When I announced to the House on 16 December that veterans diagnosed on or after that date with diffuse mesothelioma as a result of their service would have the option of receiving a lump sum of £140,000, I also committed to looking at whether it could be extended to veterans diagnosed before that date. We have kept our word and I am delighted to confirm that the option of a lump sum payment will be extended to veterans in receipt of a war pension for mesothelioma diagnosed before 16 December 2015.
That is thoroughly good news. Following the campaigns of many in this House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (David Mackintosh) and my friend the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), this announcement will be very, very welcome. How will people affected be able to claim the money?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind comments. I have instructed the Veterans Agency to contact all those we know of with immediate effect. I hope the payments will be made on or shortly after 11 April.[Official Report, 2 March 2016, Vol. 606, c. 6MC.]
Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Members, such as the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and others, who have campaigned on this issue? I welcome the direction of travel. Will he also pay tribute to Rhod Palmer, a third generation Royal Navy sailor who has just recently been diagnosed and stands to benefit, who thought of the wider issue that more research needs to be done into this devastating disease?
I have recently been contacted by my constituent, George, whose father sadly passed away from this rare cancer. He is concerned that research is not being properly funded. Does the Ministry of Defence currently fund such research and will the Minister commit to looking at funding levels for mesothelioma research?
I am delighted to welcome today’s announcement to the House, but I would just like to add a little word of caution. We must make sure that when people are given the option—specifically, widows who may survive by many years servicemen who die from this deadly disease—there are no unintended consequences. We must make sure that if widows choose the option of a lump sum, it will not have the impact of their losing benefits over the years.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been one of the campaigners ensuring that this change has come forward. He is absolutely right to make that point. I emphasise to the House that this is very much an option and I will ensure that when recipients are notified they are fully informed about what the options actually mean.