I am proud to say that the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Regulations 2014 were passed by the House on 17 March, and the scheme administrator is in place. Applications will be accepted from next month, and we will make the first payments in July, as planned.
Can the Minister explain why this morning, following an earlier inquiry on my part, there is nothing on the Department’s website, nothing on the gov.uk website and nothing on the website of Gallagher Bassett, the scheme administrator, although the scheme is intended to be up and running early in April? My constituents who suffer from this disease want to know how to apply. I think that the Minister is cutting it a bit fine.
We may be cutting it a bit fine, but we want to get it right. We do not want people to try to apply before it is possible for them to do so. I find it difficult to understand why any Opposition Member should deny that this is a wonderful scheme that gives hope to people with a disgusting, horrible disease. Those people received nothing previously, which is why the scheme is so important.
In a previous profession I represented many victims of this terrible disease and I welcome the fact that the coalition has managed to get approval for the mesothelioma fund on the statute and also secured enhanced damages. Does the Minister agree not only that this will make a very big difference in the north-east, where there is a high prevalence of this disease, but also that the focus now must be on enhanced publicity so all the victims know just what they have to do to get the compensation?
I could not agree more and I was very proud to be able to announce that we will be raising the benefit to 80% of average civil claims. That will give £123,000 to the claimants and their loved ones, plus £7,000 in legal fees, which if they do not spend they can keep; it will not be clawed back in any shape or form. People have waited for this scheme for many years and we will do everything we can to make sure that people who deserve it get it.