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Helicopter Crash (Glasgow)

4.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alistair Carmichael): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement to update the House on the crash of the helicopter in Glasgow on the evening of Friday 29 November.

As the House will be aware, at approximately 10.25 pm on Friday evening, a helicopter operated on behalf of Police Scotland crashed on to the roof of the Clutha bar in Stockwell street, Glasgow. It was reported that about 120 people were in the bar at the time of the accident. Police Scotland has overnight confirmed nine fatalities, including the pilot of the helicopter and the two police officers on board. A further 32 people were injured in the crash and 12 remain in hospital. Three of those casualties are being treated in intensive care, where their condition is described as serious but stable. The search of the building continues, and it remains possible that more casualties will be found.

I am sure the House will wish to recognise the outstanding work of the emergency services for the speed, professionalism and courage of their response on Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday. The police, fire and ambulance services all responded magnificently, working in difficult and dangerous circumstances. In particular, we should recognise that police officers had to deal with the deaths not only of members of the public, but of two of their colleagues, PC Kirsty Nelis and PC Tony Collins.

Some of the most remarkable stories of courage and selflessness from Friday night and Saturday morning have come from staff and customers of the Clutha bar and passersby who came to their assistance in the immediate aftermath of the accident. They responded with no thought for their personal safety. Hon. Members will know that among them was the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), who happened to be one of the first on the scene. He is not in the House today, because he is in the Philippines in the course of his duties as shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He has been characteristically understated in describing his role, but I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that his response, which was instinctive, did him credit.

In addition to meetings with members of all three emergency services in the command centre this morning, I met Councillor Gordon Matheson, the leader of Glasgow city council, at the city chambers, where I also signed the book of condolence. Glasgow city council will now take up much of the burden of caring for and comforting those affected by this incident.

My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has been in regular contact and his Department, through its air accidents investigation branch, now has the duty to investigate and report on the causes of the accident. Investigations of that sort are inevitably complex and can be lengthy. I know that all those affected will be looking for answers, but the gathering of evidence, especially at this early stage, will be vital to that investigation. I hope the police and other investigatory agencies will be given time and space to do their job. The House will also wish to know that there has been close contact

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between Her Majesty’s Government and the Scottish Government since the incident. The Prime Minister spoke to the First Minister on Saturday and offered any assistance from the emergency services or other agencies south of the border, should that be required.

Today, I wear a badge that was given to me this morning by Councillor Matheson. It reads simply: “People make Glasgow.” The response of the people who make Glasgow has demonstrated all the courage and character that has made that city famous throughout the world. We in this House, and the people we represent in communities throughout the United Kingdom, today stand in solidarity with the people of Glasgow as they mourn their loss and start to come to terms with their grief. People make Glasgow, Mr Speaker, and today I wear that badge with pride.

4.36 pm

Margaret Curran (Glasgow East) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. This has been a dark weekend for Glasgow and our whole country. When we should have woken to celebrate St Andrew’s day on Saturday, we were instead met with unexpected tragedy, and when I attended mass on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition in St Andrew’s cathedral on Saturday, yards from the site, there was a real sense of shock.

I have lived all my life in Glasgow, and I know that when we hurt, we grieve together and we mourn together. Today, all Glasgow and all Scotland are united in grief. I echo the Secretary of State’s tributes to the nine people whose deaths have been confirmed, and the whole House joins together to send a message of deep sympathy to their loved ones. We also remember the people who are still being treated in hospital.

Today, with the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), I visited the command centre in Glasgow to thank the representatives of the police, fire and rescue and ambulance services. Their response to this tragedy has been exemplary. We also thank staff in Glasgow’s hospitals who provided care and comfort to the injured and their families. I pay tribute to them and to those who are still at the Clutha Vaults bar leading the recovery. I also pay tribute to my right hon. and personal Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), who assisted at the site on Friday night and was very moved in his television appearances. He has asked me to pass on his apologies today as he is on parliamentary business in the Philippines.

Our minds are still focused on those who died and suffered injuries, but we must establish what happened on Friday night to prevent such tragedies in the future. The Secretary of State noted in his statement that the air accident investigation has begun, and the deputy chief inspector of the air accidents investigation branch has said we can expect an initial report soon. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether we can expect that report before Christmas?

Questions are beginning to be asked in Glasgow, and families and others need answers. Will investigations now under way cover the manufacture and operation of this helicopter, including the circumstances of the incident but also implication for its future and further use? I recognise that the Secretary of State has embraced a strong cross-party approach to this issue, which I appreciate. Will he continue the cross-governmental and cross-party

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work that I think has united our country in showing that, whatever divides us, in moments such as this, we are prepared to work together?

Finally, the Secretary of State indicated that Glasgow city council and the Scottish Government have already offered practical support to the residents of the city, particularly to those most involved. What support will the UK Government offer to Glasgow and to the families of the victims of the crash?

The whole city of Glasgow and the people across Scotland and the United Kingdom are joined together in grief and shock. It has been a dark weekend, but as we heard at the Church of Scotland sermon at Glasgow cathedral on Sunday:

“Darkness shall not snatch everything from us.”

I know the people of my city of Glasgow. Out of this weekend, I know that it is not the darkness that will live on; it is the spirit of the people who did not turn and run from the Clutha Vaults pub, but who ran towards the danger and worked arm in arm to lift men and women to safety. Out of this tragedy, that is the most powerful tribute.

Mr Carmichael: I commend the hon. Lady for her response and for the approach that she has taken. We have been in close contact throughout the course of this weekend and I very much expect that to continue. If I may say so, the ability of the Government, the Opposition and the Scottish National party to work together is the very least we can do in these circumstances. To take any other approach would be wholly inappropriate, given the magnificent response we have seen from the people of Glasgow.

On the question of the early report of the air accidents investigation branch, it would be impossible to give any undertakings at the moment. I can say that the earliest possible publication of the interim report will be made. I very much hope that in the course of the investigation any information that can be supplied to the families will be supplied. Should there be any difficulties in that regard, my office, and I am sure the office of the Secretary of State for Transport will stand ready to address any issues.

On the support to be given by Glasgow city council, the council is best placed to deliver that support. It has all the facilities in the communities and knows best where to find the people who need assistance and comfort. I am in regular contact with the leader of Glasgow city council and I value the strength of the working relationship between his office and mine. I am confident that should there be need for assistance from Her Majesty’s Government in Westminster, he will not be slow in asking. We will do everything within our power to give him the assistance he needs.

Mr Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for his well-judged comments and for the content of his statement, which we all endorse completely. He and I share a strong empathy and ongoing attachment to the city, through the university of Glasgow. I am sure he and others will agree that the sentiment and sense of the song popular down the generations, “I Belong to Glasgow”, had a

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particularly poignant ring to it in the heart of every Scot around the world during this sad St Andrew’s weekend.

In rightly paying tribute to the emergency services and to ordinary citizens for what they have achieved, and are continuing to achieve, at considerable risk to themselves as a result of these appalling events, I ask my right hon. Friend to thank one other branch of public life that we, across the political spectrum, do not always praise in this House: the media. The broadcast media—BBC Scotland, in particular, but the commercial sector in Glasgow and the west of Scotland in general—and the print media have shown great responsibility and sensitivity to those involved, particularly to those who have lost loved ones. We hope that that will be maintained, and that the privacy of those who are having their loved ones returned to them will be respected in the future, too.

Mr Carmichael: My right hon. Friend reminds me that he and I share the experience of having gone from the west highlands in our latter teenage years to be students at the university of Glasgow. I revisited my own time there recently and carry with me to this day fond memories of the warmth of welcome that was given to me and the strength of community I found as a west highlander arriving in Glasgow in the early 1980s. I am sure my right hon. Friend’s experience was the same, and I am certain that it is the strength of the community that has produced the remarkable response we have seen in the course of the last three or four days.

With regard to the self-denying ordinance of the media outlets, I think my right hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the restraint exhibited thus far, and I am sure that he shares my hope that that approach will continue.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): We will all have been shocked by the tragic scenes in my constituency at the heart of the great city of Glasgow on Friday night. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those individuals and families suffering at this really difficult time. Although we have seen the saddest of scenes, we have also seen the best of our citizens, with people not running away from the scene but running to it to help their fellow citizens—the perfect illustration of human kindness and human decency. I pay tribute to the brave men and women of our emergency services, who risk their own lives to protect the lives of others. We cannot even begin to thank them enough.

On behalf of the people of Glasgow, I would also like to thank people for the kind messages of support we have had from people right across the UK—whether it be from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester or London—all saying that this weekend “We were all Glaswegians.” Will the Secretary of State tell us what additional support his Government will give to the people affected by this incident to ensure that they get the love, care, support, and also the answers, that they need?

Mr Carmichael: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been an exceptionally eloquent advocate for his constituents and community over the course of this weekend. As to his question about extra support, as I said earlier, if the leadership of Glasgow city council sees an opportunity for us to assist, I stand open to do

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so in any way, within our capability. I know that the city council leader will doubtless be in contact with us.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Like everyone else in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we are deeply saddened by what happened in Glasgow, which happens to be my father’s home town. Does the Secretary of State agree that, whatever happened to that helicopter, the pilot will have tried his level best to put it down safely and that it was probably a traumatic incident that disallowed him from putting it into the river or on a flat piece of ground?

Mr Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman, of course, has a distinguished service history, which doubtless informs his views. Obviously, the purpose of having an air accidents investigation branch is to have people who can carry out these investigations. It would probably be ill advised of me at this juncture to speculate about the actual circumstances, which will doubtless become clear in the fullness of time.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I associate myself with the comments made across the House; my thoughts have clearly been with the emergency services, the victims and their families. Understandably, it is taking a lot of time safely and thoroughly to search the remains of the Clutha. Sadly, that leaves many families in limbo. Has the Secretary of State had assurances that the emergency services had all the equipment and expertise they required to ensure that no one was left alive in the Clutha in the immediate aftermath of the crash?

Mr Carmichael: As I indicated in my statement, I understand that the search of the bar continues. The helicopter was removed from the roof while the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) and I were at the command centre this morning—we were able to watch it happening. The ongoing investigation will, of course, require a very delicate and detailed search. I completely understand the difficulties and frustration that that will cause for many people who remain anxiously waiting for news of their loved ones. In the long term, however, what we all want is to get to the truth of the matter. I know from my former professional experience, having worked at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service early in my career, that the early stages of evidence gathering are the most important and can have a significant bearing on the ability to establish the cause of these incidents. I have no reason to believe—and nobody has suggested—that there was any under-resourcing of the emergency services operation. In fact, I would be astonished if that turned out to be the case.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The helicopter that came down so tragically has been described as a Scottish police helicopter. Will the Government, or the police, be able to add to any assistance that may be requested from Glasgow city council by helping Scotland to meet its operational requirement, either through the national service or with helicopters from England and Wales?

Mr Carmichael: I understand that an offer of that sort has already been made, and that, in the meantime, cover is being provided from a variety of different loci until a replacement helicopter comes into service later this week.

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Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to join me in paying tribute to the chaplains of the police and fire and rescue services, the Rev. Neil Galbraith and Father Jim Thomson, who did an outstanding job in offering comfort and spiritual support not only to officers but to the families of victims.

Have the Government, or, indeed, the air accident investigators, a view in terms of risks versus value on the policy of requiring police helicopters to take part in routine air patrols over densely populated areas, rather than being deployed to deal with specific incidents?

