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Social Security

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2019

I beg to move,

That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:

That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.

These two statutory instruments will increase the value of lump sum awards payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme, which was set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. Those schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure, and there is no legislative requirement to review the level of payments each year. None the less, I am happy to increase the amounts payable from 1 April this year by September’s consumer prices index of 2.4%.

The Government recognise the very great suffering of individuals and their families caused by the serious and often fatal diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos, coal dust and other forms of dust. The individuals affected may be unable to bring a successful claim for damages, often owing to the long latency period of their condition, but they can still claim compensation through these schemes.

I will briefly summarise the specific purpose of the two compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which for simplicity I will refer to as the 1979 Act scheme, provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who have one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme, who are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business and who have not brought any action against others for damages. The five diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme are diffuse mesothelioma, bilateral diffuse pleural thickening, pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, as well as primary carcinoma of the lung if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payment scheme widens the criteria for compensation to those who have contracted diffuse mesothelioma but who are unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act scheme—for example, those people who were self-employed or whose exposure to asbestos was not due to work.

Payments under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the age of the person with the disease and their level of disablement at the time of their diagnosis. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma are made at the 100% rate. All payments under the 2008 scheme are also made at the 100% disablement rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest people with the disease. In the last full year, from April 2017 to March 2018, 3,680 people received payments under both schemes, totalling £49.2 million.

I am aware that the prevalence of diffuse mesothelioma is a particular concern of Members, given the number of deaths from this disease in Great Britain. It is at a historically high level. The life expectancy of those diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma is poor, with many people dying within 12 months of diagnosis. The disease has a strong association with exposure to asbestos, and current evidence suggests that around 85% of all mesotheliomas diagnosed in men are attributable to asbestos exposures that occurred through work. Our latest available information suggests that there will continue to be around 2,500 diffuse mesothelioma deaths per year before the number of cases begins to fall during the next decade, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures after 1980.

The Minister will be aware that Barrow and Furness has the highest number of asbestos-related cancer deaths in the whole of England and Wales. Is she aware of how many sufferers who were previously compensated under the scheme covering pleural plaques are now falling victim to terminal asbestosis and finding themselves ineligible for any compensation under these schemes? Does she not feel that that is unjust? Will she meet me and representatives of my community to discuss that?

I am always happy to meet colleagues from across the House if they have particular constituency issues or if people who really need support are falling between the cracks. There are three different schemes available to support people, and we are talking about two of them today. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to explore those issues and to discuss the three compensation programmes to see whether there is more that we can do. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support to which they are entitled.

We expect to see a decline in the number of people being diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma in the coming years, but many people will continue to develop the condition and the other respiratory diseases, based on their exposure, for some time to come. That is why the Government are committed to working in partnership with their arm’s length bodies and agencies to improve the lives of those with respiratory diseases. I want to give the House an example of that commitment.

Last summer, I hosted a lung health summit, bringing together the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and representatives from the British Lung Association and the NHS. This was an opportunity to discuss the important work that the Government and our partners are doing and to listen to the first-hand experiences and problems, brought to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, that miners are encountering today as they try to get an appropriate diagnosis and therefore the financial support that we want them to receive.

A huge amount of work has been done as a result of that lung health summit, and I was delighted—as I hope everyone will be—to see that the recently published NHS long-term plan recognises the objective of improving outcomes for people with respiratory disease. The long-term plan sets out how the NHS will take action in a number of areas. This includes expanding programmes that support earlier diagnosis of respiratory diseases—including the pioneering lung health checks trialled in Manchester and Liverpool—and increasing access to proven treatments such as pulmonary rehabilitation. As part of the engagement process for the Government’s long-term plan, an NHS England respiratory oversight group has been created, which includes membership of the British Lung Foundation. In addition, NHS England has been working closely with the taskforce for lung health, which has also recently published its own five-year plan to improve lung health.

