Mesothelioma – Why are servicemen and women excluded from help? – call in the House of Lords for an annual Impact statement to monitor the number of fatalities and progress on research into causes and cures

Feb 26, 2015 | Uncategorized

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Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

5.27 pm Wednesday February 25th 2015

Moved by

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

That the Grand Committee do consider the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con):

My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, and the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. I am required to confirm to the Committee that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy to do so.

These two regulations will increase by 1.2% the lump sum amounts payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. These new amounts will be paid to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 April 2015. These two schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure and there is no legislative requirement to review the level of payments each year. None the less, I am happy to confirm the increase of the amounts payable for 2015 by the consumer price index. This is the same 1.2% rate that is being applied to industrial injuries disablement benefit and some other social security disability benefits under the main social security uprating provisions.

The Government recognise that people suffering from diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos or one of a number of other listed agents may be unable to bring a successful claim for civil damages relating to their disease. This is mainly due to the long latency period between exposure and onset of the disease, often stretching back decades. Also, even pursuing a claim can take some time. We therefore fulfil an important role by providing lump sum compensation payments to sufferers of certain asbestos-related diseases through these two schemes. This does not debar a civil claim, which can still be pursued. These government schemes also aim to ensure that sufferers receive compensation while they themselves can still benefit from it, without first having to await the outcome of civil litigation.

5.30 pm

Improved health and safety procedures have restricted the use of asbestos and provided a safer environment for its handling. However, the historic legacy of the common use of asbestos is still with us. That is why we are ensuring that financial compensation from both these schemes is available to those affected. I will very briefly summarise the specific purpose of these lump sum compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 scheme—which for simplicity I shall refer to as the 1979 Act scheme—provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who suffer from one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme but are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business and have not brought any action against others for damages. The five diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme are diffuse mesothelioma, bilateral diffuse pleural thickening, pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and primary carcinoma of the lung, if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payments scheme was introduced to provide compensation to people who contracted diffuse mesothelioma but were unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act—for example, because their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 scheme means that payments can be made quickly to diffuse mesothelioma sufferers at their time of greatest need. Under both schemes, a claim can be made by a dependant if the sufferer has died before being able to make a claim.

The rates payable under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the level of the disablement assessment and the age of the sufferer at the time the disease is diagnosed. The highest amounts are made to those diagnosed at an early age and with the highest level of disablement. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma under the 1979 Act scheme are made at the 100% disablement rate—the highest rate of payment. Similarly, all payments under the 2008 scheme are made at that 100% rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest sufferers.

I will give some detailed figures on claims and monies paid out under the two schemes. In the last full year from April 2013 to March 2014, 3,300 people received payments under the 1979 Act, amounting to £45.1 million; 440 people received payments under the 2008 scheme, amounting to £9.4 million. The total compensation paid out under both schemes during this period was therefore £54.5 million.

Around half of payments made under the Government’s 1979 Act scheme are for diffuse mesothelioma. I know the occurrences of diffuse mesothelioma are a particular concern of Members, with the number of deaths in Great Britain continuing to rise. It is a fatal disease caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Those diagnosed usually have a short life expectancy, generally between nine and 12 months, with the sufferer becoming severely disabled soon after diagnosis. The rise in the number of cases reflects the long latency period of the disease, which can take decades to become apparent. Latest available information suggests that deaths will continue to increase to a peak of around 2,500 in 2018 and then start to fall, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures following its peak use in the 1960s and 1970s.

These regulations increase the levels of support through the government compensation schemes and I am sure we all agree that while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families for the suffering and loss caused by this disease and the other dust-related diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who are suffering rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. The government schemes go some way to ensuring that they receive it as soon as possible. I commend the increase of the payment scales and ask approval to implement them. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the regulations today. He has talked about some very significant sums of money to assist some of those who, through either pneumoconiosis or mesothelioma, have had a death sentence merely as a result of their going out to work. I commend the Government for the uprating that they have announced today.

I have some questions for the Minister. He rightly said that Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House have been anxious, first in supporting the Government in the provisions of the Mesothelioma Act last year, but also in pressing for far more resources to be made available, both to those who have been victims of mesothelioma and for the important work involved in research in finding cures and the causes of mesothelioma.

I notice that the Government say in the Explanatory Note:

“An impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument”.

Although I realise that that is a fairly technical thing and it is not a requirement for the Government to do that in this case, I wonder if that might be reviewed for the future, with regard to such an impact statement and assessment along the lines that the Minister has just referred to. I was not certain what he meant about the year in which he said the number of mesothelioma victims was likely to peak. Perhaps he could repeat it.

Baroness Donaghy (Lab):

It was 2018.

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

The year is 2018. It is very helpful to know that that is the case. That seems to differ from some of the dates that have previously been given by Ministers and in parliamentary replies.