Mr Carmichael: I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the chaplains. Today, I met social workers in Glasgow who have also been closely involved in giving comfort and counselling to those who need it, and I hope that they too may in time be able to avail themselves of any support that they may need. There is often a cost to those who have to give the counsel and the comfort, and not just to those who are most directly involved.

Use of the helicopter is an operational matter for the chief constable of Police Scotland, who would be accountable for his decision to the Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I associate myself entirely with the remarks of both the Secretary of State and his shadow. Rescuing victims from collapsed buildings is an extremely complicated task, which in this case is being made far worse by the fact that a very heavy upside-down helicopter is on top of the rubble. A few years ago, through the fire service parliamentary scheme, I had the privilege of visiting the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh and observing the specialist training given to fire officers to enable them to go into collapsed rubble, locate victims and extract them. Does the Secretary of State agree that we are fortunate indeed to have in our United Kingdom some of the very best specialist skills in the world to deal with incidents such as this?

Mr Carmichael: Indeed. Not only is there training of that sort, but rehearsals are conducted regularly by the city council, the various rescue services, the Procurator Fiscal Service, and all the other agencies. Since Friday night, we have seen the value of the work that is done in that regard. I am not familiar with the facility to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but in recent days we have observed the benefit of all the training that has been given to our emergency services.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): As a Glaswegian, may I thank everybody for all their kind words, particularly the two Front Benchers? Perhaps a book of condolence in this place might not be a bad idea, so that we can show solidarity as a nation with the people of Glasgow.

Mr Carmichael: The question of a book of condolence in this place would initially be a matter for the House authorities. It seems to me to be an entirely appropriate suggestion and anything I can do to assist it, I will happily do.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May I thank the Secretary of State for this very difficult statement and for allowing me early sight of it this

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afternoon? May I also join him, from these Benches, in paying tribute to the magnificent response from the emergency services? I do not think any of us will forget the deepening chill we felt on Friday evening as the true horror of these events became apparent. The response from the people of Glasgow to this tragedy has been nothing short of tremendous—people rushing to the scene of the accident instead of running away, the many instances of human kindness we have witnessed throughout the weekend, and the way this tragedy has united us and brought us together in adversity. Will the Minister join me in expressing gratitude to the people of Glasgow for the way they have responded and offer condolences to those who have been bereaved by this tragedy?

Mr Carmichael: I have no hesitation in joining the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in expressing that view. What he says about the instances of human kindness in Glasgow is absolutely correct. In Glasgow this morning, I met police officers who told me about instances where colleagues of theirs simply going about their duty, or even off-duty, were approached by ordinary members of the public in supermarkets, on the street or wherever to simply ask how they were. At its most basic level, that is the sort of warmth and concern that typifies the people of Glasgow, and we have seen it at its best in the last few days.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): May I join those who have offered their commiserations to the victims and their families and friends, and who have expressed their gratitude to the emergency services who contributed to responding to the sad events of this weekend? No one could have predicted that something like this would happen within 10 miles of my own constituency, with the appalling repercussions. I would like to add to the tributes and, if I may, I would like to express the view that public representatives from all backgrounds behaved impeccably, none more so than our right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy). It is both poignant and appropriate that he is now in the Philippines witnessing aspects of another terrible tragedy. Glasgow itself contributed magnificently to the appeal for the Philippines, because it is a kind-hearted and a great-hearted city, and it knows that this House will be with it in good times and in bad.

Mr Carmichael: There really is nothing I can add to the comments concerning the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy). It struck me when the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) was speaking that his constituency and mine are just about as different as it is possible to get, but I am sure, knowing that helicopter incidents are by no means unknown in my constituency, that there would have been a shared experience and reaction to the news that broke on Friday night from Shetland all the way to the Mull of Galloway. It was something that united communities across Scotland.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, may I express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved and our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured? May I tell the Secretary of State and

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the House that, given the very close bonds that exist between the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland in particular, this morning in the Northern Ireland Assembly all the parties and all their representatives stood together in paying tribute to the emergency services and offering their deepest sympathies and best wishes to the people of Glasgow and Scotland?

Mr Carmichael: The right hon. Gentleman brings to our attention a very important aspect. The relationship between the west central belt of Scotland and Northern Ireland is a long and historic one which is not always the easiest, but it does bring with it links and connections that, at a time like this, are of great importance. It was for that reason that I was particularly pleased to receive a telephone call this morning from David Ford, the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, expressing exactly the sentiments the right hon. Gentleman has just expressed.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The great cities of Liverpool and Glasgow stand together in times of adversity, and once again the people of my city stand shoulder to shoulder with those suffering loss, trauma or injury from the tragic events over the weekend. One of the lessons we have learned from disasters affecting our citizens is the need to provide ongoing counselling and support. Despite this being primarily a role for Glasgow city council, can the Secretary of State ensure that resources are made available, should they be requested?

Mr Carmichael: On the ability of Governments, be it here or in Edinburgh—or at local government level in Glasgow—to provide the facilities that are necessary, that is the very least that can be done, given the magnificence of the response we have seen from the people. The need for counselling is well understood and appreciated—as I have seen from my own professional experience—even in relation to the investigation of a much less dramatic road traffic accident. Such incidents can change the life of the police officer or ambulance person who has to attend them. That is well understood.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): As someone who has had the privilege of working and living in Glasgow, the humanity and heroism demonstrated by Glaswegians came as no surprise to me, but my constituents would want me to add their prayers and condolences to mine. It is a cliché but a none the less powerful one: Glasgow is a candle in the dark.

Mr Carmichael: I fear that I may soon run out of superlatives when it comes to describing the behaviour of the people of Glasgow. I am sure that the hon. Lady’s words will have been heard in the city and very much appreciated.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): In recent years I have become a regular customer in the Clutha Vaults. In fact, last Saturday afternoon I was scheduled to meet some comrades there. I say “comrades” deliberately, because it was that kind of place. On many a Saturday afternoon, I solved the world’s problems in the Clutha—only to wake up on a Sunday morning to discover they were still there.

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Just recently, I met some firefighters in the Clutha Vaults who were expressing concern about the terms and conditions of their jobs. I hazard a guess that it was the same firefighters, and other emergency workers, who responded so quickly to what happened.

The first victim of the tragedy was a man from Paisley, Gary Arthur, and I am sure that the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), will join me in passing on our condolences to Gary’s family. I want also to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy). He does not often frequent pubs, and I am sure he would be the first to admit that the Clutha Vaults would not have been on his list of priorities as a place to visit. But the important thing was that, although he could have driven by without anybody knowing, instead, he reacted. For me, that is a measure of the man.

Glasgow needs a Clutha, so I ask the Secretary of State to work with the commercial sector to rebuild the Clutha Vaults from the ashes, because Glasgow dearly needs it.

Mr Carmichael: I was privileged to meet the owner of the bar in Glasgow city chambers today, by happenstance as much as anything else, and he described to me the quite magnificent bar that I have heard described by others, which was famous in the city for being friendly and welcoming and for providing some great music and other sorts of entertainment. In fact, that is what was happening at the point when disaster struck. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would have been an adornment to it, and, like him, I want to see it resurrected.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Naturally, our thoughts and prayers extend to the people of Glasgow at this time, including those who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones are injured in hospital. Inverclyde is sharing in Glasgow’s grief because we too have lost a member of our community. I speak of PC Kirsty Nelis, who lived in Inverkip in my constituency. Kirsty served with distinction as an officer in my constituency, and she had been commended for her bravery. Her family must be feeling a tremendous loss, and the community is grieving for her loss. She was well respected and a very good officer.

Mr Carmichael: When I was at the command centre this morning, I briefly met Sir Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland, who had come directly from meeting members of the families of the two officers who were killed. He was clearly very affected by that meeting, and it struck me that the police exist very much as a family. That is why I thought it appropriate to make reference in my statement to the fact that the police in Glasgow are dealing not only with the loss suffered by members of the public, but with the loss of members of their own community and family. For that reason, their response, at a professional and an emotional level, deserves recognition. I am sure that they will get all the support they need from their chief constable and other senior officers in coming to terms with their loss.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): It was my privilege earlier this year to spend some of my police parliamentary scheme placement with the Police Scotland helicopter branch. Indeed, I

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spent time with colleagues of those who have sadly lost their lives. I saw at first hand the incredibly important work that the branch does in urban and rural areas, often saving lives. We should not forget that today. While the Secretary of State for Transport is still in his place, may I also make a point about the air accidents investigation branch? It has been pointed out that the branch has a large amount of work to deal with on other incidents as well as this one. Can the House be assured that all the resources and support that the branch needs will be forthcoming?

Mr Carmichael: Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Should he have any concerns about that at any stage, I would ask him to come directly to me or to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to let us know about them.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I echo all the sentiments of condolence that have been expressed so far. My constituents from West Lothian in east Scotland, and from the Falkirk district of central Scotland, share the sense of shock at this tragedy that was thrust with violence into the scene of celebration at the Clutha Vaults in Glasgow on Friday night. We also share the appreciation of and pride in the courageous response of the citizens. In fact, I saw a clip on television in which I was sure I could see my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) in the doorway of the pub, handing people out who had been injured. The people who helped in that way did so without regard to the danger to themselves. I also pay tribute to the ongoing work of the police and rescue services.

Will the Secretary of State make every effort to ensure that the full information is given at the earliest opportunity to the families of the injured and deceased, including to the families of those who were missing for some time? I say that because I had a close family member who was involved in the terrible tragedy at Dunblane, and the lack of information at the time caused a great deal of hurt and anger. Will he also pass on to the editor of one Scottish newspaper what I hope will be the unhappiness of the House at the distasteful suggestion in his paper today that an act of malice involving a laser pen might have been part of the cause of the tragedy? That suggestion is distasteful and should be deprecated.

Mr Carmichael: Speculation at this stage of the proceedings serves no purpose, and I absolutely deprecate any suggestion of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has just outlined. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) said earlier, the media response so far has, by and large, been responsible and commendable, and I hope that that will continue.

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of passing information on to the families most directly concerned. I do not like coming back constantly to my professional experience, but I know how important that is because I have been there and seen the difference that that flow of information makes to families who are having to come to terms with their grief and loss. However, all the professionals must strike a balance between providing information at an early

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stage and providing information that they can be sure is accurate. That is not an easy balance, but I am sure it will be met by the air accidents investigation branch and the members of the Procurator Fiscal Service in the west of Scotland, who will doubtless have, at some stage, to conduct a fatal accident inquiry into this matter.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): This follows on from the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Pamela Nash). I know that the Secretary of State appreciates the frustration and distress of families who were waiting over the weekend for news of their missing relatives, so can he provide an assurance that the search and rescue and recovery operation, which clearly was undertaken with great professionalism, was carried out as quickly as possible? If he is not in a position to give that assurance just now, will he do so at some point?

Mr Carmichael: What I can tell the hon. Lady is that that was very much at the heart of the discussions that the hon. Member for Glasgow East and I had with senior police officers at the command centre today. They must be scrupulous in the way in which they follow protocol, because, obviously, the consequences of their getting it wrong would be simply unthinkable. However, I can give the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) the assurance that they very much understood the importance of getting information out to families at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): First, may I add my condolences to the friends and families of those who have lost their lives? Many years ago, along with the then convenor of police in Strathclyde, Jimmy Jennings, I fought hard for the maintenance of the helicopter service, so I would not want any possibility of a knee-jerk reaction grounding of these pieces of kit. As someone who has operated with that piece of kit, I can tell the Secretary of State that it is the best piece of kit that any police force can have. I would not want any knee-jerk reaction to ground any of the helicopters, even though this is the third accident within Strathclyde.