I want to take a few moments to talk about the work of the Health and Safety Executive in this regard. It does excellent work, the length and breadth of the country, but we seldom have an opportunity to reflect on that in this House. As a nation, we should be really proud of our long history of trying to prevent illness and injury at work. The very first factory inspectors were appointed under the Factory Act 1833 to prevent injury and overworking among child textile workers, and we have come a long way since then. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act came into force in October 1974 and the Health and Safety Executive was formed in January 1975. The HSE is now well established as a mature regulator with a mission to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health. This is borne out by the most recent published HSE statistics, which show a long-term downward trend in the rate of self-reported non-fatal accidents and fatal accidents to workers. Indeed, the UK consistently has one of the lowest standardised rates of fatal injury when compared with any other large economy.

Turning back to the importance of these regulations, I am sure we all agree that, while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals or their families for the suffering and loss caused by the diffuse mesothelioma and pneumoconiosis covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who have those diseases rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. Finally, I am required to confirm to the House that these provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights, and I am happy so to do.

The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 made provisions for lump sum compensation payments to be made for those suffering from diffuse mesothelioma. It also made provisions for their dependants. The mesothelioma lump sum payments regulations laid before the House have uprated the lump sum payments for sufferers and their dependants by 2.4%. We welcome the fact that the Government have reviewed the rates in line with inflation, and we recognise that, as the Minister said, they are under no obligation to do so under the 2008 Act.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that covers the lining of the body’s organs. It is also almost exclusively caused by asbestos, when fibres have entered the lungs of sufferers and caused damage over time. The greater the exposure to asbestos, the more likely it is that someone will be at risk of mesothelioma. It can also affect those who have been indirectly exposed to asbestos. The victims of indirect asbestos exposure have been seeking justice through access to the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme for some time, and the Government must seriously consider that matter.

It can take up to 40 years after the original exposure for mesothelioma symptoms to develop, and it is likely that the increase in the numbers of mesothelioma sufferers’ deaths in recent years is due to exposure that took place before the introduction of asbestos regulations in the 1970s. Mesothelioma has devastating effects on sufferers, as the Minister rightly said. For most victims, a diagnosis brings with it the inevitability of death, and one such death was that of my good friend, Brian Jamieson, who passed away in December. He was an active trade unionist who worked on Trafford Park, where he unfortunately acquired the disease. Tragically, only five in 100 people survive the cancer for more than five years after diagnosis.

The damage caused by asbestos is widely seen as one of the biggest public health crises in this country, ruining the lives not just of sufferers themselves, but of their families, friends and communities. The Department for Work and Pensions suggested that 53,000 people will die from mesothelioma between 2030 and 2037, and it is estimated that 2,500 people die every year as a result of the disease. The 2008 scheme provides a one-off payment to sufferers who have no occupational link to the disease or who are self-employed, including, for example, sufferers who live in close proximity to a workplace containing asbestos.

While Labour welcomes the regulations and the uprating of the lump sum payments, several serious issues remain. Alongside many campaigners, we are concerned about the disparity between lump sum payments made to dependants and those made to sufferers. It is unclear why dependants, who are themselves usually impacted by the effects of mesothelioma, receive so much less than sufferers. The difference in the amounts is stark. A mesothelioma sufferer aged 70 will receive £17,961 under the draft regulations. However, if the sufferer dies at aged 67 or over, their dependants receive just £8,000 as a lump sum payment. In 2010, the then Minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, rightfully pledged to equalise payments, noting the unfair nature of the regulations. The Government have faced repeated calls to honour that commitment, but they have failed to do so. This is also an equality issue. The difference in payments is likely to affect mainly women whose husbands were directly exposed to asbestos at work. How can the Government continue to justify the difference between lump sum payments? Will the Minister tell us the most recent estimated cost of providing equal payments for sufferers and their dependants?

Communities are still being affected by asbestos exposure to this day, and exposure results in an estimated 5,000 deaths every year. The all-party group on occupational safety and health estimated that, shockingly, 75% of the 29,000 schools in Britain contain asbestos, so it is vital that we continue to raise awareness. What additional funding will be made available this year to ensure that we continue to make people aware of the dangers of exposure to asbestos? What campaigns are being run by the Health and Safety Executive about asbestos exposure?