Will the Minister assure me about continuing assessments, so that when these regulations come forward—alas, they will come forward on a regular basis—we can have much more up-to-date information about the total numbers and how the trajectory appears to be working out? I hear very different accounts from people who say that, as a result of diagnosis now being made in a different way from the past, the numbers are being assessed in different ways. Quite alarmingly, we see the incidence of mesothelioma in non-traditional groups. Those of us who have represented sufferers—through the trade union movement, in the case of some noble Lords here, or by representing constituencies, particularly in urban areas—have always been used to meeting people who worked as tunnellers or masons, or in traditional heavy industries. However, there is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in the number of people who present with the disease for no apparent reason—people who are domestic workers, who perhaps have just been at home or who work in schools, and particularly people in the Armed Forces.

It was the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who mentioned in the House that people he had been at Dartmouth and had literally played snowballs with asbestos at that time, not realising the dangers. He mentioned the number of significant figures in the Royal Navy who had contracted mesothelioma and subsequently died. One of the things that I would specifically like to see in an impact statement would be categories of workers, such as those in the Armed Forces, for which we monitored the number of deaths from mesothelioma that were recorded so that we had a far better idea of the impact that this was having. I know that there will be particular interest from a number of those from the Armed Forces who have been following our debates. It was wonderful that the noble Lord, Lord West, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others, were able to meet some of those from the Royal Navy who have contracted mesothelioma, here in your Lordships’ House just a couple of weeks ago.

The Explanatory Note also says:

“It is intended that these rates will be reviewed each year”.

Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether that will always be in accordance with the consumer prices index, as it has been on this occasion.

I shall return to a Question that I raised on the Floor of your Lordships’ House on 9 December, which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on behalf of the Government. It touches directly on the allocation of money, and where it comes from, regarding some of the payments that are made to those who have become victims of mesothelioma. During the passage of the 2014 Act, Ministers said that the levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3%; in fact, the quote from the Minister in another place was:

“Three per cent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.––[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Public Bill Committee, 12/12/2013; col. 117.]

I asked this on 9 December and I ask it again today: why then has it been set at 2.2% when that original undertaking was given by the Government? That represents a shortfall from the insurance industry of around £11 million, so this is not a small sum of money. Although I welcome the subsequent uprating that the Government have announced in the total amounts of money that victims will be awarded under that legislation, I wonder whether there is a shortfall that still can be reclaimed from the industry and which might therefore be used to assist with the problem of research.

I moved an amendment in your Lordships’ House—I think it was defeated by a majority of about seven—which would have placed a requirement on all insurance companies to contribute to another levy to provide for mesothelioma research. I commend those insurance companies, and there are two big players, which have continued to step up to the plate to provide contributions towards research, voluntarily and without a statutory obligation to do so. They put the other companies, of which around 150 are involved, to shame but what they contribute is far from enough. It also raises the question of why more public funding is not provided to tackle the disease.

I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm a figure. The Government have previously said to me that around 50,000 to 60,000 people will die of mesothelioma over the next 20 to 30 years. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who is also the Government’s chief scientific adviser for health, has said:

“I hope the research community will now respond by generating new research proposals that will provide robust evidence to help people with mesothelioma”.

What I have quoted was also said by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who said:

“There needs to be a certainty that the money is there but the top-level researchers also need to be aware of it so that the money and the level of the research capability are brought together”.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, also said:

“The funding is very much there”.—[Official Report, 9/12/14; col. 1711.]

However, that seems to contrast with both the Question that I tabled in your Lordships’ House and with a letter which I have received from him.

The Question I refer to was answered as recently as 23 February where, in a table, the Government say that there have been four successful applications. One of them is “Subject to contract” and the others have been successful in coming forward to tackle mesothelioma. But then there are several applications which have been turned down, and which were for substantial sums of money. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how this therefore accords with the idea that there are plenty of applications and that they have been sufficiently successful, because that does not seem to be the case.

In the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, wrote to me on 16 December 2014, following the exchanges on the Floor of the House, he said:

“In the last five financial years, the MRC and NICR have received just over twenty applications for grants or fellowships that relate to research on mesothelioma. Of these eight applications were successful resulting in an average success rate of 40%”.

That does not seem to be a very high success rate when we are dealing with the potential loss of life of so many British people, who have contracted this disease simply as a result of going out to work.

During the debate on my Question the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, told your Lordships that his own wife had died of mesothelioma. A few days ago, along with the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Saatchi, I met the British Lung Foundation who introduced us to a brilliant young woman who is a registrar in London. She told us that she is the only person working anywhere in the world on an innovatory treatment, using adult stem cells which are targeted at mesothelioma cells. She says that that has proved extremely successful in the animal models that have been used. My heart rose when I heard that, and there are other examples that I could cite but I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships’ time today. Surely this is the sort of innovation we must encourage. During our meeting, she told us that it would take £2.5 million to move from the stage that she has reached now on to clinical trials. Again, that does not seem an outrageous sum of money in terms of what we might be able to achieve.

As a result of bringing forward these regulations today, I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances that he will return to the House—with a letter that can be sent to Members of the Committee, with further written replies to Parliamentary Questions or in Statements to the House—to tell us what progress is being made to ensure that we tackle this problem at source. Otherwise, I suspect that year after year, for the next 20 or 30 years, we will be gathering in places like the Moses Room and looking at lists of people for whom compensation is being given to deal with the effects of a disease which at the moment has no cure and which wreaks such tragedy in the lives of so many ordinary working people in the United Kingdom.

5.45 pm

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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