Mr Carmichael: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that in other parts of the United Kingdom that helicopter remains in service. It is a helicopter that is widely used not just in this country, but elsewhere in the world, for this very sort of work—for police, ambulance service and other sorts of work. I might be wrong, but I think I am correct in saying that the Scottish ambulance service continues to use this same helicopter. Obviously, should the investigations of the AAIB disclose something that would require it to be grounded, I am certain that it would be. It is not that long since, on the same precautionary principle, there was a grounding for a very short period, which would be appropriate.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): My mother and father grew up in the Gorbals area of Glasgow.

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They said it was where they learnt the meaning of the word “community”, and my goodness we have seen the strength of that community since the awful events of Friday. I am aware that the Secretary of State has had the opportunity to sign a book of condolence in Glasgow. May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) in asking for a book of condolence to be opened here too, so that not only members in this place and the other place, but the whole Westminster community has the opportunity to send their condolences to all those people whose lives were shattered on Friday night and to express our admiration for that sense of community, and our gratitude and respect for the emergency services?

Mr Carmichael: As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow North West, I very much welcome the idea, but it is a matter for the House authorities. Should there be any difficulty with that, I would be more than happy to make Dover house available for the same purpose.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Just before I call the hon. Gentleman, I simply mention that I have heard what has been said and I can see no difficulty whatever with the idea. It makes a great deal of sense and should be capable of being introduced without delay. My understanding from past precedent is that ordinarily such a book of condolence would be lodged in the Library, and that might suit Members. An alternative might be that it could be lodged in my office. If we are agreed on the principle, it is simply a case of facilitating it in practice, and I will attend to that.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr Cunningham: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Mr Cunningham: On behalf of the people of Coventry, may I offer our condolences and support to the people of Glasgow? Coventry is no stranger to these situations, as we have seen from the war. More importantly, about 15 or 16 years ago, an aircraft came down on a Willenhall council estate and killed five people. Anybody who has experienced such an accident, particularly if they are an MP or a member of the public, will know that it is very traumatic and that it takes a long time to recover from, so the area needs all the help that it can get.

Mr Carmichael: I will, if I may, tie the hon. Gentleman’s comments to your own, Mr Speaker. It is apparent that this is a shared experience. Across the United Kingdom, there are communities that have suffered loss and grief from similar such incidents. I know from the conversations I had with police officers in Glasgow this morning that they have been contacted by officers from other parts of the country. It is clear that the incident affects the whole of the United Kingdom. It is not for me to suggest how the House authorities make such decisions, but as a Member of this House, I personally would be very pleased if they were prepared to proceed in such a way.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Secretary of State and colleagues both for what they have said and for the way in which they have said it.

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Point of Order

5.16 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that in October I raised a point of order with you, Mr Speaker, relating to the failure or refusal of the Minister for Immigration to reply to letters that I had sent him. You spoke very firmly indeed about the importance of the responsiveness of Ministers to Members of this House. I raised that point of order having advised the office of the Minister for Immigration that I would do so. After that point of order, on the two cases to which I referred, I got letters the next day signed by the Minister, although the content was unsatisfactory. Since then, all letters that have been sent to me on notepaper with the name on top of the Minister for Immigration have been signed by somebody called Lord Taylor of Holbeach. They have been signed with courtesy, but if they are on the notepaper of the Minister for Immigration, they are not authentic unless they are signed by that Minister. There is no doubt in my mind that what has happened in this past month or more is an act of petty spite by the Minister, because of the fact that I raised a point of order.

Mr Speaker, I do not mind the Minister insulting me; I have been insulted by better people than the Minister whose main claim for distinction was having sustained a fracture when dancing on a table, but it is an insult to my constituents that they are treated in that way and, after you spoke in the way that you did, Mr Speaker, it is an insult to you. That being so, I ask for your ruling and comments on the way in which the Minister for Immigration has been conducting himself so that in future my constituents can get the service to which they have a right. The Home Secretary has not signed a single letter to me in three and a half years, and I can put up with that, because she obviously regards herself as superior to me, but I do not regard the Minister as superior to me, and that being so I want him to sign the letters.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of which I did not have advance notice although I am, of course, aware of the chronological sequence of events about which he has just reminded the House. Whether any discourtesy was intended or not—I confess that I do not know, although I have no reason to think that a Minister would want to behave in

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a way that could be thought to be petty or spiteful—it seems to me, frankly, to be proper form for a letter sent on the headed notepaper of a particular Minister to be signed by that Minister. Although not all Members will necessarily be as exacting in their requirements as the right hon. Gentleman, if he regards it as proper that he be addressed in such a way it would make a great deal of sense, in terms of making the world go round and treating with courtesy someone with 43 years’ uninterrupted service in the House, to do things in the way that he has asked. It should not be a matter of any controversy from now on. I hope that the Home Secretary can pass on the message to the Minister for Immigration and that the Minister for Immigration will behave in a seemly manner both towards the right hon. Gentleman and towards other Members. Perhaps we can leave it there for today.

Bills Presented

Driving Whilst Disqualified (Repeat Offenders) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Rehman Chishti, supported by Henry Smith, Keith Vaz, Gordon Henderson, Mr David Ruffley, Jeremy Lefroy and Gareth Johnson, presented a Bill to allow Magistrates’ Courts discretion to refer a third or subsequent offence for driving whilst disqualified to the Crown Court for sentencing; and to grant the Crown Court the jurisdiction to impose a custodial sentence of up to two years for such offences.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 139).

Causing Death by Driving Whilst Disqualified Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Rehman Chishti, supported by Henry Smith, Keith Vaz, Gordon Henderson, Mr David Ruffley, Jeremy Lefroy and Gareth Johnson, presented a Bill to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by driving whilst disqualified to fourteen years and an unlimited fine.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 140).

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Mesothelioma Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

5.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I start my speech on Second Reading, let me, too, pay tribute to the firefighters and professional emergency services in Glasgow. As a former firefighter, I know the training that those in the emergency services go through, but nothing prepares anyone for the scenes they will have encountered when they arrived. I have had a huge and devastating disaster in my constituency, at Buncefield, and the fact that the public went in rather than walking away proves what a great nation we all live in today.

As I am a Minister of the Crown and an MP who is dyslexic, it was an interesting experience to be given the Mesothelioma Bill. It is an honour and a privilege, however, and I hope that colleagues will bear with me if I occasionally get the word “mesothelioma” wrong.

I think we can all agree that working people should have proper protection from personal injury or disease arising as a result of their work. When the principle is breached through negligence or a breach of statutory duty, it is obviously right that that person should be compensated by their employer or their employer’s insurer. However, many sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, are unable to find an employer or relevant insurer to claim compensation from. They developed a fatal disease through the fault of their employer yet they are still unable to seek compensation through the civil courts because the responsible employer no longer exists or the records are insufficient to show who the insurer might have been.

My brief states that the “previous Administration” made some noise about this issue over the years, but in fact previous Administrations have done so—yet there is still no provision on the statute book. I am confident, however, that we can get these measures on the statute book as soon as possible and I shall explain why in my speech.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am pleased to see this Bill, only three years after the Labour consultation, and I am particularly pleased that the Minister is in charge of its progress through this House. Will he admit that this is not the scheme that Labour published in February 2010, that almost all the concessions the industry sought during the consultation have been conceded by the Government and that this is a now a scheme that shows that the Government have not stood up to the interests of the big insurance companies?

Mike Penning: No, no and no. The previous Administration undertook their consultation just before the general election. I will not get into party politics, but as the former Minister started on the subject, I will continue on it. After 13 years, suddenly there was a consultation, which was very wide ranging and did not develop the scheme. I cannot find out exactly what the previous Government wanted to do, because under the rules I am not allowed to see that, but all the

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indications are that what they would have proposed would not have passed into statute without huge cost to the taxpayer, or to people being insured today. None of that cost is incurred under the Bill.

The Bill is part of the ongoing commitment by the Government and the insurance industry to correct the market failure that everyone accepts there has been in respect of mesothelioma cases. It tackles the problem in two ways: first, by providing a power to set up a payment scheme and, secondly, by providing the possibility of establishing a technical committee that will, where there are disputes, make decisions that are binding on the insurance industry.

Diffuse mesothelioma is a fatal disease caused exclusively—this is crucial to the Bill—by exposure to asbestos. It has a long latency period, often of between 40 and 50 years, but after diagnosis average life expectancy is, sadly, only eight to nine months, with very few exceptions living beyond that. The long delay between exposure and developing the disease, combined with inconsistent record keeping in the insurance industry, means that too often people struggle to trace an employer—the employer may no longer exist—or the insurer who provided the employer’s public liability insurance, against which they can make a claim for civil damages. The insurance industry and the Government recognise that this is unjust, and that a provision must be brought forward in the Bill.

The obvious question is: why is legislation being introduced? Despite recognition of the failure of the market, the insurance industry has not been able to put forward a scheme of its own that would compensate those concerned. Disputes between insurers, and the different interests of companies that still offer employers’ liability cover, or active insurers, and those no longer offering cover, or run-off insurers, have prevented the industry from agreeing a voluntary levy; I think that was looked at in the consultation.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab) rose

Mike Penning: I want to make progress. I am very conscious of the time, so I will not take an awful lot of interventions. Colleagues will have the opportunity to speak, either later on Second Reading or in the later stages of the Bill.

Industry representatives asked for legislation imposing a levy to support the payment scheme. The Bill establishes a payment scheme that will make substantial lump-sum payments to eligible sufferers from mesothelioma—and, crucially, eligible dependants of sufferers. The scheme will be funded through a levy on insurers active in the employers’ liability market, meaning that the active employers’ liability insurance market will bear the cost of the scheme.

Mr Jones: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that the insurance companies are trying to sell this as a generous scheme, but all estimates say that it will be worth about £350 million. Last year alone, the profits of Lloyd’s of London were £2.7 billion. Does he not think that, from that perspective, the insurance companies are getting away very cheaply?

Mike Penning: Nothing is perfect, but there was nothing there before, and if we had carried on the way we were going, nothing would be there, going forward,

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for people who are suffering so much, and who need help today.


It is no good the hon. Gentleman chuntering; he has had an opportunity to intervene, and perhaps later he will make a speech. That would be more useful than chuntering. As a friend of mine, he should know better, because I will not respond to that sort of chuntering. It just wastes time in the House.

The scheme is intended to be an alternative to seeking civil damages, which we still want people to do, if the opportunity arises. The driving principle is that where adequate records are not available—this is why the scheme was developed—the disease has been diagnosed, and there has been negligence or a breach of the statutory duty, a person should still be able to access payment for their injury. That is the crucial part of the Bill. Payments should be made, wherever possible, to the sufferers themselves, while they are still alive; I think that everyone would want that, but sadly it has not been happening. The scheme will therefore be straightforward, simple, and quick to process claims.

Sadly, we expect roughly 28,500 deaths from mesothelioma between July 2012 and March 2024, when the scheme is expected to come to its conclusion. We are seeing a peak at the moment.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I will give way one last time, but then I will have to make some progress.

