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Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether relatives of an employee who has developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos on the employee’s work overalls are treated by his Department as eligible for (a) industrial injuries disablement benefit, (b) compensation under the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and (c) and other compensation. (104729)

It has been an underlying principle of the Industrial Injuries Scheme since its introduction in 1948 that benefit under the scheme should be payable only to people injured or disabled as a result of their work and not the population at large. The purpose of Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers Compensation) Act 1979 is to provide compensation for sufferers of certain dust-related diseases (or their dependants on their behalf) who are unable to claim damages from employers. No payments have been made to the relatives under either scheme where they have exposure to asbestos from washing overalls and the Department operates no other schemes under which compensation would be payable.

We have asked officials to carry out a review of the current Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit Scheme. The present scheme may no longer meet the needs of our modern society. We will look at all aspects of the scheme, but have not yet looked in any detail at any particular component of the scheme. We will however be looking at all options for the future and we intend publishing a consultation document in early 2007. I have met the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (MAC) and discussed the issue of the review of the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme. MAC has also recently met with the miners group of MPs and issues around asbestos related diseases were discussed.

On 20 July 2006, the Secretary of State announced measures to speed up the handling of claims for people suffering from mesothelioma and committed to having a full dialogue with interested parties. As part of that dialogue, we recently undertook a consultation exercise that ended on 23 November. The Department is now looking carefully at all suggestions in developing options for action.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much in benefits specifically related to mesothelioma claims has been clawed back through the Compensation Recovery Unit in the last 12 months (a) in the UK, (b) in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham and (c) in Dagenham constituency. (104730)

In the 12 months up to November 2006 a total of £4,743,502.99 has been recovered in respect of benefits paid in mesothelioma cases in Great Britain and £18,756.46 in Northern Ireland. Information is not available at local authority or constituency level.

The rationale behind compensation recovery is twofold. Firstly it ensures that the taxpayer (via the benefit system) does not subsidise the costs arising from a compensator’s actions. Secondly it ensures that an injured person is not compensated twice for the same need, once via the benefit system and again via the compensation payment. This is achieved by an offset mechanism within the scheme, which allows the compensator to reduce the compensation by some or all of the benefit repaid.

Legislation to exempt payments made to former employees of Turner and Newall (and associated companies) suffering from asbestos-related diseases from the scheme is currently being brought forward. The exemption is being made due to the unique nature of these cases. Payments are being made from two Trust Funds set up for the sole purpose of meeting asbestos liabilities. Due to the insolvent position of the parent American company-however-the Trust will not meet the claims in full.

Operating the compensation recovery scheme in these cases would further reduce payments to those suffering from asbestos-related diseases. The exemption does not breach either of the fundamental principles of the scheme as the finite amount to be paid out has already been established and the sufferers will only receive a small portion of their gross compensation awards.