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Mesothelioma (Compensation Claims)

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2014

6. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the compensation claims of mesothelioma sufferers are handled fairly. (905990)

11. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the compensation claims of mesothelioma sufferers are handled fairly. (905995)

13. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the compensation claims of mesothelioma sufferers are handled fairly. (905997)

Mesothelioma is an horrific industrial disease and its victims deserve much better than the shameful way in which they have been treated by this Government, with their botched consultations, prevarications and delays. Will the Minister, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, confirm that he will not waste any more taxpayers’ money in further appealing the recent damning judicial review ruling made against his Department?

We will certainly consider the way forward on that, but I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on what we have done. This Government are putting provisions into the Deregulation Bill that will enable Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to provide information to legal representatives without a court order. We are liaising with the national cancer registration service and others to allow expedited access to medical notes. We also introduced the Mesothelioma Act 2014, which again benefits sufferers and victims. I will not take any lectures from him on that front.

In the High Court case on the Government’s mesothelioma review, Mr Justice Davis ruled:

“No reasonable Lord Chancellor faced with the duty imposed on him by section 48 of the Act would have considered that the exercise in fact…fulfilled that duty.”

Will the Minister update the House on the Department’s response to that ruling?

The hon. Gentleman was obviously concentrating on his question, so he did not hear my response. I said that we will consider the way forward, and we will proceed accordingly.

The chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK has said that the Lord Chancellor’s plans for addressing the issues facing mesothelioma victims were

“rooted in a culture of secret deals with insurers and flawed consultations which excluded the victims of asbestos.”

Is it not time that the Lord Chancellor honoured the promise he made in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and stopped treating mesothelioma sufferers in this contemptible way?

Clearly, the hon. Lady did not listen to what I said either. Let me be clear: we are talking about people who are suffering from a very horrific and tragic disease, and this Government are committed to ensuring that victims and sufferers have the best possible way of going through the process, particularly in getting compensation.

As far as insurance companies are concerned, the hon. Lady will be aware that when we had a consultation in July, the submissions by victims and groups such as the one she mentioned stated that they did not like the proposals that were angled towards insurance companies. We listened to those people and did not go ahead with the proposals that the insurance companies would have preferred. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims took through the Mesothelioma Bill earlier this year, which is of benefit to all the sufferers.

It is not that Opposition Members are not listening, but that the Minister is not answering this question. Most civilised people would not have to be told that it is wrong to cut compensation for people suffering in great pain from a terrible disease that will kill them in a matter of months. Parliament told him not to do it, victims told him not to do it, the Justice Committee told him not to do it, and so did the High Court, but this Minister is trying to do just that to protect the profits of the insurance industry. Why do the Government always take the side of the strong against the weak?

Again, I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said earlier. [Interruption.] I am answering the question; it would help if the hon. Gentleman listened to the answer. As I said, we had a consultation in July, and we put forward proposals. We listened to people who made submissions —we listened hard—and we did not go ahead with proposals that would have been of benefit to the insurers. Which bit of that does he have a problem with?