As the Minister noted, the HSE plays a vital role in ending harmful exposure to asbestos, but this Government are responsible for a 40% cut to its budget. By this year, it is estimated that the HSE will receive £100 million less in Government funding than it did in 2009, and that comes despite estimates that 12,000 people are dying each year as a result of occupational cancers or lung diseases. Will the Minister conduct an impact assessment of the cuts to HSE funding on occupational health? Will she end the devastating cuts to the HSE? When will the HSE get the “austerity is over” cheque that the Prime Minister promised?

Labour also welcomes the regulations to increase lump sum payments to pneumoconiosis sufferers in line with inflation. We have further noted that the Government are under no statutory obligation to do so. The pneumoconiosis regulations refer to the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which provided lump sum payments to people disabled by dust-related diseases, including as a result of asbestos exposure and coal mining. Statistics show that there are an average of 140 deaths a year as a result of the disease. While we welcome the uprating under the regulations, the Government have failed to ensure that there is parity between the amounts offered to sufferers and to their dependants. Will the Minister finally act to ensure that there is parity between the two groups?

Sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families have to go through onerous and often expensive hurdles in order to receive payments from the Department for Work and Pensions. A number of problems prevent people from receiving the support they deserve, including a lack of specialist knowledge about work-related diseases and issues with the DWP assessments. Will the Minister meet my colleagues and the National Union of Mine- workers to discuss changes to ensure that sufferers and their families are not prevented from receiving vital support for this incurable disease? Information about the disease is not widespread, and the disease is hard to diagnose because it does not show up on two-dimensional X-rays. Will the Minister tell us how much funding is going into promoting awareness of the disease?

The lump sum payment is a form of industrial injuries disablement benefit. Under universal credit, IIDB counts as unearned income, reducing the UC award. Under tax credits, the lump sum payment is disregarded completely. Sufferers and dependants on tax credits therefore stand to lose out if they naturally migrate on to universal credit. Will the Minister act immediately to ensure that no sufferer will lose out in this way? No impact assessment has been made of the effectiveness of either scheme, nor have the Government consulted trade unions about how best to compensate those who have lost out. Will the Minister act immediately to do so and provide an equality impact assessment on this most vital area of support?

My hon. Friend is making some important points—I am sorry that more Members are not in the Chamber to hear them. There is real anger in former coal mining constituencies such as mine about the failure to pay out. People fought hard to get compensation in the first place—it took years and years of effort. Were it not for the previous Labour Government, we would have a lesser scheme than the present one. I support what my hon. Friend says, and we must give proper answers to the sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families.

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I have family members who were miners until they were put out of work, so I completely agree.

Labour welcomes the support available to sufferers and the uprating of the provisions, but it is clear that issues remain. I urge the Minister not only to ensure that equal treatment of sufferers and dependants is achieved, but to consider the implications of Government cuts and the introduction of universal credit for sufferers throughout the UK.

I welcome the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. I understand that both schemes, which will ensure fair and timely payments to those with asbestos-related diseases, fall outside the general benefits uprating process and that, as such, no review mechanism is formally built into legislation to uprate the payments each year.

The Government’s 2.4% increase in the payments is very welcome and rightly demonstrates an ongoing commitment to supporting those suffering from asbestos-related diseases, many of whom contracted the disease through no fault of their own, and their families. For reasons that will become apparent, I wonder whether a future statutory instrument will include a table of occupations or professions—the regulations include a helpful breakdown of the ages of those with mesothelioma at first diagnosis—as that would help to identify those at risk and could perhaps be cross-referenced with other areas of support for those suffering from mesothelioma, where necessary.

Five years and one month ago, our former colleague from Wythenshawe and Sale East, Paul Goggins, tragically and suddenly passed away. Paul and I had tabled several cross-party amendments to the Bill that became the Mesothelioma Act 2014, and colleagues on both sides of the House will agree that his expertise and compassion have been and continue to be a great loss. He was the driving force behind much of the work on mesothelioma, and the ongoing success of the scheme is testament to his commitment to the issue and a fitting legacy for him as a parliamentarian.

