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25 Feb 2010 : Column WS139

Written Statements

Thursday 25 February 2010

Assisted Suicide


The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): In September last year and following the House of Lords judgment in Purdy v DPP, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued his interim policy setting out the particular public interest factors he would take account of when deciding whether to give consent to the prosecution of a person for the offence of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring [assisting] another to commit or attempt to commit suicide. At the same time he announced the start of a consultation process on the issue.

Having considered over 4,500 responses to that consultation process, the director has today issued his final policy together with the summary of the responses. Copies of each have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

It should be emphasised that the policy does not change the law but responds to the House of Lords judgment in Purdy v DPP in which the House of Lords considered that in the special case of assisted suicide the director should issue such a policy. This policy should be read in conjunction with the Code for Crown Prosecutors which will continue to apply to all cases.

Additionally, following a similar public consultation process, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland has today issued guidelines in respect of cases arising in Northern Ireland. Copies of these guidelines have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Benefits: Disability


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People (Jonathan Shaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In October 2007, the European Court of Justice decided that disability living allowance (care component), attendance allowance and carer's allowance ("disability benefits") should be classified as sickness benefits under Regulation EC 1408/71. Consequently, the benefits are exportable in certain circumstances. Before this judgment, disability benefits were not exportable and as a result people who had been receiving these benefits lost entitlement when they moved abroad.

The Government accepted that the disability benefits referred to above are exportable to customers living in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland provided that certain conditions are met. This includes a requirement that customers making a new claim have been in the UK for 26 out of the past 52 weeks.

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After careful consideration, we have decided to take a different approach on cases where people lost entitlement to a disability benefit when they moved to another EEA state or Switzerland before 18 October 2007 (the date of the judgment in case C-299/05, Commission v Parliament) but no earlier than 8 March 2001 (the date of the judgment in Case C-215/99, Jauch v Pensionsversicherungsanstalt der Arbeiter).

We accept that these people will have been in the UK for 26 out of the previous 52 weeks when they left the UK. We will therefore no longer require that they should satisfy this condition at the date they seek reinstatement, provided that they continued to meet the other relevant domestic and EU law eligibility requirements throughout the period their claim was disallowed. Payment will be considered from 18 October 2007.

Once full details are available, the Pension, Disability and Carers Service will start to contact those people who have already applied for reinstatement to check if they are able to have their benefit reinstated.

The department will take action to publicise this different approach and has placed information on the Government's official website, Directgov at The disability benefits pages on the site will be updated as more information becomes available.

Compensation: Pleural Plaque


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

This Ministerial Statement sets out the Government's decision on the question of compensation for pleural plaques, following their consultation on the issue. A full summary of the submissions we received during that consultation will be published shortly.

On 17 October 2007, the Law Lords upheld a Court of Appeal decision that the existence of pleural plaques-small localised areas of fibrosis caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, found within the pleura of the lung-does not constitute actionable or compensatable damage. Prior to that, people had been able to bring claims for compensation for pleural plaques since the 1980s.

In light of representations made by individuals and organisations who strongly disagreed with the Law Lords' decision, and in recognition of the concerns that existed, the Government published a consultation paper on the issue which sought views on a number of options in response to the ruling, including whether to overturn the House of Lords judgment and legislate so that pleural plaques would again be compensatable under civil law.

In total, the Government received 224 responses to their consultation paper. In addition, reports were received from the chief medical officer (CMO) for England and Wales and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) reviewing the medical evidence on

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pleural plaques. Very helpful further discussions have also taken place with key medical experts in relation to the medical evidence.

This has confirmed that the presence of pleural plaques is an indicator that a person has been exposed to asbestos. Given that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing a serious illness, a diagnosis of pleural plaques can give rise to an understandable sense of anxiety and unease. However, while the exposure to asbestos has resulted in an anatomical change, in the great majority of cases pleural plaques do not in themselves produce any significant physiological change or loss of lung function, and only very rarely give rise to physical symptoms. In such rare cases, it is still possible for individuals to bring a civil claim for damages.

There is no available medical evidence to show that pleural plaques become malignant or lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Current evidence indicates that it is a person's exposure to asbestos that produces any increased risk of developing a serious asbestos-related disease rather than the pleural plaques themselves.

The chief medical officer has invited the British Lung Foundation and the British Thoracic Society to develop information materials for healthcare professionals, and an information leaflet for people diagnosed with pleural plaques, to ensure that consistent and accurate information is provided about the condition to help allay concerns as far as possible.