Mr Dodds: I simply wanted to say, given the Minister’s experience in Northern Ireland—the Bill extends to Northern Ireland and the Assembly has passed a legislative consent motion—that many people there will warmly welcome the fact that legislation is being put in place. I would have liked it to go further, but I commend the Government for bringing it forward.

Mike Penning: I am very pleased that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. The legislative consent process has taken place in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, which is important in ensuring that the Bill can go forward.

If the Bill is passed before the end of the year, the first payments could be made by July 2014, which I think is what we all want. Around 300 people a year could receive an average payment of £115,000, less benefit recovery, which will be around £20,000 on average. Timing is key, because the number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak in 2015. We must act now and launch the scheme as soon as we can, with the regulations made as soon as possible after Christmas. I expect the regulations to be in place by April 2014.

Let us look quickly at the eligibility criteria. First, an individual has to have been diagnosed with the disease on or after 25 July 2012. Secondly, they were employed at the time of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure was due to negligence or breach of statutory duty on the part of the employer. Thirdly, they have not brought a claim for civil damages against an employer or the employer’s insurer. Fourthly, they are unable to do so—this is not a replacement for civil action. Fifthly, they are not already receiving damages or other payments relating to the disease from another source.

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Eligible dependants of diffuse mesothelioma sufferers may apply to the scheme in cases where the person with the disease has died before making an application or while the application was being processed. Eligible dependants will receive exactly the same amount of money as the sufferer would have received.

A sufferer must have been diagnosed on or after 25 July 2012 to be eligible for the scheme. There are always difficulties with cut-off dates, but without one the costs would be unlimited. I know that it is unfortunate, but we have to be pragmatic as we move forward. With a cut-off date, we can proceed with the agreements.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will make some progress.

The date of 25 July 2012 was when the Government announced that we would be setting up the payments scheme and so created a reasonable expectation that eligible people diagnosed with the disease on or after that date would receive a payment. The Bill does not, and cannot, look to respond to all the people who have been affected by asbestos diseases. The issue of individuals who have developed asbestos-related diseases but cannot trace a third party will have to be addressed outside the Bill. The Bill is not an appropriate instrument—I know that some people think that it is—for taking that forward.

Mesothelioma is a distinctive disease, because it is always fatal and always caused by asbestos. That allows for a straightforward scheme to be put in place as soon as possible. A streamlined scheme, such as the one we have brought forward, could not cover all the other diseases. It would otherwise be very complicated and expensive for the taxpayer.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am not going to give way.

The costs of other schemes would be disproportionate and the agreements we have with the insurance companies —I know that some colleagues do not like them—would make that very difficult. We are 100% committed to delivering on the Bill. This measure represents a huge step forward, and it should be recognised as such. I thank the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who is no longer in his place, for doing so.

The scheme will make payments to eligible people according to a fixed tariff and according to the age of the person who has the disease. The payment will be based on roughly 75% of the amount of average civil damages. Those who have followed the Bill’s progress through the other House will realise that it raised the figure from 70% to 75%. The figure of 75% is probably is not as important as the 3% levy, which is very important.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab) rose

Mike Penning: I will not give way.

Setting the payments at the right rate is crucial to the success of the Bill and the ultimate establishment of a payment scheme. The payment rate of 75% of average

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civil damages takes the levy right to limit of what insurers have indicated they could absorb without passing the costs on to new businesses—an absolutely crucial issue. It is the absolute maximum that would be realistic within a fixed-payment scheme.

The levy on insurers will be imposed on active employers’ liability insurers at large today, not the individual insurers who took out the premiums, who were covered in cases that come under the scheme. The scheme could be jeopardised if the levy were set disproportionately high. That could delay the introduction of the scheme, preventing the payment mechanism from being in place at the time of the peak of mesothelioma deaths, which, according to the actuaries, will be around 2015. I am sure we will debate that as we go through the Bill, but I hope that that will not detract from the importance of ensuring that it gets on to the statute book as soon as possible. As everybody in the House will understand, the scheme must strike a careful balance in making a substantial payment to eligible people while ensuring that the contribution made by the insurers is fair and not excessive. Crucially, the proposed levy rate must not be so high as to risk increased costs on business, thereby adversely affecting British businesses, which no one in the House would want.

In addition to the payment scheme and the levy, the Bill makes provision for the possibility—I stress, the possibility—of establishing a technical committee to adjudicate on making binding decisions on disputes between insurers. I think we would all prefer that to these matters being in the courts.

The Bill and the principles behind it merit the support of the whole House.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I am coming to the end of my comments.

We have no doubt that the principle of the Bill—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Front Benchers chuntering; they will have their opportunity to speak in a minute. Let us just get on. If the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) wants to speak, as lots of Members do, she will be welcome to do so. That is why I am not giving way every five seconds.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister is expecting to speak for a second time in this debate, but he is not prepared to give way during his speech now. Can you confirm that it is a matter of discretion for the whole House as to whether somebody is allowed to speak for a second time in a debate?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): If a Minister seeks to speak for a second time, it is with the leave of the House. As the hon. Gentleman knows, whether any Members, including Ministers, decide to give way to an intervention is entirely a matter for them and not for the Chair.

Mike Penning: I am conscious that lots of colleagues want to speak in this debate, which has been shortened because of the two very important statements that took

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place earlier. I have given way three times and there will be plenty of opportunities for Members to speak. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has probably got his press release, yet again, but that is unnecessary in this sort of debate.

I hope that the House will see the urgent need to push this Bill through and get it through its Committee and Report stages so that it goes on to the statute book and I am able to move the regulations that are under consultation as soon as possible. It can then provide compensation for our constituents who have been suffering from this terrible disease or, if they have died, for their dependants who need assistance from the scheme.

5.39 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I am very pleased to follow the Minister in opening this debate. As he has said, this Bill marks an important step on the long road to justice for mesothelioma sufferers and their families. I welcome the progress that has been made so far, but the Minister is right to say that we should take this opportunity to see whether we can go a little further before the Bill completes its passage through the House.

I am very pleased to see so many colleagues present, many of whom represent constituencies where the disease is prevalent as a result of their industrial history. I know it will be important for colleagues on both sides of the House to be able to speak about their communities’ experiences, over many decades, of the consequences of this terrible disease. Although I totally share the Minister’s wish for the Bill to make progress through this House so that a scheme can be put in place and payments can flow to victims in the next few months, I do not think we are so pressed for time this evening that we should not give the opportunity to every one of our colleagues to make the case on behalf of their constituents, because this issue is felt very deeply in many of the communities they represent.

I know that many colleagues will want to join me in paying particular tribute to the asbestos victims support groups, which have done so much to campaign for a fairer deal for victims and to keep parliamentarians briefed, not only for this debate, but over many years.

Mr Kevan Jones: Will my hon. Friend also add the congratulations of the House to the trade unions, which have not only campaigned on behalf of asbestos victims, but won literally millions of pounds of compensation for people who would not have got it unless they had been members of a trade union?

Kate Green: I am very happy to join in that tribute to the work of trade unions, a number of which have worked over many years not only to advocate the cause of individual victims, but to maintain the pressure that has ultimately led to the scheme under discussion.

I also pay tribute to our colleagues in the House of Lords who have already carefully scrutinised and, as the Minister said, improved the Bill. In particular, I acknowledge the work of my noble Friend Lord McKenzie, who, under the previous Labour Government, launched the consultation that has resulted in this Bill. I pay tribute to his assiduousness and his determination to secure justice for the victims of this terrible disease. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord Freud, who has demonstrated

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his equal determination and commitment to righting a long-standing and terrible wrong by introducing the proposed scheme.

The Bill follows a series of earlier pieces of legislation passed by previous Labour Governments to improve the lot of victims of asbestos-related and industrial diseases. In 1969, Labour introduced the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, requiring employers to insure against liability for injury or disease to their employees arising out of their employment. In 1979, Labour introduced and secured the passage of the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which provides lump sum compensation payments to people suffering from certain dust-related diseases or, if they have died, to their dependants, when a claim for damages is not possible because the employer or employers are no longer in business. In 2008, we introduced the mesothelioma payment scheme, which provides lump sum payments for people suffering from diffuse mesothelioma who are unable to claim compensation from other sources.

John Woodcock: I am really glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned the progress made by the previous Labour Government, because so many of us, including those who became Members before me, have wanted to see faster progress and have pushed for it for so long. The Minister was simply not right to say from the Dispatch Box that nothing was done in the period leading up to this Bill.

Kate Green: It is right to say that progress could have been faster and that more could have been done, but we should not overlook the fact that, over four decades, it is Labour Governments who have, until now, made the progress that has been made. As I have said, it was my noble Friend Lord McKenzie who began the process of consultation that has brought us to where we are today.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I am very supportive of the Bill, as I was of previous ones—my grandfather died of pneumoconiosis—but do the Opposition welcome the Bill and will they support it in the House tonight?

Kate Green: I am happy to answer that question, as I would have done during my speech. The Opposition welcome the progress that has been made, and we will not oppose the Bill this evening, because we share with the Minister and Members from both sides of the House a wish to process payments and get them to victims as quickly as we can. That is not, however, the same as saying that the Bill cannot be improved further. We believe that it can be improved, and I will outline some of our suggestions for how that might be achieved.

As I have said, the Bill has already passed through the House of Lords, and the work done in that place has undoubtedly improved it already. We will support the Bill on Second Reading, but it does not go quite as far as necessary in bringing justice for victims. We will therefore seek further improvements as the Bill continues its parliamentary passage. I want to make it very clear that we are not doing so to score political points or to delay the Bill unnecessarily. Everyone understands the importance of establishing a scheme and getting payments flowing as quickly as possible. However, this House will

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fail the victims of this terrible disease if we do not do the best we can to recognise their appalling suffering through a fair system of payments.

Victims have been left for years without any compensation, while the insurance industry has continued to benefit from billions of pounds in premiums. It certainly seems to the Opposition that the Government have not yet done everything that could be done and all that needs to be achieved, despite the progress that has been made and the undoubted good intentions of the Minister and his colleague in the House of Lords.

Mr Anderson: The Minister spoke about the fact that insurance companies want to keep the 3% levy because they are worried about the ongoing impact on them. Is not the reality that, for 50 years at least, insurance companies got in money that they were not spending? That money has evaporated, but we should now turn to it so that people can get 100% compensation, not the paltry 75% that is on offer.

Kate Green: My hon. Friend is right. Over many decades, insurance companies have taken in premiums and in every way resisted paying out to victims. It is good to have reached the point at which the industry is finally facing up to its collective responsibility, but it still has a long way to go.

The Minister rightly described mesothelioma as a cruel and vicious disease that is caused by exposure to asbestos, and as a long-tail disease that is diagnosed years and often decades after it has been contracted. It is invariably fatal and, once a diagnosis is made, cruelly quick: following diagnosis, most victims have only about nine months of life left. The effects of the illness are horrifying for sufferers, and for the loved ones who watch them die. The true disgrace is that the link to asbestos has been known for many decades.

One consequence of the long period for which the disease can lie dormant is that, following a diagnosis, it is of course more difficult to attach liability, given that the circumstances that brought about the condition often took place many years previously. As a result, many sufferers have until now been forced to rely only on statutory payments and welfare benefits. Although I am pleased that the industry will at last take a small step towards meeting the obligations it owes to sufferers, it is only right and proper that it should finally do so.

