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The scale of the challenge facing the Iraqi Government is immense. In addition to improving security, Prime Minister al-Maliki and his Government are working hard to build national reconciliation, but that process is being deliberately undermined by terrorists and others who see advantage in maintaining distrust and hatred between communities. It is those sectarians who are responsible for the ongoing murder and maiming of civilians in Iraq. Given the challenges, it is not surprising that building cohesion within Iraq’s
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Government of national unity and making progress in the reconciliation process have not been easy. We, of all nations, should understand how difficult and time consuming a process reconciliation can be.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made it clear that we will not keep our troops in Iraq a moment longer than required. Prime Minister al-Maliki is keen—as are we—to transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqis as soon as possible, but it is vital that that is done in an orderly fashion when conditions allow and that, once transferred, the Iraqi security forces are capable of maintaining security. So the international community continues to have a vital role to play. That is why we are encouraging Iraq’s neighbours and countries in the region to be supportive and, above all, to desist from encouraging further instability.

I acknowledge the importance of the encouragement that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) gave to building the international compact. I reassure the House that we fully support the efforts of the Iraqi Government and the UN to craft an international compact and build a framework for the international community to increase its political support for Iraq’s security and economic goals. We hope that that process can be finalised in the coming weeks, and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) was right to say that Turkey must be encouraged to be part of the wider process of building peace in the region.

Various hon. Members, mainly on the Labour Benches, have said that life in Iraq is now much worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Rarely have I heard such spurious comparisons in my life; the matter deserves closer examination.

The Iraqi Government will require the support of all their neighbours and allies, including the UK, for some time to come. The efforts of the Department for International Development this year are focused on improving access to water and on increasing significantly the power supply for people living in southern Iraq.

An enormous amount of assistance is being undertaken in Iraq, as I have seen for myself. I urge the House not to believe the purveyors of doom and gloom who claim that nothing is being improved. That is simply not true, and such assertions are merely statements of ignorance. By March of this year, assistance efforts will have provided the equivalent of 24-hour electricity for 1 million people, improved the water supply to 500,000 more people and provided safe drinking water to a further 500,000.

We are also helping to establish specialist Iraqi police units to tackle corruption in the police service in Basra and to prosecute the worst offenders. We are running projects to strengthen the criminal justice system and the prison service, and to promote good governance through the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad.

I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann
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Clwyd) for reminding the House of how vile and murderous was the dictatorship that Saddam Hussein lorded over. I hope that all hon. Members will remember that when they hear the spurious and facile comparisons that assert that life for Iraqis is now so much worse than it was under that mass murderer.

Of course, massive amounts remain to be done. It is right that we should press the Iraqi Government hard to take the lead in their own affairs, but it is vital that we and our coalition partners remain steadfast in our support. I urge the House to reject as nonsense the notion that that support is based on our desire to get our hands on Iraqi oil. If we had wanted to do that, we could have taken part in the same shabby and illegal deals that a number of our most prominent European partners set up with Saddam and his gangsters, but neither this Government nor our predecessors ever did so. The food-for-oil deals were appalling, and some very dubious characters did all right out of them, but neither this Government nor our predecessors were party to those stinking deals.

I have been to the Iraqi oilfields and spoken to the men who—miraculously—have kept some production going, despite the complete absence of investment under Saddam’s gangsters. The Iraqi oil industry needs rebuilding. Getting the flow of oil moving again will require huge investment and expertise, but that is what will bring jobs to the thousands of young men and women in Basra who need them. I have seen all that for myself.

A new hydrocarbon law is both vital and long overdue. We should give the democratic Government of Iraq our help and expertise, and not throw at them the mud of conspiracy theory. Iraq needs increased oil revenues and we should help it to get them as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Corbyn: rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question agreed to.

Question, That this House do now adjourn, put and negatived.



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Asbestosis (Compensation)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

7.2 pm

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. We are now holding the Adjournment debate, so will Members who want to leave the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly?