I was the Minister responsible for taking the Mesothelioma Act through Parliament and, despite the restrictions I was under, Paul was an enormously useful knowledge base. At times I went back to my civil servants and said, “No, I have facts from people who were involved in this.” That was very useful, and the House should recognise the work of Paul Goggins.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention. I still have the Christmas card that Paul gave to me just before we rose for Christmas in 2013, in which he started, “Dear fellow meso warrior”. He was passionate about this, and it was a real privilege to have tabled amendments in his name—obviously, he was unable to be here to push them through.

We were successful during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act—with the support of colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place, led by Lord Alton of Liverpool—in aligning payments with the 100% average civil damages. I am therefore sure that, like me, Paul would have welcomed the Minister’s written ministerial statement of 23 January on the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme which confirmed, thanks to the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), that the levy to be charged for 2018-19, payable by the insurance industry to fund the scheme, will be just short of £40 million.

Since the launch of the scheme in 2014, £130 million has been paid in compensation to almost 1,000 sufferers—that is £130 million that was not previously available to those suffering from mesothelioma who are not covered by the alternative schemes and unable to trace their employer’s liability insurance. I am grateful for the efforts of everyone in the House, including the late Paul Goggins and my right hon. Friend, who was the Minister at the time, in helping to provide such compensation for those who would not have had it previously.

Having worked with long-suffering officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for three and a half years as a Minister, I will take a second to praise the oversight committee’s annual report on the scheme. The report is well set out and tells us everything we need to know in a clear and transparent way, so I thank the officials who worked hard on it.

One amendment that Paul and I were sadly unsuccessful in adding to the legislation would have introduced an additional levy on the insurance industry to fund research into mesothelioma. It remains the case, as it has for decades, that mesothelioma is poorly understood and underfunded. We know it has a long latency period and is an incredibly aggressive form of lung cancer, and we also anticipate a future spike in diagnoses, with Medway a particular hotspot for the disease given its rich shipbuilding and industrial heritage. I am pleased that Medway clinical commissioning group is working with the local hospital to review its respiratory pathways, including the care of lung cancer patients, and the CCG is keen to be in the next round of lung health checks because of the higher incidence of mesothelioma in the area.

As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) said, we urgently need better to understand the disease. We need to work towards a meaningful treatment, and perhaps even a cure. Although I accept that this does not fall wholly within the remit of the Department for Work and Pensions, it is notable that the annual review shows that the levy scheme had a £3.45 million surplus last year. Following agreement with the insurance industry, the surplus was divided equally into the levy for the next three years. It might have been better to put that money into research, as while £3 million is small change in the insurance world, it is a lottery win for research. Again, that might be worth considering for next year. I would be grateful if, on the back of this debate, the Minister would write to me to elaborate on what work her Department is undertaking to engage the Department of Health and Social Care in better understanding the disease and improving outcomes for sufferers.

Asbestos in schools is an important topic. Although, again, this does not fall wholly within the remit of the DWP, it does have important implications for the various schemes the DWP administers for sufferers. In a 2015 Adjournment debate on asbestos in schools, I mentioned that the issue needed a cross-departmental effort led by the Department for Education through the Priority School Building programme. I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on any discussions she has had with DFE colleagues on the potential impact of asbestos in schools. For example, is any data shared on the profession of applicants to the asbestos-related schemes whose benefits are administered by her Department?

There is a huge amount to commend in the Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting those who suffer from mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. I miss my meso partner in crime, Paul Goggins, enormously. Although he would agree that the progress should be celebrated, he would continue to say that there is always much more that can be done further to improve the outcomes for sufferers of this terrible disease.

I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. The Whips Office asked me whether I would like to contribute because my constituency historically had a strong mining tradition, and I am particularly pleased to take part because 3,000 or so people lose their life to mesothelioma each year.