I understand that, as the Minister said, the scheme will be established as one of last resort, which is to be relied on only if no employer or insurer can be traced. That might be a reasonable position for the industry, but we must ensure that it does not exacerbate the pain and difficulty for claimants.

During the short period from diagnosis to death, sufferers become desperately ill, yet at the same time they are expected to go to often huge lengths to trace a former employer, perhaps from many years back; to identify that employer’s insurer, perhaps via the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office; to obtain the necessary medical records and wait the 40 days that agencies have to respond to such requests; and then, ultimately, to take legal advice and access the scheme. I think we can see how that would eat into the tragically limited time remaining to sufferers following diagnosis, so we must do all we can to speed up and smooth the process.

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I recognise the progress made in speeding up the process and helping victims to trace their employers’ insurers. Following its introduction in 1999, many insurers signed up to a voluntary employers’ liability code of practice, but none the less tracing rates remained deeply disappointing, never exceeding 50%. In 2012, the success rate was just over 34%; and even accounting for those cases now proceeding via ELTO, the success rate in 2012 still reached only 61%. Clearly, there is considerable scope for better support for victims to pursue insurers.

It seems, however, that the industry, in its negotiations with Ministers, has sought to do the very minimum it can get away with to make amends to sufferers. As noted, payments will be set at just 75% of average civil damages—admittedly, as the Minister said, an uplift on the 70% initially proposed. It is claimed that the industry cannot afford to pay more without passing on the additional cost to current employers’ liability customers. The notion that this multi-billion-pound industry, which has been collecting premiums for decades while doing all it can to avoid payouts and which is to be gifted £17 million by the Government under this Bill and lent a further £30 million to help with the scheme’s introduction and the smoothing of the first year’s payments, cannot and should not be more generous is simply not credible.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the hon. Lady have a view on what level of compensation could be paid without insurance companies passing on the cost to current policyholders?

Kate Green: There are two questions wrapped up in that one question. First, on present figures, what does it appear the industry can afford? I will say something about that in a moment. Secondly, does the industry have to pass on the cost to its customers, or could it choose to absorb it? We are talking about roughly 10% of the total value to the industry of the employers’ liability market. I appreciate that that is not a small sum, but as colleagues have pointed out, the industry has had decades to accumulate profits as a result of the premiums it has collected.

Mr Kevan Jones: It is not just about the accumulated profits to which my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) have referred: insurance companies are still making huge profits. Lloyd’s of London made £2.7 billion in 2012, Royal and Sun Alliance made £233 million between January and June 2012, and Aviva made £605 million between January and June 2013. These companies are not unprofitable, so their attitude to a levy costing £350 million is an insult to the victims.

Kate Green: I hope we bring the industry to understand that it would be right and proper for it to be more generous to the victims than the current scheme appears.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): In contrast to the previous speaker, the hon. Lady is being generous in giving way. She will be aware that compensation under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 is 100% of liabilities available before the courts. Should that not be the guide?

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Kate Green: I can say that the Opposition will be pushing for payment levels to be increased, and we believe they can be, given that the industry has accepted that a levy of 3% of gross written premiums is affordable and given that the impact assessment has shown that payments set at even 80% or 90% of average civil damages are affordable within a 10-year period. The Minister said that the proportion of GWP that the levy represented was more important than the 75% level derived from that 3% figure. It is our reading of the figures, however, that there is scope for the industry to be more generous, even within its own accepted cap of 3% of GWP. I hope to explore that in more detail with the Minister in Committee. As the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) said, there is a strong moral argument, of course, for setting payment at 100%, as is the case, for example, for the Motor Insurers’ Bureau scheme—all the more so because under the Bill recovery of any benefits paid will be set at 100%.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is this not a familiar tune we are hearing from the Government? Whether it is, in this case, the insurance companies, or, in the case of the statement earlier, the energy companies, they do not seem prepared to stand up to powerful vested interests or to stand up for vulnerable people in need of support.

Kate Green: I hope that collectively the House can strengthen the Minister’s arm and send a strong message to the industry that we do not consider the scheme to be good enough yet and that we expect and demand improvements.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Obviously, we want to try to help people who are suffering—everybody has accepted that—but these are complex areas. The hon. Lady has spent much of her speech attacking the insurance industry, which might be fair enough, but it rather raises the question: what was going on during the 13 years Labour was in power?

Kate Green: First, the hon. Gentleman might have missed the history I just rehearsed of the legislative process to date, and secondly, he is right that the condition and the legal circumstances surrounding it have been extremely complicated—there has been considerable litigation in this area, not just in the UK but internationally. I share his frustration that it has taken so many years to bring justice to victims, but it is not true that no efforts were being made. In particular, as colleagues have noted, in making what progress has been made, we have been powerfully supported by our colleagues in the trade union movement, so there has certainly not been utter indolence when it comes to securing justice for victims.

John Healey: This might help my hon. Friend. I am very impressed by the case she is making about the need for the scheme to be simple, smooth, speedy and more generous. Does she know that, in its briefing, the Association of British Insurers has said today that it would expect the scheme to run for about 40 years and therefore that any calculation of what could be afforded as a level of compensation—and to whom—should be seen in that context and not that of the short four-year term on which the Government have so far based their calculations?

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Kate Green: Four years certainly seems a remarkably short period over which to cost the scheme, given the many decades over which the industry expects it to continue. It is a concern—one that we will discuss further in Committee—that the figures seem to have changed since the Bill moved from the Lords to the Commons, and changed back again, in a manner that might be said to favour a particular outcome that suits the industry. We will want to question that in more detail when considering the range of figures being presented.

While the Bill has been proceeding, the Ministry of Justice has been consulting on its proposals to expedite and streamline the process for taking legal action, and to introduce fixed fees for mesothelioma cases, and we have real concerns about the MOJ’s plans for the fate of the scheme before us. Evidence suggests that fixed fees are likely to exert a downward pressure on the level of civil damages, notwithstanding the 10% uplift in damages that has not yet been applied to mesothelioma suffers under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Indeed, our suspicions are borne out by the view of the insurance industry that this Bill and the MOJ process should be seen as part of a single package.

I recognise that the Minister cannot answer for changes that the MOJ will make to court rules, but it is of concern that there will be no parliamentary scrutiny of those changes. I warn him that as the Bill proceeds we will seek assurances that the MOJ’s actions will not adversely affect the scheme in the Bill. Moreover we should remember that these already quite meagre payouts, which are already to be reduced by benefits recovery, will be further depleted by legal fees and fees for medical certificates. We are anxious that the deal looks less and less good for sufferers, and we will return to those points in Committee.

As has been noted, hundreds of sufferers will lose out because the scheme does not take effect until 25 July 2012, which was when the Government published their response to the consultation set up in 2010 under Labour. Although I recognise the time spent by Ministers in detailed negotiations with the industry, we must recognise that between February 2010 when the consultation opened and July 2012, more than 700 people will have died without access to justice. We therefore believe there is a strong argument for the earlier start date of February 2010, and we do not think it credible to suggest that an industry whose very purpose and lifeblood is the anticipation and management of risk has not been preparing for the likely introduction of a scheme such as this since the date of the initial consultation.

As the debate in the House of Lords exposed, this is not a matter of insurers reserving policy—I accept that a more rigorous framework might apply to provision for risk—but a simple matter of business planning. Surely it would have been prudent for insurers to have assumed from 2010 that there would be a payment system with which they would be required to comply, and to have made provision for best and worst-case scenarios. That, too, is a matter we expect to explore further in Committee.

I am sure the Minister will assert that there is a cost to the industry of an earlier start date, and I hope we will have some definitive figures for that. Lord Freud said the costs at 100% of civil damages would be £119 million, and he undertook to calculate figures at the lower percentage—then 70%—introduced by this

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scheme. It would be helpful to know from the Minister before we go into Committee what progress has been made with those calculations at the level now proposed of 75%.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): My hon. Friend, quite rightly, points out the faux concerns about cost and affordability. Does she agree that insurers are not doing this out of the goodness of their heart? For many years, they received payments for exactly this eventuality, and they should therefore be made to compensate those who are now sufferers.

Kate Green: I can only agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope the industry does not assume that the House will let it get away with the minimum it can propose. I assure the House that the mood of many colleagues from all sides is determinedly that we should do the best we can for victims—we and the industry owe them that.

As I think the Minister has alluded to, there is also a debate to be had about the scope of the Bill. It will exclude the self-employed unless they can determine they were de facto employees, and exclude family members who may have been contaminated—for example because they washed a brother’s or husband’s overalls. It will cover only mesothelioma and exclude all other asbestos-related illnesses. I heard what the Minister said about that, and again, I hope we can explore that issue further in Committee. Lord Freud offered welcome assurance about Ministers’ intentions in relation to other forms of asbestos-related disease when the Bill passed through the House of Lords, and I hope we will be able to secure firm commitments from the Minister on that.

Mike Penning rose—

Kate Green: I sense he may be about to give me that assurance.

Mike Penning: I can certainly assure the hon. Lady on her second point. On her first point, it is right that the House has those calculations before we go into Committee, and I will ensure those figures are made available to her in the Library.

Kate Green: I am grateful to the Minister. Taking advantage of his generosity, he will see the amendments that the Opposition table in the next few hours, so will he bring forward figures for a range of different scenarios, including 75%, 80%, 90% and 100% of average civil compensation?

Mike Penning: I ask the hon. Lady please not to push me too far; but I accept those points and my civil servants are listening.

Kate Green: I would never push the Minister too far.

We had hoped to have received fuller details of the scheme’s operation by now, but regrettably the regulations have yet to be published. I am sure, however, given the shameful history that precedes this Bill, that Members will agree it is vital that the scheme is seen to be run in a transparent and wholly independent manner. In the House of Lords, Lord McKenzie asked for more information about the oversight committee, and I have seen the letter that Lord Freud wrote to peers on 4 September on that matter. That offers some reassurance,

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but we would like to see provision for the oversight committee included in the Bill. That is of particular concern because, as I understand, the insurance industry could—and intends to—bid to run the scheme. I confess that I am not entirely comfortable with that notion, but if ultimately the industry is selected to manage the scheme, the role and make-up of the oversight committee becomes all the more important.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I suggest to my hon. Friend and the Minister that a precedent that could be considered is the miners compensation scheme for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? That had clear oversight, including democratic engagement both at UK level and also in the regions, which gave the surety that every last penny piece was paid out to the people who deserved it.

Kate Green: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that advice, and he is right to draw attention to the importance for local communities of a scheme that is transparent, credible, and which they are able to scrutinise and interrogate.

I expect that other issues will arise during our deliberations on the Bill, for example in relation to medical research, where I welcome the commitments made by the Government in the House of Lords, and on the differential between the levels of award made before a sufferer’s death and the level that can be obtained afterwards by his or her dependants. Frankly, that difference has little to commend it for a condition where death is the certain outcome. I recognise that the situation arises not from this Bill but from existing fatal accidents legislation, but I hope there may be scope for a more generous and flexible approach to mesothelioma.

There remain many complex and important issues to explore, and while we share the Government’s ambition to get the scheme in place and payments flowing, it would be a dereliction of our duty as parliamentarians if we did not scrutinise the full detail of the scheme and do all we can to maximise its generosity for sufferers. Victims have waited long for justice in the face of what can only be described as a hitherto intransigent industry. Now it is time to right a long-standing wrong, and give some small peace of mind to victims and their families in the midst of the most terrible suffering.