On the basis of medical evidence received during the course of this review, including authoritative reports from the CMO and the IIAC, we are unable to conclude that the Law Lords' decision should be overturned at this time or that an open-ended no-fault compensation scheme should be set up. While the current medical evidence is clear that pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure to asbestos significantly increases the risk of asbestos-related disease, any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos-related disease arises because of that person's exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves. However, if new medical or other significant evidence were to emerge, the Government would obviously reassess the situation.

While we cannot, for the reasons outlined above, restore the previous position, we do acknowledge the unique position of those individuals who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation for pleural plaques at the time of the Law Lords' ruling in October 2007. Such people would have had an understandable expectation that their claim would result in compensation and many had made plans accordingly.

The Government have decided to make payments of £5,000 to individuals in this limited category under an extra-statutory scheme. The payment broadly reflects the level of compensation likely to have been received if pleural plaques had continued to be compensatable. Detailed arrangements relating to the operation of this extra-statutory scheme will be announced shortly. The scheme will apply to England and Wales, where the Ministry of Justice has responsibility for civil law. An information telephone line will be available by the

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end of the week and the number will be published at The Government regard this as a unique situation and as not setting any precedent for any other circumstances where litigants may be disappointed.

A significant consequence of the House of Lords decision has been that people diagnosed with plaques can no longer bring proceedings to establish liability for negligent exposure to asbestos. This was useful for some individuals later diagnosed with mesothelioma, as prior establishment of liability expedited their new compensation claim. This is of particular importance where conditions like mesothelioma are concerned, as patients frequently die very soon after diagnosis, leaving little time to trace records and obtain compensation. The Government believe it is imperative that steps are taken to improve the speed of payment for compensation claims for mesothelioma and other serious asbestos-related diseases.

We will therefore establish a working group composed of claimant solicitors, trade unions, insurers, the judiciary, and civil servants to examine litigation practices and procedures for compensation claims relating to mesothelioma, and identify options for streamlining them in order to reduce the time taken to conclude cases. In particular, the working group will consider:

the operation of the practice direction for court proceedings introduced in April 2008 to ensure that it is working effectively; possible solutions to difficulties arising from delays in obtaining medical reports because of the shortage of medical experts in this area; andwhy more claims do not settle, and whether any provisions in relation to pre-action behaviour would be helpful in reducing the time taken to establish liability without the need for court proceedings.

We also intend to consider changes to the substantive law to:

resolve difficulties experienced by mesothelioma sufferers as a result of differences in the value of claims which are settled before or after the death of the person concerned and to clarify the limitation period for bringing a claim; andclarify that the limitation period for bringing a claim runs from the date that the claimant becomes aware that he or she has mesothelioma rather than from the date they became aware of the original exposure to asbestos.

In addition, in November 2009 we introduced the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill into Parliament under a new procedure for Law Commission Bills. The Bill will enable claims against insolvent employers to be brought directly against the employer's insurer. This will simplify court procedures and remove the need for dissolved companies to be restored to the register of companies. The Bill is expected to become law in this Parliament.

Further to these initiatives, we are also taking action to deal with the problem of people who develop a serious asbestos-related disease but are unable to obtain full compensation because they cannot trace the employer's insurer.

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This problem has been recognised for some time, and since 1999 the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Lloyds Market Association have committed to a voluntary code of practice for tracing EL insurance policies. However, while the Tracing Service has led to some improvements, there are still many individuals who are left without help-3,210 of them in 2008.

That situation is clearly unsatisfactory and the Government are therefore consulting on two proposals to improve matters.

We believe that an essential first step is the creation of a UK-wide Employers' Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) to manage an electronic database of EL policies and to operate the existing tracing service. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has agreed to drive forward this work to help claimants and their representatives, informed by the outcome of the consultation. The new office will initially be launched on a voluntary basis but we would ultimately like it to be a requirement on all insurers to publish relevant policy details on the ELTO.

The ELTO will initially be populated with existing trace data but new and renewed policies will be included shortly afterwards. One of the issues explored in the consultation is the extent to which historic insurance records can be added to the database.

We have every expectation that the ELTO will deliver significant results, creating a database of records that will help many thousands of people trace policies and receive compensation in the future.

However, even with an ELTO there will be some people, especially those who suffer from long-tail diseases like mesothelioma, who are unable to trace their insurance records and thus are denied full compensation. The Government therefore propose to establish an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) providing a compensation fund of last resort for individuals across the UK who are unable to trace EL insurance records.

The consultation, published on 10 February, examines what an ELIB should cover, the impact of an ELIB on insurers and employers, how much should be paid by way of compensation, limitations on claiming from the ELIB, and what more can be done to ensure that employers who are legally obliged to obtain ELCI do so. The Government will consider fully the responses to the consultation before determining next steps towards the introduction of an ELIB.

