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The provisions demonstrate the Government's commitment to help people who suffer from the effects of this terrible disease, which includes many people in my hon. Friend's constituency. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) have raised this issue, not just on this occasion, but on many occasions, with Government Ministers. The latest available analysis by local and unitary area of mesothelioma deaths in Britain shows that there were 373 male mesothelioma deaths in Plymouth during the 25-year period from 1981 to 2005, which is more than three times the average death rate for the whole of Britain. Based on that analysis, Plymouth has the third highest rate in Britain. Most of the areas with the highest mortality rates in the analysis are associated with the shipbuilding industry, in which asbestos was widely used for insulation in the past. Female mesothelioma deaths in Plymouth over the period were in line with expected numbers based on the average rate for Great Britain.
We have continued to raise awareness of the risks of asbestos through the Health and Safety Executive's campaign, "Asbestos the Hidden Killer", which was relaunched on 2 November 2009. It aims to raise awareness among tradesmen, pointing out that they are more at risk than they think from asbestos and prompting them to find out more about asbestos and the precautions they should take. National press and radio adverts will run for four weeks, supported by public relations activity. Partner organisations, including the TUC, unions, trade associations, trade stores and charities have distributed about half a million campaign packs to trade and maintenance workers. It is extremely important that we raise awareness among a group who, proportionally, face a much higher risk than the greater population.
Alison Seabeck: A number of people who work where asbestos is likely to be in the vicinity may well be people who have come across from Europe and whose first language might not be English. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the trade unions and others are putting out information in other languages?
Claire Ward: My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. From my own experience-my family are very engaged in the building and construction trades and my father established an institute for asbestos management-I am acutely aware of the impact that it can have on other construction trades. In this day and age, when we have much greater European engagement, she is right to raise that point. I will ensure that my colleagues-not in the Ministry of Justice, but in the business department of the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for health and safety-write to her to make sure that she has copies of the information packs and any details about what else we are doing to promote awareness across the language barrier.
In addition to considering the needs of people who have difficulties with the language, we must look at the nature of the construction industry. Many people are sole traders and perhaps do not have access to trade union support or to much greater levels of activity through larger organisations. The Health and Safety Executive has sent a direct mail of 50,000 packs to the harder-to-reach micro-firms and sole traders.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of chemoembolism treatment for mesothelioma. I express my sympathy to her constituent, Debbie Brewer, who is suffering from this terrible condition. Chemoembolisation is available for the treatment of liver cancer, but the risks and benefits of using it to treat patients with mesothelioma are not yet known. We are not aware of any trials of chemoembolisation for patients with mesothelioma under way in the UK, which is no doubt why her constituent sought treatment abroad. It is for clinicians, using their expert judgment, to decide on the most effective treatment for patients, based on their individual circumstances. Primary care trusts are responsible for commissioning services to meet the health care needs of their local populations, so it is for them to decide whether to fund any proposed treatment, taking into account any available evidence of its effectiveness. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to ensure that any information about the success of the treatment for her constituent is passed back to local commissioning services.
My hon. Friend also referred to the private Member's Bill sponsored by our hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). The Bill passed through the Commons in the previous parliamentary Session, but did not manage to complete its stages in the Lords before the end of the Session. However, the Government note that the Bill has been reintroduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Quin of Gateshead in the County of Tyne and Wear. The Bill has to be considered in the wider context. It represents one possible approach to the issue of pleural plaques, but there may be a number
of other appropriate approaches to the condition and to the wider issues arising from asbestos-related diseases. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to give a firm indication today of the Government's position on the Bill, but we will continue to monitor its progress with interest.
I assure hon. Members that we remain firmly committed to helping people who have suffered as a result of exposure to asbestos, and that our considerations are taking place with that commitment in mind. The hon. Member for South-West Devon raised the issue of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 and the distinction between those who have been in the services and civilians. I thank him for raising an interesting point. I cannot comment on it, but I will make sure that it is passed to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, and I would expect them to write to him with further relevant information.
I apologise again to hon. Members for the time that it is taking to deal with the difficult and complex issues. I am well aware, as indeed all my colleagues are, that the time taken in such circumstances is not simply an administrative process, but has an impact on the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport and of other hon. Members. I hope that we will be in a position to publish the Government's response, setting out the way forward, as soon as possible.