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Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will now prescribe emphysema as a scheduled industrial disease for miners, potters and foundrymen.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security
(Mr. Brian O'Malley)

No, Sir. The available evidence does not enable me to accept that emphysema satisfies the conditions for prescription in respect of any occupational group.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that potters, foundrymen and mineworkers think that the available evidence is false and that there is a direct link between emphysema and the work they do? Will he give further consideration to this matter, as he has done to other matters to the great satisfaction of the people of North Staffordshire?

Coming as I do from a coalmining area, I understand the feelings of the mineworkers. However, the preferential benefits of the Industrial Injuries Scheme can be justified only if a disease or accident can be attributed to an occupation. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Pearson Royal Commission is considering all these matters. It is too soon to say when that report will be completed, but the Government are anxious—as I think my hon. Friend is anxious—that the report should be available as soon as possible so that all these matters can be considered in the light of it.

Is the Minister aware of the considerable suffering from lung diseases, not only in mining, foundry working and potting, but also in the slate quarrying areas? There is considerable feeling that compensation payments should be made to sufferers in the slate quarrying areas similar to those made to workers in the coal industry who suffer lung diseases. Will the Government look into this matter in advance of the conclusions of the Pearson Commission, which might not report for a year or 18 months?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the pneumoconiotic scheme in the coal industry is an industry-type scheme for which my Department has no responsibility. The Pearson Commission is considering all matters affecting industrial injuries and we await with keen interest the result of that inquiry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that from time to time over the years as progress and scientific advances have been made several loosely-termed diseases arising out of a process rather than a traumatic incident have been added to the list? Having regard to all the representations that have been made about emphysema in the categories described by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), is it not high time that it was added to the list of industrial diseases? Will the Minister try to formulate his thoughts even more strongly—I know that they are strong at present—by organising a meeting with the heads of the unions concerned so as to get their views before the Pearson Commission reports?

I understand and sympathise with the views expressed by my hon. Friend, who also comes from a coalmining area. The difficulty is that in the present state of medical knowledge it is not possible to distinguish clinically cases which might be due to occupation and so satisfy the requirements for prescription. The best I can say to my hon. Friend, against the background of the considerable research on the whole subject which is going on, is that the Pearson Commission is considering all these matters and it is important that we should receive its report at the earliest possible date.