Let me conclude with the words of my constituent, Mrs Elaine Haskins, who first drew my attention to the terrible injustice and cruelty that victims have long lived with. Her husband died of mesothelioma in 2005—a death she describes as

“very stressful and painful. Two of the insurance companies were not traceable and the others did everything possible to get out of paying a penny. The sad thing was my husband died before he could see justice for his suffering and death.”

For too long we have let down too many victims of this cruel and terrible disease. Let us resolve today that we will right that wrong, and at last give justice to those victims.

6.10 pm

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak on this issue, on which I have a great deal of knowledge from working in the insurance industry for five years before I became a Member of Parliament

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and from representing a constituency with very high levels of mesothelioma. Britain has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world and sadly that rate is rising. In the past five years, the south-east of England has had the highest rates of deaths from mesothelioma compared with anywhere else in the UK. Medway, with its heavy industry and dockyard history, is a particular hot spot.

Mesothelioma is a horrific disease that is contracted exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Those who are diagnosed are often dead within a year. For many years, lawyers and insurers have taken their time to settle claims through civil procedures, leaving great financial uncertainty for sufferers and their families. A great deal has been done to speed up civil claims for victims and tribute ought to be paid to the work of Senior Master Whitaker for making that happen. However, there remains a small yet significant group of people who contracted mesothelioma but could not be compensated either because of poor record keeping by their employer or their employer’s insurer, or because neither existed any more.

The Bill will help to rectify that and is therefore welcome, but it still contains shortcomings that, if Ministers, insurers and lawyers were open-minded, could be rectified at little extra cost to them. Before going into detail, I congratulate Lord Freud on his sterling efforts to introduce the Bill. From my own experience of working in the insurance industry and alongside lawyers, I know that the negotiations would have been very difficult. He deserved the praise he received from peers on both sides of the House as the Bill progressed through the other place, but it still lacks fair compensation for victims of this dreadful disease.

In my preliminary discussions with interested parties, there was consensus on one point: the Bill will give sufferers something. That is true and something might be better than nothing, but the Bill puts the something squarely in the pockets of the insurers and lawyers, and not as much as there should be in the hands of the victim. The victim is the one who turned up to work and was exposed to asbestos. The victim is the one who happened to work for a company that kept shoddy records. The victim is the one who will die through no fault of his own. The Bill has room for improvement, based on further compromise.

Their lordships debated the Bill on a set of assumptions that have been revised since it has progressed to this place. The goalposts have moved. It is a shame that what should be a simple piece of legislation has become so mired in suspicion and confusion regarding what is and is not included in the levy. When the Bill was discussed in the Lords, Lord Freud made it clear that the levy could not be more than 3% gross written premium. That was to ensure that insurers financing the scheme would not incur additional costs that would be passed on to their existing customers. At that point, the levy agreed with the insurance industry was 75% and equated to, as illustrated in the Department for Work and Pensions’ own analysis in support of the Bill, 2.79% GWP in the first four years of the scheme and 2.27% GWP in the first 10 years of the scheme.

Since the debate in the Lords, the assumptions relating to legal costs have changed. Their lordships debated a fixed legal fee of £2,000, but we are now debating a fee of £7,000. In truth, there is total confusion about who will pay the fee. As the Association of British Insurers understands it, it will be paid by claimants out of their compensation which the Government will uplift accordingly.

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Not only is it unclear what precisely the fee is for, but what the other 25% is paying to administer. It would be helpful if the Government clarified who pays the legal fees. Is it the claimants out of their compensation or the insurance companies out of the administration fee? If it is the claimants, we need to be absolutely clear that when they are awarded £57,000 of compensation, £7,000 of legal fees will have to be deducted from that award.

Lawyers, insurers and the Government are, unsurprisingly, at loggerheads on the fixed fee, presumably because if it is acceptable for this scheme, why could it not be applied to civil claims? Where would it fit into the LASPO review that the Ministry of Justice is expected to complete and report on next year? At the heart of the Bill is supposed to be the fact that the victim is coming into the scheme at last resort. A lot of what is required will have already been done, so lawyers in a civil claim might not be as necessary as they would be in this scheme. Senior Master Whitaker has helped a great deal and the Department is clear that in some circumstances a medical report would be enough. The underlying point, however, is that because of the revised estimates, about which I remain sceptical, there is no room to raise the compensation limit from 75% to 80%—a much fairer level of financial recompense for victims of the disease. In his introduction, the Minister said that 75% is not the important figure and that the 3% levy is. With the greatest respect to the Minister, it is the level of compensation that is important to the victim, not what the level of GWP is to the insurance industry.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned that Medway is a hot spot for the disease. There have been 42 deaths in my constituency in the past five years—a greater number even than in her constituency, and about three times the national average. She mentioned the 3% and 75% figures. Is it not the case that the changes to which she referred will affect the sums relating to the 3% cap? If that is so, will it not be open to Ministers to show some compromise or movement in the direction that she is so ably arguing for?

Tracey Crouch: My hon. Friend is right that our constituencies are particularly affected and I am delighted to see him in his place to debate this important issue. He makes an important point. The Government have set a cap of 3% and there is no room for manoeuvre unless they are willing to stand up to the insurance industry and say that there is a firm view on both sides of the House that the 75% they have currently negotiated is not good enough. They need to agree on another figure. I believe that 80% would be appropriate as a good compromise between the 90% being called for by the lawyers—they cite the Financial Services Compensation Scheme as a useful comparator—and the 70% the insurers were originally willing to accept. Furthermore, with the previous assumptions under which their lordships debated the Bill, 80% would have been 2.98% GWP over the first four years and 2.42% over 10 years. Now, with the 3% cap, under the new legal costs associated with the scheme, there is no room for manoeuvre. I find that disappointing, unless the Minister is willing to stand up to the insurance industry and discuss this.

Mr Anderson: The hon. Lady is making a compelling case. Does she agree that, as the Minister said, the employers were 100% to blame, that the insurance

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companies have had 100% contributions for many years, that the Government are asking for 100% clawback on DWP benefits and that, sadly, 100% of the victims are dead? Is there not a clear moral case for this House to accept nothing less than 100% compensation for the people who have died?

Tracey Crouch: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I was persuaded by the 100% argument, but having read the House of Lords debate, I now think that 100% would not be right. There is room for compromise on the percentage and we need to ensure that we put the victim at the heart of the compensation scheme—not the insurers and lawyers who may ultimately benefit from it.

I am also concerned about the lack of clarity on assumptions relating to the age of people diagnosed with mesothelioma. Some think that those accessing the scheme will be younger than the current age group of claimants going through civil schemes, whereas the Department has assumed that there will be an older age group. I tend to believe that, as employers’ liability insurance has been compulsory since 1972, and given this disease’s latency, those unlikely to be able to trace their insurer, making them eligible for this scheme, would surely be older and the younger workers would be fewer. Again, there is room for negotiation with the insurance industry over the compensation levy.

I understand that the industry is worried about a cohort of younger people who might access the scheme because of exposure in schools and other areas with a less obvious asbestos risk. I am afraid that that is bunkum, because not only would schools have some form of liability insurance, but it would be possible to access compensation via civil procedures. For me, the current 25% running cost of the scheme is far too high, and I genuinely think that this is a poor outcome for the sufferer and a good outcome for the industry, which, as the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) said, has behaved poorly over many decades in this area.

Mike Penning: I am conscious that during the course of the debate I may be able to alleviate some concerns across the House about how the scheme is proceeding. Earlier in her comments, my hon. Friend asked whether the legal fees would be in addition or inclusive. They are clearly in addition to any payments that the person receives from the scheme.

Tracey Crouch: We will have an interesting discussion about that in Committee. The representations I have received are contrary to what the Minister says, suggesting that the fees would still come from the claimant, albeit that the Government will uplift the amount of compensation payable in the first place. A victim might get £57,000, for example, but would then have to pay the £7,000 fee out of it—unless the legal fee comes in lower than that, in which case they get to keep the difference.

Mike Penning: Let me clarify once and for all that the legal fee of £7,000 is outside the payment. If people do not spend £7,000, they keep the difference. It is outside, not part of, the compensation.

Tracey Crouch: As I say, we will have an interesting debate in Committee. Is the Minister saying that the insurance industry will pick up the legal fee? Where is

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this magic legal fee coming from? Who is paying for it? If it is not the claimant, it must surely be in the 25% administration costs. Officials have said that it is not within those costs, so we are going to have an interesting debate about where this £7,000 is coming from and, indeed, what it actually equates to.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Bill went through the other place on the basis that the legal fees would be £2,000, yet we are now told that they are £7,000. The Minister needs to respond to my hon. Friend’s earlier point that one could move to an 80% level of compensation and accommodate it if the legal fees were indeed £2,000 within the 80% of gross written premium. One could not do it otherwise. It could not be accommodated if the legal fees were £7,000. There is room for manoeuvre if the assumption on which the other place proceeded—namely that the legal fees would be £2,000—is correct, but the Minister needs to be clear in the concluding speech about where this £7,000 figure has come from.

Tracey Crouch: I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend’s intervention. The irony is that, when the Bill first started in the House of Lords, the figure of £7,000 was debated, but the assumption was subsequently revised down to £2,000 and then back up to £7,000. Under the original £7,000 assumption, however, the DWP calculations were exactly the same as they were when £2,000 was being discussed. Unfortunately, it is completely unclear to anyone who has paid any attention to this Bill precisely who is paying for this, what it includes and how the victim can still be put at the heart of it all.

On one particular point, I pay tribute to the insurance industry. It improved over the years in its financing of research into mesothelioma. This began when I was working at Aviva—I am not talking all the credit for it, but it did—as an attempt to stop the last Government from following the lead of Scotland and legislating too harshly on other asbestos diseases such as pleural plaques. As it happens, I supported the last Government’s resistance to following Scotland and was pleased that the top four insurers contributed to research funding into mesothelioma instead. That said, the funding runs out next year, and there has currently been no voluntary commitment—not just from the top four, but from all EL insurers—to contribute further money into research. I think that is a dreadful shame, which will have a major impact on future treatments to alleviate suffering at a time when we expect meso-diagnosis to spike. I share the views of the British Lung Foundation—supported, I believe, by the Association of British Insurers—about building the continuation of funding directly into the Bill. It is sad that a £4 billion EL industry cannot make a voluntary offering, spread equally across all insurers. If that is so, we parliamentarians now have a statutory opportunity to force them to do so.

Mr Anderson: The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. Is she aware that when the pleural plaques legislation went through the other place and the Law Lords decided that it would no longer be compensated, KPMG estimated that the insurance companies had a £1.4 billion windfall, so surely a little bit of that could go into the research that she is talking about?

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Tracey Crouch: I do, indeed, remember that. I remember having long conversations about pleural plaques with the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), who has been a long-time campaigner on the issue. As it happens, I disagreed with the idea of compensating pleural plaques. Everybody involved with this Bill well knows that I am passionate about mesothelioma—a disease from which people will die, and quickly—but I have never thought of extending the provisions to other diseases. I supported what the industry did on pleural plaques, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Let me quickly turn to the issue of benefit recovery. While I agree that this scheme should follow civil procedures and recover benefits from those who have received payments until their compensation has been paid, I think it incredibly unfair that a claimant who is getting the equivalent of 75% compensation to that from a civil claim must repay 100% of his benefits. To return to the main point of the Bill, the claimant is accessing the scheme because of poor practices by employers and insurers after having been negligently exposed to asbestos. I feel that the victim is the one who will lose out here, so I hope we get an opportunity to look carefully at the recovery issue in Committee.

