My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues relating to the former Welsh coalfields. He and I warmly welcome the announcement made on 15 April by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. From this summer, sufferers of miners’ knee will be able to apply for industrial injuries disablement benefit.
Following the announcement, to which my hon. Friend has just referred, that miners who suffer from beat knee will be compensated, the National Union of Mineworkers in south Wales is warning that some solicitors are trying to cash in by persuading miners that they have to go through them to make a claim. That is untrue, so what are the Government doing to protect claimants from those seeking to make another fast buck on the back of sick miners?
My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, to which the NUM in south Wales has alerted MPs; we view with some concern the fact that certain solicitors—one in particular—have written to recipients of vibration white finger compensation and other compensation and offered their services. They are perfectly entitled to do that, but it is very important to recognise that there is no need for claimants to operate through a solicitor, because they can go directly to the Department for Work and Pensions. We must ensure that that message is made crystal clear to all people who have received vibration white finger and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease compensation.
Slate quarry workers have received compensation for dust diseases since legislation brought in by the previous Labour Government in 1979. However, although coal miners have received compensation for emphysema, bronchitis and now for knee injury, slate quarry workers have not. Will the Minister examine this issue with a view to addressing what some people see as an anomaly and what some, myself included, see as an injustice?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue, and he accurately points out that it was a Labour Government who introduced this compensatory measure. Of course, as we all realise, these processes can be extremely complicated and can contain anomalies and gaps. I give a commitment that we will do everything we can to ensure that there is maximum coverage for everybody who desires and is in need of the compensation that is intended.
Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), I can tell the Minister that this Sunday a firm of solicitors from Cardiff was touting for business in Grimethorpe working men’s club in my constituency to try to get miners to pay £300 up front for its services in claiming for miners’ knee. Will the Minister join me in frowning on that practice, and will he raise the issue with the Law Society to try to outlaw it?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments, which show that this issue extends way beyond Wales. Solicitors can tout for business in that way, but it is important to recognise that charging £300 or even £345—as in a case that I know of—to expedite a claim is morally wrong, and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that our constituents know that Members of Parliament will do everything they can to expedite claims and will forward claims to the Department for Work and Pensions, and that no charge will be made.