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Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will issue guidelines on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work.

The Government have already published a comprehensive range of guidance on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work, in support of the legislation that we have introduced to reduce the risks from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. This guidance includes two approved codes of practice, nine Health and Safety Executive guidance notes on specific workplace-related matters and a number of free leaflets and priced booklets.

Do Ministers share the concern of Bill Spiers and his colleagues in the Scottish Trades Union Congress about a matter that I have brought to the attention of the Department—that some insurance companies delay the finalising of asbestosis cases until the victims have died? If so, will the Government act on Lord Davidson's report in the event that it suggests a change in the law?

My colleagues in the Scottish Office are well aware of the criticisms of the present law. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, they referred the issue to the Scottish Law Commission in September 1989. The commission is expected to report soon and I am assured that its recommendations will be considered urgently by my colleagues in the Scottish Office. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's concern to Scottish Office Ministers so that the matter may be given maximum attention and due regard may be paid to the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Health and Safety Executive has received all the resources for which it has asked in recent years to enable it to carry out its various functions?

I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, which each year make an estimate of the resources required to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations, have received in full the amounts requested in recent years. Thus, they have been enabled to do a consistently excellent job in guaranteeing health and safety standards in the workplace. The standards in the United Kingdom are as good as those in many countries, and better than those in most.

Bearing in mind the fact that highly paid lawyers can secure massive libel settlements for their clients, can the Minister seriously justify the paltry payments which result from civil claims for compensation for negligence? In response to my hon. Friend's question, could he not simply have said that the Government accept that the disparity between English law and Scottish law is not tenable and that they will remedy it?

I think that I have given that assurance in so far as it is possible to do so at this stage. We have to bear it in mind that the Law Commission has not yet reported. If we are to take seriously the work done by a body such as the Law Commission, we must await the results of its deliberations and then act as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman will have to be patient. Perhaps he will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose expertise in this matter is, I suspect, second to none. The hon. Member for Linlithgow will probably be able to provide the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.