Finally, let me briefly mention secondary exposure. I understand why diagnosis of mesothelioma caused by secondary exposure from asbestos is excluded from this Bill, but this is an area that I genuinely hope the Department is looking at pursuing. The numbers are small, but I would hazard a pretty good guess that most victims of secondary exposure will be women, who are sufferers of this dreadful cancer purely because they did their wifely duty and washed their husband’s overalls. These women deserve to be compensated, too. They receive payment under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008, so it is an accepted cause of suffering, but a proper compensation scheme should be considered for the future.

While I worked in the industry, I campaigned hard for better, faster justice for those who would die from mesothelioma. I may have been an irritant in the industry, but I was passionate that, after decades of poor behaviour, something had to change. Improvements were made and I was proud to be a part of those small, but important developments. However, in the middle of a constant stand-off between insurers and lawyers remains a person who will die a most horrible death, and at present this Bill, while welcome in principle, still puts too much in the pockets of other interested parties. I hope that Ministers both in this place and the other place will remain open-minded and listen to the concerns of colleagues on both sides and ultimately be willing to go back to the insurers and lawyers and fight just a little harder for the victims of mesothelioma. To my mind, it is the very least that they deserve.

6.28 pm

Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Let me first pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for the genuine interest and compassion she has shown on this subject for a number of years. I am sure that, at the end of the day, we will get the outcome that we are all looking for.

Last Friday, I sadly attended the funeral of a great and old friend, Terry Smith, a local lad from Hebburn, a town in my constituency. He was a local activist,

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secretary of the local social club, the Iona club, of which I am a member, too. He was a member of the local church, St Aloysius. He was very active in the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and visited the sick. He was a long-term member of the Labour party, and would go out and distribute leaflets whenever he was needed. I am sure that we all know men of his kind—men who do a lot of work but who are unsung heroes, and who never ask for anything in return. Terry left school and went to work in the shipyards, but after a while he changed his career. He went to college, and then managed to get a job teaching. He taught for 28 years, until he retired.

Two years ago, Terry went to the doctor. After being given a medical, he was told that he had mesothelioma and had three months to live, or, if he had treatment and if he was lucky, he would make it to a year. However, because of his determination, his obvious faith and his medical treatment, he got through two years. It was very sad to be at his funeral last Friday: it was very sad for his friends, and, more important, it was very sad for his family.

Terry has now become part of a statistic. Every week, three people in the north-east die of mesothelioma. What most of those people have in common is that they are working-class, and were employed by a negligent employer who exposed them to the poisons of asbestos.

I welcome the scheme, and I think that the Minister has done a great job, because it has been kicking around in the long grass for long enough. It will impose a levy on the insurance industry, which will compensate victims who cannot trace an employer for whom they may have worked many decades ago and who may have gone bust since then, and cannot trace the employer’s insurance company either. The regional media welcome the scheme because they see it as an end to an injustice that we have witnessed for a long time, and, as I have said, I welcome it because it is an improvement on the status quo. However, the Bill falls far short of what the last Labour Government intended.

Mr Kevan Jones: I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the regional media, but did he feel as concerned as I did about a headline in the Sunderland Echowhich referred to a £300 million bonanza for asbestos victims? In fact, many of his constituents and mine will not be covered by the Bill, and will be short-changed.

Mr Hepburn: I think that many issues of that kind will be exposed as the Bill proceeds through its stages. The media gave the scheme a warm welcome because they did not know the details and the nitty-gritty.

The Bill falls short of what we intended when we issued our consultation document. It falls short in regard to the cut-off time—in its present form, it will deny compensation to thousands of mesothelioma victims and save the insurance companies millions—and it falls short in regard to the payments, which will be 75% of the average payment made following a civil claim. I think that the proportion should be 100%, and that insurance companies should be fined a further 25% for ignoring their responsibilities over the years. The money could then be used to establish some proper research on a cure for mesothelioma.

Why has the Bill been diluted, and why was it kicked into the long grass? Why has this taken so long? The answer is, quite simply, that the insurance companies’

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fingerprints are all over the Bill. That shows the unhealthy relationship that the Tory party has with the insurance industry, which has pumped millions into the party’s coffers over the years. It also shows the value that the Government place on working people, especially those in the north-east. I wonder what would have happened if those people had been professionals in the south-east of England. I wonder what would have happened if, for example, judges had all of a sudden developed an occupational cancer as a result of inhaling hairs from their wigs. We know exactly what would have happened. Those would not have been working-class people breathing in asbestos fibres, and the Tories would have looked after their own people.

Mark Reckless: I do not make this point from a partisan perspective, but the hon. Gentleman said that the scheme was not as generous as the one that the previous Government had planned. Is there something about the disease, about the insurance industry or about politics in this country that explains why it has taken so long for us to reach this stage?

Mr Hepburn: This came about because of the Labour party’s links with the trade unions, which brought the issue to our attention. Labour Members in the last Parliament—many of whom are sitting here now—had a number of meetings with the then Prime Minister and with justice Ministers. The Bill has been a long time coming. It could have been here two years ago, but because the insurance industry was crawling around and because the Government wanted to appease it, it was kicked into the long grass. Eventually, however, the Minister—and all credit to him—took over the brief and, very recently, enabled us to make progress.

Hywel Williams: There is a long history of delayed compensation for such diseases. In the early 1960s, a campaign for compensation for slate workers began in Wales. It eventually led to the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, but for 20 years or so, nothing at all happened.

Mr Hepburn: Indeed.

Let me end by saying that the Bill can be improved. There is time. However, if it is to be improved, the Government must stand up to the employers who have literally got away with murder, and they must stand up to the insurance companies which have literally robbed dead people of £1 billion. They must stand up for what is right. We are convinced that we are on the right side, and we want to know whether the Government will be on the right side. If they do not get on to the right side, they will be seen for what they are. They will be seen to be on the side of the privileged, the powerful and the wealthy, and, ultimately, to be letting cancer sufferers down.

6.36 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), who spoke with understandable passion. All of us who know something about industrial life in this country are aware that for too long we were literally in a state of ignorance. I think of industrial deafness, which affected members of my family, and of other respiratory diseases. In particular, I think of mesothelioma, and of the date of knowledge in law, which is deemed to

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be 1969. It is assumed for the purposes of liability that, until that date, employers, businesses and industries throughout the country—and the people who worked in those businesses, delivering productivity and profit for year after year—were labouring in a state of ignorance. That is a tragedy when we consider the individual stories of the workers and what they went through.

Mr Kevan Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about the date of knowledge, but, as he knows, mesothelioma was originally identified in the Meriwether report of 1931. After the second world war, the Government wrote to the British shipowners’ confederation drawing attention to the dangers of asbestos. For all those years the fact that it is a danger to health was denied, although that was known to be the case.

Mr Buckland: I was coming to that point. Although for the purposes of liability knowledge of the dangers is defined as having started in 1969, we know that the debate had been going on for many years before that. It is a tragedy that the decision was not made for a generation. Thousands of workers, many of whom are no longer with us, were working in dangerous conditions.

I represent Swindon, a railway town which had the Great Western Railway at its heart, and had a railway works until 1986, and I have heard stories from many former railway workers who worked in and around asbestos every day of their working lives. Asbestos was being transported along the railway system, but it was also being used to line the boilers and pipes, and to insulate the heat generators which are an integral part of a locomotive. More than that, however, asbestos was being used to line all the carriages built at the Swindon works, and asbestos was used in sprays that were applied to surfaces within and without those carriages. It was very much part of the essence of working life in Swindon. For very many people whom I know exposure to asbestos has been a reality, and that means that many people are still carrying a latent disease—a latent disease that can manifest itself as late as 40 or even 50 years after exposure.

I am going to single out one person, not because he would have regarded himself as an exceptional man, but because he rose to become the mayor of our town and because he died this year from mesothelioma. Rex Barnett worked for British Rail from 1953 to 1961. It was while he was there that he was exposed to asbestos and went on to develop what was for many years a latent disease. He was diagnosed with pleural plaques back in the mid ’90s and then was one of the unfortunate people who went on to develop mesothelioma right at the end of his mayoral year in 2011. Rex battled on. He was an indefatigable character who in his mayoral year raised over £60,000 for local charities, an exceptional feat in itself. He battled on for another two years, but finally, sadly and tragically, succumbed this year. In his memory and the memory of thousands of other people who worked alongside him, this measure is a welcome one.

I pause now for a moment to think about the memorial garden we have in Queen’s park in Swindon to the victims of mesothelioma, which is marked by a very simple memorial, and which gives members of my community an opportunity to contemplate and consider the sacrifice—

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the unwitting sacrifice—that was made by those who were exposed for all that time to lethal amounts of asbestos.

In my early legal career I was trained in personal injury work, which included industrial compensation, and therefore have some, albeit limited, experience of dealing with claims relating to conditions such as mesothelioma. I think that perhaps we are in danger of oversimplifying the position when talking, perfectly naturally, about the need for a swift resolution to the claims made by victims of this disease and their families. There is a danger that seeking to resolve claims before death could lead to a significant under-settlement of claims, which would deprive dependants of the victims of a substantial proportion of the damages they could recover in a posthumous claim.

I think it is right to talk very briefly in this Second Reading debate about the wider position and principles, while recognising the fact that this Bill will deal with a relatively small cohort of people for whom traceability of employer or insurer has not been possible. The following important point has been raised with me by claimants’ solicitors, some of whom have years of experience in practice in Swindon. The regime that applies to posthumous claims for damages is still dramatically different in England and Wales from that which applies to those made during the lifetime of the claimant. For example, bereavement damages are not payable during the lifetime of claimants, claimants cannot recover for future funeral expenses during their lifetime, and living claimants cannot recover damages for services provided to dependants after death; that is recoverable only as a services dependency under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. It is clear that under that Act income dependency claims will usually be significantly more for dependants than a lost years claim made under common law for a living claimant. It is clear that claims that are brought by widows after death will be about 20%—a fifth—more valuable than equivalent claims made during life. So the dilemma for mesothelioma sufferers going through all the pain and struggle they have to endure is: do they resolve their claims during their lifetime for what will be a lesser sum, or do they die with a claim unresolved?

It is interesting to note that the Scots have legislated to bring the rights of relatives before and after death into some alignment. That is one of way of dealing with this, but there are alternatives that could, and do, deliver a practical solution.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I probably am thick, but will my hon. Friend explain why there is a difference between claiming before death and after death, because I have not quite understood that?

Mr Buckland: I am certainly not going to insult my hon. Friend, but what I will say is that payments after death are governed by the 1976 Act and payments before death fall under common law, so different rules and regimes apply. As I have said, in Scotland there has been some move to try to align certain aspects—but not by any means all aspects—of the rights of dependants, relating to mesothelioma in particular.

There are practical alternatives, and in her excellent speech my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) made a point that deserves re-emphasis. The work of the senior master of the

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Queen’s bench division, Master Whitaker, should be singled out for particular praise because he and his colleagues have developed specialist lists that, in effect, create a fast-track procedure for the efficient resolution of liability issues. The fast-track procedure allows for summary judgment to be passed where sufficient evidence has been demonstrated by claimants about exposure to asbestos in breach of duty and where defendants then have to show cause—reversing the burden, as it were—on evidence why that liability should not be proved. With the resolution of liability, interim payments can be made to claimants and their families to meet the claimants’ needs during life, but that interim payment does not bring resolution or quantum to a close. That can be achieved by a stay of the claim until after death, to allow the full quantum—the final value—of that claim to be properly assessed.