Mr. Dodds: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For a fleeting moment, I feared we might lose the opportunity to debate the important subject of compensation for victims of asbestosis in Northern Ireland.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise that important issue. Deaths from asbestos-related diseases are, sadly, on the increase. Figures from the TUC put the number of deaths at about 5,000 a year. By 2020, it is estimated that the number of deaths per year will be about 10,000— [ Interruption. ] Independent studies indicate that for the period 1930-2020 the number of asbestos-induced deaths across the country could be in the region of 820,000—

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can my hon. Friend be allowed to speak without the assembly of Members at the Door?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is a sensible point of order. I was about to do something about that myself. May we please have the Doors closed?

Mr. Dodds: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an important issue, which affects the lives of ordinary workers throughout this country, so it is important that it be debated properly.

The asbestos industry is, of course, hundreds of years old, but only since the early 1900s has asbestos been recognised as potentially harmful. Despite that recognition in the early part of the last century, asbestos continued to be used in industry and the workplace for many years, particularly in shipyards, harbours, ports and so forth. As a result, thousands of workers developed asbestos-related diseases.

As a consequence, we are now seeing a large number of claims for compensation arising from these diseases on the part of thousands of shipyard workers, those who worked in the docks and many other workers as well. Actuarial estimates predict that by the 2030s, between 80,000 and 200,000 claims—peaking between 2010 and 2015—will be made. Behind those bare statistics—a terrible enough story in themselves—lie stories of real human tragedies.

I would like to pay tribute to the groups of workers who came together to try to get justice for the victims of asbestos-related diseases—groups like Justice for Asbestos Victims in my own constituency—and to individuals who took up the cudgels to fight not only on behalf of themselves and their family members, but on behalf of their fellow workers. One such person is
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Arthur Rafferty. Arthur, one of my constituents, is in his mid-60s. He worked in the docks all his life, as did his father and grandfather, and in his early years he was an amateur boxer and a fit young man with great prospects ahead of him. Now, in his mid-60s, he is stricken with the terrible, debilitating disease of asbestosis and has a very poor outlook in respect of quality of life and life expectancy. Arthur’s case is typical of many in his position.

I would like to highlight a number of issues tonight and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to some of them. The sort of cases that I am referring to affect not just the workers afflicted with asbestosis but their family members as well.

First, I would like to say that I welcome the Government’s decision last year to amend the Compensation Act 2006, which meant that from July onwards a worker could sue an employer regardless of the length of service with that employer and that there would be joint and several liability. A worker was no longer placed in a position where all previous employers had to be traced and then sued in order to gain full compensation. Now, as a result of the amendment that reversed the Barker v. Corus decision in the House Lords, workers can access compensation through the civil courts and gain proper compensation. I know many people—Arthur Rafferty is one of them—who are pursuing their cases through the courts.

What we need to ensure, however, is that these cases are dealt with as quickly and expeditiously as possible, so that people faced with this terrible disease do not end up spending the twilight of their years fighting, along with their families, for compensation. They should at least be able to benefit—enjoy is the wrong word—from the compensation that is rightly theirs and their family’s.

I know that the Government—and the Social Development Department in Northern Ireland—have conducted a consultation relating to a number of issues in order to put in place a long-term solution to ensure that, where possible, sufferers of asbestosis and mesothelioma can receive compensation and benefit from it at the same time, knowing that their families will be secure in the future. There are plans to hold a summit on asbestos-related diseases and to consider further the industrial injuries disablement benefit and so on.

I welcome what the Government are doing to address these issues in the long term. However, I caution them that it is important we do not end up with the insurance lobby or insurance companies managing to divert claimants away from their entitlement to take cases to the civil courts and to obtain proper and adequate compensation for themselves and their families. People must receive not only damages that reflect the harm caused to them, but damages for pain and suffering. They must not end up being diverted simply into claiming state benefits for relief. They must still have the opportunity to go to the civil courts to get proper compensation.

