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House of Commons Hansard
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Mesothelioma (Amendment)
10 March 2015
Volume 594

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Mesothelioma Act 2014.

Let me begin by paying tribute to my predecessors Paul Goggins and Lord Morris of Manchester. Paul had been fighting hard for mesothelioma victims shortly before his sad death last year. Alf, who introduced me to public life, had been doing likewise, seeing that work as an extension of his groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Today, I walk in the footsteps of giants.

Mesothelioma is an invasive form of lung cancer, caused primarily by earlier exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure. Patients often experience complex and debilitating symptoms, and most die within 12 months of diagnosis. The United Kingdom has the highest rate of the disease in the world. Mortality rates are increasing, and have more than quadrupled over the last 30 years. It is estimated that more than 2,500 people will die of the disease in the UK this year, and that during the next 30 years about 60,000 will die unless new treatments are found.

Relatively little is spent on mesothelioma research in the UK in comparison with what is spent on other cancers involving comparable mortality. In 2012, the National Cancer Research Institute reported that just £1.2 million had been invested in research by its partners. That is significantly less than the £9.9 million and the £5.3 million that were spent on, respectively, skin cancer—or melanoma—and myeloma, two conditions that kill a similar number of people each year.

Research funding could have helped Derrick and Adele. Derrick was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December last year and sadly died just over a month later, on 17 January this year. He was exposed to asbestos as a young joiner in the early 1950s, when he was working on council houses and building pre-fabs. Like many joiners and construction workers, he was exposed when working with insulation board and corrugated roofing—both were used widely in the construction industry between the 1950s and the 1980s—all of which was riddled with asbestos.

Although the dangers of asbestos were well known to those who produced the materials, Derrick was not advised of those dangers; nor was he given protective equipment to shield him from the asbestos fibres. He had had no known exposure to asbestos after 1956, but his exposure to it as a young man was enough to lead to the diagnosis of terminal cancer nearly 60 years later.

Adele is a 46-year-old old single mother who was diagnosed with mesothelioma just before Christmas 2014. As a young hairdresser, she had been exposed to asbestos fibres that were contained in the old-style hood hairdryers. Hairdressing is not typically thought of a job that would cause such a risk. Unfortunately, asbestos has been a feature in many different workplaces, and it can take only very low level, or fleeting, exposure to cause mesothelioma. The added tragedy for Adele is that her father was also diagnosed with the disease less than six months before her own diagnosis, caused by exposure at his own workplace, a double burden for this close-knit family to endure.

The results from the funded research projects have, however, been impressive. New researchers from other areas of therapy have started taking an interest in mesothelioma, bringing with them new expertise and insights. MesobanK, Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank, has been created to collect and store biological tissue from patients for use in research, and work is being funded to identify the genetic architecture of the disease.

There have been ongoing conversations with the insurance industry regarding research funding for many years now. In January 2015, it was announced that two insurance companies—Aviva and Zurich—had agreed to donate a combined £1 million over two years to the British Lung Foundation’s mesothelioma research programme. However, although the funding from Aviva and Zurich is welcome, £500,000 a year alone does not come close to addressing the multimillion-pound funding deficit currently endured by mesothelioma research when compared with cancers of comparable mortality. Many more insurance industry donations of this kind will be required to justify the preference, expressed by several MPs during the Mesothelioma Act 2014 debates, for such funding to be secured through voluntary agreements, rather than to have a statutory underpinning. It is estimated that there are 150 insurance firms active in the employers’ liability insurance market, and a small statutory contribution from each could transform mesothelioma research. That is what this Bill hopes to achieve today.

The recent funding I have already mentioned is only secured for two years. This does not address the need to put funding on a sustainable footing. We need this for the benefits of research breakthroughs to be built on, and not lost. Dr Peter Campbell, who is conducting research identifying which genes are the most important targets for mutations, has stated:

“Only by understanding its basic biology will we be able to develop a new generation of drugs targeted at the specific abnormalities of mesothelioma cells. This requires sustained investment at all levels of mesothelioma research, from basic genetics and cell biology through drug development to clinical trials.”

Dr Robert Rintoul, who works at MesobanK, sees the importance of research not only for the UK, which is dramatically affected by this disease, but the rest of the world. He says that

“asbestos is still being used in an unsafe and unregulated way. Although the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK will fall over the next 30 years, there will continue to be an epidemic of the disease globally and the lessons that we learn today about the biology of the disease will be used by doctors the world over in years to come.”

Unless a change is introduced in the way mesothelioma research is funded, we risk stagnation and endanger potential life-changing, even life-saving, breakthroughs. Currently, research relies on ad hoc contributions from insurers, charitable donations and modest funding from the Government. This unreliable approach to funding jeopardises ongoing research, impacting not only the British research industry but mesothelioma mortality in the UK. That is why statutory funding is needed; it must be secured for the research.

Let us commit on this day, at this time and in this place to Derrick and Adele, and to those who did not make it and those to come, to make the change required. I beg to move.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mike Kane, Andy McDonald, Mr Andy Slaughter, Tracey Crouch, Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson, Jim Sheridan, Jim Shannon, Dr Wollaston, John Woodcock, Mr lain McKenzie and Steve Rotherham present the Bill.

Mike Kane accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March 2015, and to be printed (Bill 185).

Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No.3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Deregulation Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 3 February 2014 in the last Session of Parliament (Deregulation Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 14 May 2014 in that Session (Deregulation Bill (Programme)(No. 2)):—

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order: Nos 38, 1 to 37 and 39 to 123.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Damian Hinds.)

Question agreed to.