider a completely different option to bring in a totally separate scheme based, like the pneumoconiosis scheme, on the no-fault liability principle.
That scheme could work by virtue of taking the assessment of disability given by the Department for Work and Pensions and relating it to a table of payments that would be paid to the person, depending on the degree of their disability as diagnosed by DWP. The table could be quite easily drawn up from the data that the Department already has. A great number of such cases have been settled, so we should be able to construct a table showing the payments that would accrue to a person with lung loss, from 10 per cent. right up to 100 per cent. If it were divided into tenths, with a payment for each degree of lung loss, when a person was diagnosed under the DWP scheme he could immediately make an application for a payment from the COPD scheme administered by the DTI health unit. Such a scheme would be much easier to administer. There would certainly be cost savings and it would deal with the situation justly.
There is a fourth option that the Minister could consider: to introduce what I would describe as a post-handling agreement scheme. It would be similar to
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the scheme I have just outlined but would be for all former miners who had not made a claim under the existing scheme and for current miners who might develop the disease in the future. At the same time, it could incorporate surface workers who had worked in dusty conditions.
I agree that the Minister will need to negotiate, perhaps with the unions and their solicitors, as to which surface jobs were the dusty jobs that should be included in the agreement. I sincerely hope that, as a result of the debate, the Minister will act on what his predecessor said, and with maximum energy work to resolve the issue in a just way that pays compensation to surface workers who have worked all their lives in dusty conditions.
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