In August 2008 one of those who lost their life to the disease was John MacDougall, then the Member of Parliament for the constituency I have the privilege to represent. John was only 60 years old, and he should have had years and years of active life ahead of him. He had given 26 years of service to the people as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament, and for many years before that he had been a trade unionist. It is a tragic irony that while John, through his trade union activities, was working for safer working conditions for his colleagues at the Rosyth dockyard and, later, at the Methil oil rig yard he was working in an environment that led to his tragic early death, denying him and his family the active retirement he had a right to expect.

The last time I remember seeing John—as far as I know, it was the last public activity he was able to carry out—was at an event organised by a stalwart of Fife Council, Willie Clarke, as part of a campaign to get proper recognition and proper compensation for former miners and others whose lives were blighted by pneumoconiosis. It seems appropriate to mark both John and Willie today. Willie gave 43 years’ service as a councillor in Fife, and he retired in 2016.

I think the reason for these regulations today and for why there is a statutory compensation scheme for miners, plumbers and others who suffer from these terrible diseases, is the determination of people like Willie Clarke. As a councillor and as a National Union of Mineworkers official, he worked with other officials in the NUM and in other trade unions. Without them, I do not think we would have a statutory scheme today, so I pay tribute to Willie, the late John MacDougall and others who have gone before us. They deserve the credit for our having this scheme.

The scheme is not perfect, and it can be criticised, but it has to be better than what we had before. Until we had a statutory compensation scheme, people had to take their employer through the courts. As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned, the compensation to a family for the loss of a loved one is often much, much less than the compensation paid to a patient who has to live with the consequences of their illness. That fact has been abused mercilessly by employers and others for decades. Often the reason for delays and so-called “complications” in compensation cases was purely down to the fact that the employer knew that if they could keep the case going until the claimant died, the size of any compensation payment would be significantly reduced. This was an insidious, vile and evil way to treat people, when they had often given years of service to companies, but that was what the business interests of employers often dictated. Again, I pay tribute to those who have helped to make sure that such a situation has been significantly improved. It has not been entirely sorted out, but things are better than they were in years gone by.

My grandad, Peter Quinn, whose name I am proud to bear, died when I was 10. I only remember him as an old man, one who was usually sick. He had to get a downstairs bathroom installed in his house and convert a front room into a bedroom because he could not get up and down the stairs. He could hardly walk the length of his garden—that is what I remember of him—but he was not much older than I am today. He had been a plumber all his days, which is clearly what caused the damage to his lungs and ended his life prematurely, as it ended the lives of tens of thousands, and possibly millions, of hard-working people the length and breadth of these islands. Those who are left behind and still have to live with the consequences of these appalling diseases deserve all the help we can give them, as do their families and loved ones.

I certainly support the proposal being put forward today. I was not surprised, because I already knew this, but it was disappointing that the Minister said there is not a statutory entitlement for these payments to be increased by the rate of inflation every year. Why is there not? Surely it is time to say to these people, “We think that the compensation that people like you will get in five years’ time should be worth the same in real terms as the money you are getting just now.” It should not need a decision of Parliament to accept—or, in theory, to reject—that increase. This is not money given to people to let them live in luxury. It is given to people as inadequate compensation for the loss of many years of their life and, very often, for the loss of quality life during the years they have left. We are talking about the people who made this collection of nations what it is. We would not have the economy we have today were it not for the shipyards in places such as Burntisland, which John MacDougall represented for so long, and for the mines, which produced massive wealth for so few, but which also destroyed the lives and livelihoods of so many. It is therefore appropriate that we continue to operate this compensation scheme and give, as an absolute minimum, an increase that allows people to keep pace with inflation.

However, I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to amending the legislation so that in future these increases in benefits can be made automatically. There should not be any option for this House to impose what would, in effect, be a reduction in real terms. I support the inflationary increase now, but I hope that by this time next year this increase, and perhaps a wee bit more, will be given automatically as a matter of right and not at the discretion of this House.

