Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Mesothelioma Act 2014.
I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, and your amazing ability to stay in that Chair for so many hours. I regularly play football on a Friday night and the question I am always asked by my colleagues is, “How does he manage to do it?”
May I once again pay tribute to my predecessor, Paul Goggins, who worked tirelessly for the victims of this cruel disease? As we approach the second anniversary of his death this week, I hope the whole House will join me in extending our warmest wishes to his family at this difficult time. I also express my gratitude to my mentor and the former MP for Wythenshawe, Lord Alf Morris, who campaigned tirelessly on the issue in the other place and saw that work as part of his groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill 1970.
I also want to pay tribute to Conservative Members, namely the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who have taken a particular interest in the matter and given their support, and to Lord Alton, who is promoting a concurrent Bill in the other place. He has also been working tirelessly for the victims of this disease.
Every year, hundreds of people gather in cities across the UK to raise awareness of mesothelioma and to call for better treatment of patients, for prevention of exposure to asbestos and for a ban on the export of asbestos to developing countries. Last July, a few colleagues and I once again attended Lincoln Square in Manchester with victims’ families. Loved ones released white doves symbolising each of the victims. It was an incredibly poignant and moving occasion. The number of people attending the event grows each year. The latest Government figures show that seven new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every day.
Next year’s event will be even more poignant because of Stuart Packard, who was highlighted recently by The Daily Telegraph. As most of us in Manchester went about our business on 15 June 1996, the city was rocked by a massive IRA bomb. As one of the first civilians allowed through the cordon later that week to view the devastation, I wondered how there was no loss of life. However, Stuart was just 21 when he spent about three weeks working as an emergency security guard at the scene and he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March, having come into contact with the carcinogenic dust from the subsequent demolition work. He died just before Christmas, aged 40, leaving his wife and two young children. His father-in-law said:
“This disease just came back to get him so many years later.”
Mesothelioma is an invasive type of lung cancer that is caused primarily by prior exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure. Patients often experience complex, debilitating symptoms and most die within 12 months of diagnosis. There is a long time lag between exposure and the development of the disease. Although it can be as little as 10 years, the average interval is between 30 and 40 years.
Most people with the disease developed it after being exposed to asbestos in the workplace—building our houses, schools and hospitals; working on our shipyards; or serving and defending our country in the armed forces. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is sat on the Front Bench, because, working with the Royal British Legion, he secured a better deal for our service personnel who are victims of the disease during the recent passage of the Armed Forces Bill.
The UK 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 people will die unless new treatments are found.
Research needs to be done to understand why certain individuals develop the disease and others do not. We know of instances where the wives of construction and shipyard workers have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos dust on the overalls of their husbands, yet the husbands have never developed the disease. We do not know why that is.
The James Lind Alliance has identified a number of priority areas for research—essential questions that need to be answered to improve the understanding of the disease and provide hope to patients and their families. We need to ensure that there is funding to take that research forward.
The Bill offers an alternative route for funding research. Although Aviva, Zurich, AXA and the RSA have been contributing to this field, too many companies have evaded their responsibilities. We need statutory underpinning. Three million pounds a year will not dent the pockets of the companies who pay out £187 million a day to their customers.
Dr Robert Rintoul, who works at MesobanK, sees the importance of research not only for people living in this country, but for others around 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.”
Lord Wills stated in the recent debate in the other place that the cost to the health service and society was a reason for action. Going by the data that each patient costs £75,000 and that there are 2,500 patients, he estimated a £5 billion cost to the UK over the coming years. That is an interesting argument, given the current focus on the financial burden to the NHS in the “Five Year Forward View”.
Unless a change is introduced to the way mesothelioma research is funded, we will risk stagnation and endanger potential life-changing and even life-saving breakthroughs. Currently, the research relies on ad hoc contributions from insurers, charitable donations and modest funding from the Government. That unreliable approach to funding jeopardises ongoing research, which impacts not only on the British research industry, but on mesothelioma mortality in the UK. That is why statutory funding must be secured for the research.
One can make plenty of salient and important arguments about the value of research, both to insurers and to the British research industry. However, the focus must remain on the people affected by this devastating disease—the workers, the spouses, the children—who currently have little hope due to the lack of treatment options available to them. For them it is essential that we seize the life-saving opportunity in front of us today.
I see that the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) is in his place. His father, Phillip Glen, dedicated his 50-year working life to the horticultural industry in Wiltshire until his recent retirement. He was, however, exposed to asbestos by working with boilers in the nurseries, and he was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the hon. Gentleman, his father, and all sufferers of this terrible disease our heartfelt best in the years ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That John Woodcock, Jim Shannon, Sammy Wilson, Andy Slaughter, Andy McDonald, Mr Graham Brady, Jonathan Reynolds and Mike Kane present the Bill.
Mike Kane accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January, and to be printed (Bill 114).