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Miners' Compensation

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 15 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on claims by surface workers exposed to coal dust for compensation for respiratory disease resulting from their work in the coal mining industry.[108598]

The Department has been in discussion with the Claimants' Solicitors' Group (CG) for some time over the issue of surface dust. The Department does not believe that the level of respirable dust on the surface was sufficient to cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This position is consistent with its expert medical advice, which is based on surface dust levels recorded by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM). The CG were unable to accept this position, and in order to move matters forward, the Department agreed to engage in a joint study of the effects of surface dust, which would then be analysed by the parties' respective medical experts. The Department and the CG met with their medical experts in December 2002 to discuss the evidence produced by the joint study. The Department agreed to review further documents produced by the CG at that meeting and give its final position by the end of February 2003.Having considered the results of the study and the additional information produced by the CG, the Department's medical adviser has not altered his opinion that there was insufficient respirable dust to cause COPD to surface only workers. Accordingly, the Department wrote to the CG on 28 February 2003 to inform them that it maintains its original position. Surface workers are not therefore admitted under the Claims Handling Agreement for COPD.However, claimants can pursue a claim for compensation in relation to surface employment under common law if they wish.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what impact the establishment of IRISC offices in Cardiff has had on the processing of compensation claims in Wales.[108672]

IRISC Cardiff has been instrumental to the Department in achieving its target of making 15,000 respiratory disease offers to Welsh claimants during 2002. Since the office began processing claims in July 2001 some 43,000 respiratory disease claims have been received from Welsh claimants. As of 23 March 2003, over 16,000 interim payments have been made and some 17,000 claims settled, totalling over £205 million. In addition, IRISC has received some 21,000 Vibration White Finger (VWF) claims from Welsh claimants. Some 7,300 interim payments have been made and 9,000 claims settled, totalling over £85 million.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether a claimant for compensation for vibration white finger or chest disease resulting from mine-working is entitled to interest accrued or other compensation if a cheque for payment is not forwarded promptly by the solicitor representing the claimant.[108673]

The Department is only liable to pay interest for any delay in the payment of compensation up to the point that the damages payment is issued. Payment of interest resulting from any delay caused by the solicitors in forwarding those damages is a matter for the claimant and their legal representative. Under the solicitors Accounts Rules and dependent on the amount and the time payment for damages has been withheld from the claimant, the claimant's solicitor may be liable for payment of interest.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the extent of delays in miners' compensation payment caused by cheques failing to be promptly forwarded by solicitors to their clients.[108678]

Once payment is forwarded to the claimant's solicitors the Department has no means by which they can monitor the 300 or more firms of solicitors as to the time taken by them to forward payment on to their clients. However, I have expressed concern about the delays which occur in some cases and have emphasised the importance of effective communication between solicitors and clients at this stage in the process.