I want to raise the issue of family members and relatives. A number of my constituents have come to see me because they are concerned that those family members who contract asbestosis or an asbestos-related disease from incidental exposure can be denied compensation in the courts, as a result of the English
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Court of Appeal’s decision in the case of Maguire v. Harland and Woolf. In one example, a lady ended up dying as a result of asbestosis, which was contracted as a result of washing her father’s overalls as a young girl.

There are many other examples of wives and family members who have died as a result of such exposure, yet they are denied compensation. I believe that the way to deal with that is further to amend the legislation and the law, so that if an employee has been exposed to asbestos by the negligence or the breach of statutory duty of an employer and if a member of that employee’s family has also suffered an asbestos-related disease by reason of incidental exposure, the member of the family should likewise have a claim for damages.

I have been in correspondence with the Department for Constitutional Affairs about this matter. On 3 January, Baroness Ashton wrote to me to say that a number of people who took part in the consultation on the issue mentioned para-occupational exposures. She said:

I believe that that is progress—it is good news—but a difficulty will continue if there is no retrospective remedy.

With existing para-occupational exposures, particularly where the deceased’s dependants are suffering from financial hardship and where negligence has occurred in respect of the employment of the employee, there may very well be instances of severe injustice. It is likely that damages should not be paid out of the public purse where a negligent employer can be identified. So I believe that a simple amendment to the Compensation Act 2006 to extend the relief that was granted to employees to the family members of employees would remedy the situation, as well as being fair and equitable in all the circumstances.

I also want to raise the issue of those who suffer from the asbestos-related disease of pleural plaques, whereby exposure to asbestos results in internal scarring on the lining of the lung. It leads to breathlessness and pain. It can result in the development of more serious asbestos-related diseases. It severely affects many people’s quality of life. Again, as the result of a decision in the English Court of Appeal—the Rothwell case—it has been decided that people can no longer claim compensation if pleural plaques have been contracted as a result of exposure to asbestos.

I know that that case is subject to a further appeal to the House of Lords, but as things currently stand and if the law is not changed, the Rothwell decision will put the onus on a person to engage in a process of ongoing medical monitoring of their condition, as well as ongoing legal monitoring of the position, to see whether they eventually have a case. That constant monitoring is clearly not to be welcomed on behalf of men who are mostly elderly and in grave poor health. It is quite possible that many will die without the appropriate medical evidence having been obtained during their lifetime. This is an important issue that affects thousands of ordinary workers. Their health has been gravely affected through no fault of their own.
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There is a liability and the Government should look at ways of addressing the issue of pleural plaques.

I refer the Minister to the case of dock workers, in particular. I referred to Arthur Rafferty and a number of former dock workers in my constituency and in the city of Belfast. In May last year, in the case of Rice v. the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the High Court ruled that former dock workers have the right to sue the Government for compensation for asbestos-related illnesses. The Department of Trade and Industry was held partly responsible for the health and safety of workers at docks throughout England and Wales in the 1950s and 1960s. It was held that dock labour boards, which organised the work of dockers, were not entitled to pass on all the responsibility to the shipping companies that carried asbestos cargos and that they owed the dockers—many of them causal labourers—a duty of care. That is an important ruling, because it puts responsibility not just on employers, but on the Department. It also widens that whole area of liability. I would be grateful if the Minister could address that in terms of the Northern Ireland context, in particular. I am grateful for the opportunity to have raised these issues and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

7.17 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) on securing an important debate for him and for his constituents, which will have wider implications throughout Northern Ireland. I am grateful for the support that he has received from the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who has done considerable work on this issue. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) in the Chamber, as well. They obviously care strongly about the subject.

I commend the hon. Member for Belfast, North on the way in which he has presented his case. As he said, no one can fail to be touched by the plight of the people he referred to. They are ordinary working people who have been affected by a terrible illness as a result of their work-related activity. As he mentioned, the number of those deaths in Northern Ireland is currently approximately 120 a year. Asbestosis is now the most common cause of work-related death in Northern Ireland. I am conscious that behind the statistics lie real people, real lives and, as he said, those people’s families.

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