A mandatory ELTO and an ELIB should, in time, provide a comprehensive framework for supporting people who develop a serious asbestos-related disease. However, in recognition of the need for action now, the Government are taking a series of steps to increase the upfront payments that are currently made to mesothelioma sufferers and their dependants.

The Government will increase payments made under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979 by 1.5 per cent, even though the retail price index showed negative growth. In addition, we will increase payments made due to mesothelioma under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 so that they equal payments made under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979.

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The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is also amending regulations to increase payments to all dependants under the 1979 Act and the 2008 Act by up to £5,000, so that their awards are closer to those paid to sufferers. All of these increases will come into effect on 1 April 2010.

The fact that the UK has one of the highest rates of death from mesothelioma in the world is a legacy of our industrial heritage and the part that asbestos played in it. Just as the UK was a global leader in the asbestos industry, we must now become a global leader in research into asbestos-related disease.

We have received strong representations from clinicians, asbestos support groups and trade unions-as well as from Members on all sides of this House-for the creation of a national centre for asbestos-related disease, a collaborative network of funded researchers whose core purpose would be to advance medical research into the prevention, cure and alleviation of asbestos-related disease-primarily mesothelioma.

There is now widespread recognition, including within the medical research community, that while there has been considerable investment into cancer research generally, not enough has been focused on the study of cancers of the lung, including mesothelioma. Yet mesothelioma is now the twelfth most common cancer killer in men and the cancer of most rapidly increasing incidence in women.

We are determined to expand research in this area. The Secretary of State for Health has therefore asked Department of Health officials to consider and advise on how best to create a world-leading network of medical research practitioners for asbestos-related disease. The department will involve Michael Clapham MP, Dr John Edwards and others with a special interest in this review.

Based on their recommendations and on advice from National Cancer Research Institute about research priorities, we will set out how Government will support an increase in research investment in this area. In addition, we are very pleased to announce that the insurance industry will be contributing £3 million towards research into asbestos-related disease.

The Government believe that these measures will be of real and significant benefit to people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Disabled People


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The right to control aims to provide disabled adults with more choice and control over the support they need to live their lives, and how they receive that support. It allows them to select whether they receive funding direct, support from a service provider, or a mixture of both.

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To understand how the right to control can be best implemented, we plan to test this approach within a small number of trailblazer sites. On 8 December 2009, we published a prospectus inviting interested authorities to be at the forefront of this innovative approach and apply to become a trailblazer site.

We have selected eight sites that have provided us with quality proposals. These sites will also provide a good geographical balance between rural and urban communities as well as a mixture of different types of authorities.

The trailblazing authorities are:

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Sheffield City Council (joint);Essex County Council;Greater Manchester-incorporating Manchester City Council, Oldham Council, Bury Council, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council and Trafford Council;Leicester City Council;London Borough of Barnet;London Borough of Newham;Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, andSurrey County Council (two Districts: Epsom and Ewell Borough Council, and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council)

To ensure that the greater independence requested by disabled people is being met, Jobcentre Plus will also be working closely with each of these authorities to provide a more streamlined service, and support for disabled people to achieve the outcomes that suit them best.

These eight sites will commence delivery of the right to control by the end of 2010, and will continue for a period of two years. Their findings will help inform the decision as to whether the right to control can be rolled out further.

Today we are also publishing our consultation document on our statutory regulations that will support the delivery of the right to control by the trailblazers. This can be viewed and downloaded from the Office for Disability Issues website at Copies of the document will be placed in the House Library.

EU: Competitiveness Council


The Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Davies of Abersoch): My honourable friend the Minister for Business and Regulatory Reform (Ian Lucas) has today made the following Statement.

The EU Competitiveness Council will take place in Brussels on 1 and 2 March and this Statement covers the business to be taken at the council. I shall represent the UK on internal market and industry issues on 1 March and Andy Lebrecht, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, will represent the UK on research issues on 2 March.

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The main industry and internal market items on the agenda are council conclusions on future EU industrial policy; discussion of the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs; a council resolution on EU intellectual property rights policy; and a ministerial lunchtime discussion with Mario Monti to discuss his preliminary report on the re-launch of the EU single market.

The main research items on the agenda are a joint Baltic Sea research and development programme; a regulation on the European earth observation programme (GMES) and its initial operations (2011-13); a council resolution on the governance of the European research area, including a new mandate for the Scientific and Technical Research Committee (CREST); council conclusions on the European Research Council and on researcher mobility and careers issues; and discussion of the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.

The any other business (AOB) items are set out below:

AOB items

Information from the Commission on the results of the Copenhagen conference. Implications for European industry.

Information from the presidency on the results of the informal Competitiveness Council on 8 and 9 February (San Sebastián).

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