We have come a long way since Tuesday 13 June, when a Westminster Hall debate was secured under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan). At that time, we asked the Government what they were going to do. Since then, there has been pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who has done a tremendous job. The
Prime Minister himself received a delegation of Members of Parliament to ensure that there could be a coherent Government approach.
The Minister has also been involved. On Thursday 29 June, which was the day on which the Scottish Parliament got up, it was not clear that there would be co-ordination between the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament. If an agreement had not been secured, the Scottish Parliament would have needed to legislate in September and Scotland would have been a year behind the rest of the United Kingdom. During Prime Ministers questions that week, I was told that there was only a forlorn hope. I also spoke to the Minister, and I must put it on record that she did a tremendous job, along with the staff in her Department, to ensure that we achieved co-ordination. The Scottish Parliament thus gave this Parliament the right to legislate on its behalf about mesothelioma.
I mentioned the fact that Clydebank has the highest incidence of the disease. As several hon. Members have said, there were about 153 incidences of the disease in 1965, but we are now getting to the stage at which there are nearly 2,000 incidences a year. The number will peak at between 2,000 and 2,050 a year by 2015. The disease will be with us for a long time yet, so it is important that we get the situation right.
The Clydebank asbestos group, under the chairmanship of Bob Dickie, West Dunbartonshire council, under its leader, Councillor Andy White, and my colleague Des McNulty MSP are working along with us in my constituency. Indeed, Des McNulty put a Bill before the Scottish Parliament in case things did not go so well between the Scottish and UK Parliaments. However, I know that he and his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are delighted that an agreement has been secured.
One or two issues remain to be addressed. The situation in which a wife contracts the disease because of washing her husbands apparel has been mentioned. A woman who was one of my close friends died several months ago as a result of asbestosis. The question of retrospectivity is thus important.
We must also consider legal fees. A constituent who visited my surgery on Friday said that although he had been granted compensation of £10,000, his lawyers had written to him to say that they were deducting £1,450 at the moment from an interim award, which would leave him with £235. The lawyers said that he would get the £10,000, but that that would require going back to court and would take a further year. As a result of going back to court, further moneys will come off my constituents compensation. He said to me, The quality of my life is inadequate at the moment, so what will it be like in a years time? Speed is of the essence, so I urge the Minister to take account of that.
My colleagues have mentioned a no-fault compensation scheme. I am happy for such a scheme to be considered. However, it has been put to me that compensation could be greater in several instances if people took their own cases to court through lawyers. If that is true and the no-fault compensation scheme has the rider that people can still take their cases to court, such a scheme would satisfy both those who want to pursue their cases individually and those who want speed.
May I mention to the Minister an issue that my constituents have brought to me? An individual who came to see me said, John, I worked in the John Brown shipyard,a famous yardfor many years in the 1960s and 1970s, but every few weeks I got a notice telling me that someone or other was my employer. In other words, the work was subcontracted, so that an individual would not be able to say that he was working for John Browns when he contracted the disease. We must thus address the situation of workers who were nominally working in a yard for an employer who was responsible for them, but were, in fact, working for a subcontractor. I do not know whether such a situation has been raised with the Minister before, but if it has not, I would like it to be included as part of the deliberations.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May I add my thanks to the Minister and congratulate her on coming forward with a speedy response? I raised the issue on the day that the Barker result came out, when I asked the Prime Minister what he could do to give comfort to people suffering from the disease. He said that he was not quite aware of the decision, but that he would do anything in his power that he could. That is exactly what we are considering today.
The most common question that I have been asked since becoming a Member 14 months ago is, Why on earth do you want to do that? To be honest, events such as this make me know that I made the right decision in coming here. I am proud of what we are doing across the House to help peoples day-to-day living.
The people whom we are talking about should never have been exposed to asbestos in the first place. Although the disease became recognised in 1965, people had known for at least 70 years before that time that asbestos was a substance that should not be messed about with or worked with. That long history shows that asbestos should have stopped being used years ago.
Mesothelioma first came to my attention when a member of my trade union passed out in a bar. That is not uncommon in our area, but it is usually due to alcoholism, rather than mesothelioma. The guy did not know what was wrong with him. He had thought nothing of riding 50 miles a day on his bike and was much fitter than most of his colleagues. He had contracted the disease at least 30 years before while he was working in the shipyards. One fibre, which had probably lain there for those 30 years, came back to claim his life in nine months. Through the work of his widow and other supportive groups in the north-east as part of an organisation called the Chris Knighton mesothelioma research fund, we have managed to raise something like £100,000 to undertake research on trying to combat the disease. I suggest that we should support such groups and give them what help we can from the health service to try to combat the disease, or at least ameliorate its effects.
I want to be clear on my last point. I have read the explanatory note that the Minister has given us todayI thank her for that. It says that subsections (7) to (11) of new clause 13 will mean that responsible persons will be able to claim money back when a liable employer and insurer are both insolvent. Can the Minister help me with the case of my constituent, Mr. Siddoway? He cannot get recompense because his employer and insurer have not only become insolvent, but effectively disappeared off the face of the earth. Will I be able to tell him anything tonight to give him some reassurance that the Bill might help him?
Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate. I apologise for my temporary presence in the Chamber, which was due to parliamentary business elsewhere. I wanted to put on record my thanks, on behalf of the people of Swindon, to the Government for the speed with which they reacted to the problem.
I made the substantive case for action in my speech in the Westminster Hall debate a few weeks ago. The way in which the Government have reacted is a great tribute to them. They have brought enormous comfort to my constituents who have suffered directly, or as relatives of sufferers, from the terrible disease in Swindon. The disease is so prevalent in Swindon, mainly because of the railway works in the town, that it is known locally as the Swindon disease. The court decisions that have been the subject of discussion today have caused deep distress in Swindon and to many of my constituents. The sensitive and speedy response from the Government, which is embodied in new clause 13, is a great relief to my constituents. I put on record my thanks.
Bridget Prentice: This has been a very good, purposeful debate. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their support for new clause 13 and I thank in particular my hon. Friends for their positive, kind words, although I repeat that without their campaigning we would not be in this position. I am grateful to them for raising the issue not just recently but over a long period of time, and I am glad that this Government have been able to respond to them.
On the question whether the ABI scheme and creation of a board would offer a quicker solution, the whole point of the legislation is to tackle the effects of Barker as quickly as possible. That is why we and key stakeholders such as the ABI are looking at other ways to improve how cases are dealt with. Before the recess, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will make a statement in the House on certain relevant issues, and I am very conscious of the fact that we want to deal with the matter speedily.
The issue of costs has been raised tonight. As several hon. Members have pointed out, between 1,000 and 2,000 people a year are diagnosed, to whom average compensation of £100,000 is awarded. That is equivalent to between £100 million and £200 million in compensation. We estimate that the number of cases will rise to about 2,500 by 2015 and then gradually reduce until 2050. It might reassure Opposition Members if I said that, because people expected Fairchild to be in some ways reinforced by the Barker decision, the money is not new money. Barker affected not the level of damages but simply how they should be paid and apportioned. Therefore, we should not be too concerned about any changes.
In the Barker case, the House of Lords did not make any ruling on costspossibly because such costs had not been decided. The cases were to be sent back to the law courts for apportionment. Therefore, we do not really know what the costs would have been. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) said, Miss Barkers case was supported by the GMB and therefore the fact that it was brought in her name does not necessarily mean that costs would be paid by her. However, if she were to pay costs, she would be able to apply to vary the order and how damages should be apportioned, although that might not go back to court anyway because it is very likely that the parties would settle on the basis of the legislation that I hope we shall shortly pass.
I was asked whether the rules of court would have to underpin subsection (4). The civil procedure rule committee will be asked to consider the employment exposure history of a claimant. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). However, as I have said, the apportionment of contributions is already established in the presumption in the clause, and that should enable insurers to resolve those issues without further court involvement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) asked about pneumoconiosis. The issue relates to the way in which Fairchild is interpreted by the Department for Work and Pensions. Barker has already shed some doubt on that. We do not yet have a definitive view of how that will progress, but I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will deal with that when he makes his statement to the House. However, I will ensure that we write to my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) asked whether individuals would receive full compensation. I should make it clear that changes in the financial services compensation scheme will help to improve the speed with which claimants can receive compensation, but will not alter the liability of the scheme. Again, I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be looking for further ways to settle claims and will no doubt mention that in his statement to the House.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) raised an important legal point. I read the relevant subsection as he was speaking and I could see why he came to the conclusion that he did. I am not absolutely convinced that that is the conclusion to which we should come, but I will take the matter away and bear in mind the note that he has passed to me, and see whether the provision can be improved in order that we do not allow anybody eligible to fall outside the scheme.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) was concerned about waiting for months for the Bill to come into effect, but the new clause will come into effect immediately on Royal Assent. The regulations affect only insurers liability to recover their contributions, so the right of claimants to compensation will not be affected. They will get compensation straight away and the insurers will be able to claim that back later on under the regulations. It is the ability to recover contributions that will be dealt with retrospectively.
Simon Hughes: That is very helpful. If any last-minute drafting amendments were needed, either on the point put to the Minister by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) or otherwise, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches and, I am sure, everybody present would want her and her colleagues to facilitate the Bills completion of any necessary stages between now and the summer recess.
Bridget Prentice: I am grateful for that suggestion. If we need to do anything else to be absolutely convinced that on receipt of Royal Assent the Bill will do what we want it to do, we will of course seek help and take advice, certainly in terms of helping it to complete its passage through the other place. In the short period before the recess, we do not want any further delay.
I trust that I have responded to all the major issues that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) raised a particular constituency issue and I am happy to discuss that with him at the end of the debate to see whether there is anything we can do to reassure him and his constituent. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Mr. McFall) for outlining cases of mesothelioma, which is a tragedy for the victim and their families, who are sometimes innocent recipients of the dreadful disease, either personally or by having to cope with the difficulty of seeing their loved ones deal with it.
(1) The Regulator may apply to the court for an injunction restraining an exempt person from providing regulated claims management services if he is in contravention of the specified conditions in section 5 or any connected Code of Conduct.
(1) Where costs have been paid by the Government under the schedules of any prescribed claims handling agreement, any additional monies levied from individual claimants shall be repaid immediately by the receiving agent to the claimant.
(6A) An order under section 5 which has the effect of removing or restricting an exemption from section 3(1) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament..