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Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau Bill

Volume 505: debated on Friday 5 February 2010

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill relates to another aspect of an issue that we just explored. I took some comfort from what the Justice Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) said in response to the previous debate, because legislation is starting to go in the same direction as the Government. The Bill is about resolving a real problem that arises particularly but not exclusively in asbestos cases.

Since 1969, employers have been compulsorily required to take out insurance against injury and disease for their employees—the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. I have not checked but I vaguely recall from my days in practice that that legislation began as a private Member’s Bill, too. One problem is that a small number of employers, despite that legal requirement, do not take out insurance. A bigger problem is when employers have insurance, go out of business and, decades later, an employee finds that they have contracted an industrial disease, such as mesothelioma, and needs to claim compensation. The real problem is trying to track back to find out who the employer was and, more importantly, who the employer’s insurers were at the time. That is a difficult, time-consuming and, ultimately in many cases, fruitless task. My Bill tries to provide an answer: an insurer of last resort.

If people are injured in a road accident involving a hit-and-run or uninsured driver, the insurer of last resort is the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. It has been around since the 1940s and was introduced when the then Government said to the motor insurance industry, “Unless you get your house in order and produce your own insurer of last resort arrangements, we will legislate to do so.” It is now a requirement under European Union law to introduce a system to compensate victims of uninsured motorists. However, there is no similar provision for victims of uninsured employers or employers whose insurance company has disappeared, if it ever existed in the first place. My Bill therefore tries to plug that gap.

I proposed the Bill last year in exactly the same terms; I am a persistent chap, as everybody knows. It took eight attempts to get the Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill through, and now it is part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. We have just seen a second attempt at the pleural plaques Bill, and this is my second attempt with this Bill, although I do not suspect that we will get very far with it today.

Last year the Government indicated that they were not sympathetic to the Bill, but I understand from my right hon. Friend’s earlier comments in response to the pleural plaques debate that they now look more sympathetically on the issue. Indeed, I have discussed it with my noble. Friend Lord McKenzie, a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, who suggested that the Government were now looking more favourably at it; and I hope that before long we will see Government consultation on how such a scheme might be established.

The proposal is relatively straightforward; it is based on the Motor Insurers’ Bureau arrangement; and it will provide a compensation regime when an employer has become insolvent and has no employers’ liability insurance, when the insurer cannot be traced, or for any employer—

The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 26 February.