It is important that we make these points because if we are truly to address the needs of victims and their families, we have to understand what they need, rather than just make glib assumptions about brevity and the need to tie things up before the tragic event of the death of a victim.

We know that over the next 30 years mesothelioma will claim about 60,000 lives, and that means about 2,500 people will be dying every year from this aggressive cancer. This particular scheme deals with last-resort claims where there is no other alternative. Already we have seen welcome changes by the Government in the other place, by conceding the 70% levy and raising it to 75%, on figures that at the time in question still represented under 3% of the gross written premium for employer liability insurance. I know that these figures have been updated, but when this Bill reaches Committee more particularity must be given as to the basis for those updated figures, because it is crucial if we are to have a meaningful continuing negotiation with the insurance industry—which I think we should—that we know precisely what we are dealing with.

I know my hon. Friend the Minister cannot commit himself and the Government to particular figures today, but I urge him—and I know he will listen—to keep those figures open and to look to see if we can get a greater proportion, and whether we can achieve 80% as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford suggested. The more we get, the more justice we will deliver for the victims and their families.

Tracey Crouch: Does my hon. Friend agree that the insurance industry is unlikely to walk away from this scheme because of a very small uplift to 80%, given that it already has an incredibly bad reputation, thanks to the way it has dealt with mesothelioma victims? The notion that, all of a sudden, the entire scheme is going to fall apart because of a small, continuous uplift to 80%, and that the insurance industry is just going to walk away, is absolute nonsense.

Mr Buckland: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not believe that the industry, which has rightly been criticised for lack of action and lack of resolution, would dare risk further opprobrium by appearing to be even more unreasonable at the end of what has already been a lengthy—some would say over-prolonged—negotiation process.

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My hon. Friend made an interesting point about the industry’s argument regarding the likely age of claimants. Her point has real merit and force, because as she rightly says, given the changes in the law—the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 and the introduction of compulsory employers’ liability some 41 years ago—the issue of traceability of insurers surely belongs to a period before the introduction of such legislation. That must mean that the cohort of claimants who would be eligible under this scheme will be older, rather than younger. I fail to see any clear basis for the assertion that we will be dealing with a younger group of claimants. It is important that we as legislators, both here and in Committee, seek to challenge and probe at every stage glib assertions made on behalf of an industry that, although it is now coming to the table, should have done so some years ago.

I welcome the Bill and all measures that create a degree of justice for those who, as a result of unfortunate accident, are unable to trace employers or insurers. But at the very least, when we make such legislation, it is our duty to ensure that we drive the best possible deal for our constituents and that they get in fullest possible measure the justice they so clearly deserve.

6.52 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), who has once more shown his expert understanding and knowledge of this issue. I also compliment the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has again shown her utter determination to ensure that the right thing is done for those who have suffered so terribly from mesothelioma and for their families. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), who has been a redoubtable campaigner on this issue for many years, on all the work he has done.

Every July on action mesothelioma day, in Lincoln square, Manchester, the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group, ably co-ordinated for many years by Tony Whitston, brings together Members of Parliament, other community leaders and the families and loved ones of those who have died as a result of mesothelioma. It is a profoundly moving occasion, and I see in the House hon. Friends who have attended this event in previous years. Doves are released into the sky as a symbol of peace and reconciliation for those families who have faced so much difficulty, and the message goes out that there is still a need for justice for those who have suffered so much.

One of the most profoundly moving things is that many of the women there hold up photographs of their husbands and loved ones, who worked hard in heavy industry or as electricians or joiners, and who lost their lives to mesothelioma because an employer—an irresponsible, negligent employer—did not remove the risk, did not alert them to the risk they faced. I think of people such as Mr Fryers, a constituent of mine, whose voice is included in the excellent Asbestos Victims Support Group’s “Forum UK” briefing. He says:

“I never thought I would be exposed to asbestos diseases and suffer mesothelioma. During my apprenticeship from the age of fourteen as these diseases were never talked about you just did the job given to you. No tradesman knew much about asbestos due to the neglect of the employers who exposed them to it.”

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At the event in Manchester—I am sure they take place throughout the United Kingdom—we have a particular focus on the 6,000 innocent mesothelioma sufferers who were unable to find a former employer or insurance company before they died: who were unable, in other words, to get any form of redress or compensation for the illness and eventual death they suffered. The Bill enables us to focus on that group and on those who still struggle to find an employer or an insurance company.

I welcome the Bill, which is a huge and important step forward. It will bring a measure of justice to those who have been unable to trace employers or insurance companies. However, my message to the Minister—one that is coming loud and clear from all parts of the House this evening—is that if we are going to enact this Bill, we should do it properly and gain the maximum possible justice for those who have been affected.

Let us remember that the insurance companies start well ahead on this issue. The estimated value of payments that ought to have been made but never were to those who have suffered and died is at least £800 million. We should also add to that the premiums the insurance companies have collected but have never had to pay out on. I encourage them to participate in the development of this scheme; but we should remember that they start ahead, not behind. Throughout the debate on the Bill through its various legislative stages, we should also remember that the voice and experience of those most affected—the loved ones, the families—must be heard. Over many, many years, they have felt ignored and betrayed, and we have to emerge at the end of this process with something that they feel offers them a measure of justice.

I want to make four brief points, the first of which concerns the level of compensation, which everybody has spoken about this evening. Seventy-five per cent. may be better than 70%, but it is not good enough, and we simply have to do better. Here, there are technical arguments, some of which have already been aired, but in this regard I rely for my view on the view of Parliament. That view was clearly demonstrated during the debate on what became the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which brought about changes to the conditional fee agreement. It was very clear in the debates in this House and the other place that to expect mesothelioma claimants to pay more than 25% of their compensation to lawyers was completely unacceptable. That argument was had here and in the Lords, which passed an amendment to prevent the new conditional fee agreements from applying to mesothelioma claims. Members may recall that we entered a period of ping-pong, and eventually there was a compromise and section 48 of the Act was inserted.

The will of Parliament was very clear on those occasions, and my argument is that if it was wrong to expect mesothelioma claimants to pay 25% of their fee to lawyers, why is it fair to expect them to pay 25% of the fee that they should have to the insurance companies? That is the practical effect of having a cap at 75%. My starting point is 100%. Other figures have been mentioned—90%, 80%—but the message to the Minister is that the figure has to be substantially higher than 75%. We do not want political game-playing here; there has to be a sensible, proper, grown-up discussion with

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the industry, Ministers and Members of this House to make sure that we get the best level of compensation that is available. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford was right to suggest that the level of compensation that is agreed on, whatever it might be, should be the level at which benefits are repaid. It would be grossly unfair to set a compensation level of less than 100% and then to expect claimants to repay 100% of their benefits. That would be quite wrong.

My second point relates to the start date from which people should be paid compensation. I make no criticism of Lord Freud. He made his statement to the House of Lords in July 2012, in the last days before the summer recess. If he had not cared about the issue, he could have left it until October when the House returned, but he wanted to make the statement in July because he does care. The start date should be set further back, however—at least to February 2010—and the reason for that is clear. When the Labour Government published the consultation document, it became clear to the industry that things were going to change and that a compensation scheme funded by the industry would be put in place. From that moment on, the industry has had every opportunity to make the necessary arrangements.

Mr Kevan Jones: I agree with my right hon. Friend that the date needs to be put back. Does he agree with the point made by the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) that, because the date of knowledge is 1969 and most of the claimants are likely to be elderly, there is a reasonable case for putting the start date back at least to 1969 because the number of cases involved will be quite small?

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about these issues and he makes an important point. I am saying that the date should be put back to at least February 2010, and there are arguments for going back further. I hope that we will have an opportunity to examine those arguments in Committee.

Mike Penning: On the point raised in the intervention by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), the dependants of those who have been affected by this terrible illness will be comp—I nearly used the word “compensated”; we are not supposed to use it. Payments will go to them. It is not the case that no payment will be made just because someone has sadly died. The dependants will get payments as well, and that has to be taken into account. I understand what the hon. Gentleman was saying, but that has to be taken into consideration.

Paul Goggins: I am happy to be the conduit for a conversation between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. I hope that we will be able to have a sensible discussion about this in Committee. Whatever the start date is, it should predate July 2012.

My third point relates to section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, to which I referred earlier. Last week, I received a copy of a letter sent by Lord McNally to Lord Alton of Liverpool. One or two other Members who took part in the debates during the passage of the LASPO Act also received a copy. Section 48 prevents sections 44 and 46 from coming into force in relation to mesothelioma

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claimants. That means that the new conditional fee agreements cannot operate in relation to mesothelioma claims.

Ministers keep making the point that the review that has to be carried out under the LASPO Act has somehow to be dovetailed with the arrangements in this Bill. In the letter, Lord McNally says:

“I can absolutely guarantee that we will work in a synchronised way with the DWP”.

However, there is no relationship between the review set out in the LASPO Act and the provisions of this Bill. As I have made clear, the provisions in the Act cover civil claims and the arrangements for conditional fee agreements. They will ensure that claimants have to pay back 25% of their success fee to the lawyer who represented them. There have been arguments about that, and the Government clearly have their point of view, but Parliament has expressed the view that that provision should not operate in relation to mesothelioma claimants.

The Bill, on the other hand, deals with a fund of last resort for people who cannot find their former employer or insurance company, and who have no one against whom to make a civil claim. The two issues are therefore completely separate, and I ask the Minister please to clarify that when he responds to the debate. If there is to be a decision in relation to section 48 of the Act, let us have that debate and make that decision, but let us not confuse that issue with the provisions of the Bill that we are debating today.

My final point relates to research, which the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford also mentioned. It is shameful that we spend so little on researching the causes and treatment of mesothelioma. It is a disease that will kill 2,400 people this year, and in the region of 60,000 people over the next 30 years, and we should be devoting much more to research. I applaud the initiative that a small number of insurance companies took to set up the research fund that is being managed by the British Lung Foundation. Some good, promising work has been done as a result of that, and Lord Alton and his colleagues in the House of Lords wanted to make that arrangement more sustainable, better funded and more reliable in the long term so that we could get some proper research done and some good outcomes. Indeed, Lord Alton pressed an amendment to that effect, but it was narrowly defeated. However, that does not remove the argument, or the need for Ministers to do much more in regard to the funding of research.

I was struck by Lord Freud’s comment in Committee in the other place, when he was asked about his own efforts to improve investment in research, from the Government and from other sources. He said:

“I have hit a brick wall at every turn” [Official Report, House of Lords, 5 June 2013; Vol. 475, c. GC250]

He is a Minister who was trying to get a better outcome for research but clearly found it difficult. Earl Howe also spoke on Report about how he was trying to improve the research programme, and I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on progress tonight, because the promises were made in July and it is now November. I hope that some progress has been made, but we cannot get away from the fact that the Bill should contain a provision for the long-term funding by the insurance industry of research into the causes and treatment of mesothelioma.

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I welcome the Bill, but it could be and must be improved. The families of those who have suffered and died as a result of this dreadful disease must be better compensated, and we need a scheme that is affordable and in which those people can have confidence.