I rise in support of both these statutory instruments, which are sensibly being taken together, not least because we can now talk about the need to compensate people because of two basic products: coal and coal dust; and asbestos. This country got its wealth from coal, as men went down the mines to bring the coal out. For centuries, the wealth it provided put this country where it was. Asbestos was the great invention post-war, the insulating product that saved many lives, not least in fire prevention and insulation. Subsequently, however, it has destroyed millions of lives in this country today.

I am supporting the Minister today. I sat on the Bench where she is, taking these original measures through. I will make some more arguments in a moment, but at that time I made exactly the argument that the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) just made: why is this increase not automatically put through? I do not think there is an answer to that; I think this is just about bureaucracy and red tape. When the Bill was introduced all those years ago it was not perfect, as Bills often are not. There was so much happiness that that compensation Bill was brought through by the Labour party that things were missed or, as was my experience when I brought through the Bill that became the Mesothelioma Act 2014, people said, “It is too difficult. We don’t have the information at the moment. It can’t quite be done in that way.” I will touch on that in a moment. Such a measure would need primary legislation, but it could be tagged on to the many, many social security Bills that this House sees regularly—if we get the long title right, that can be done.

I know that the Minister will be listening, not only to me, but to Members from across the House, as, rightly, that is how she is as a Minister. So, first, I ask her to say to her officials, “This should be the last time that this is done this way.” This House can find time, if it really wants to, to right a wrong. There is no way in the world this House will say no to the uprating, so let us be pragmatic and sensible about it. I know that the officials in the Box will be sitting there thinking, “That Penning is going on again, just like he did when he was a Minister”, but what I am saying is right.

I wish to touch on a trivial point that the shadow Minister made: it is not “fibres” that cause mesothelioma, but fibre; something so small it would sit on the end of my finger will, 40 years from now, almost certainly kill people if it develops. No one understands why, and I will address that in moment. The public need to understand that this could affect people working in a school, a shipyard or myriad other occupations, including my former occupation of fireman. We were completely unprotected when we were going in to pull ceilings down, and turn things over and damp things down so that they did not reignite. Often there would be asbestos there, and we knew that. But we were the lucky ones, I think, because we were protected by the Fire Brigades Union, the union I was a member and branch secretary of; I recall being thrown out of the Labour party for a few years because we were too militant at the time. For me, as a trade unionist, this issue was very important, as firemen have died from asbestos-related diseases.

We have talked about the mines. Miners, often generation after generation after generation, put their lives at risk to go down the mines. Should we have learnt from the dangers? I agree that in some cases we should have done, but in other cases we did not really know. I used to live just down the road from a coal merchants, and as lads we often used to go to earn a bit of pocket money by filling the sacks. The coal dust there was not that much different from that in a mine, although the work was not as arduous as working down a mine. Did we realise, and did they realise, that this could seriously damage our lungs in the future? Of course not. So we need to learn from the past, and we have rightly done so.

I was enormously proud to bring through this House, as the Minister, the 2014 Act, which compensates people in cases where we cannot find their insurer and their employer, and where they were the missing few. I was lobbied heavily by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and by Paul Goggins and others to make it 100% rather than the 80% that was initially proposed, and to include third parties. Let us just think for a minute about what “third party” means. It often means the partner. It often means the wife of someone who worked in a shipyard and came home in his overalls covered in asbestos, which she then washed and hung out on the line. Is it right that we do not make sure that she has just as much, and that those families and those kids have just as much? The kids playing in the yard where those overalls were hanging could have been affected, but let us hope that has not happened. Could we, as was suggested in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, have written into the legislation that research should be part of the funding? I was told by my officials that we could not guarantee the money and we must not jeopardise the Bill, but that we could come back to that later. Well, here we are now, later. I stood at that Dispatch Box and said that if there was money there from the levy, that would be used for compensation. I said that on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, on the Treasury Bench, as the Minister, with full authority from the Government. That should now be happening. There was clearly enough for the 100% compensation based on the average for those who had found an employer or insurer, and we now have a golden opportunity to say that the money is there. The insurers will say, “We can’t guarantee this,” but they said that before, and it is based on a levy.

We are not even talking about taxpayers’ money; it is a fund, and we could use it to do two things. First, if possible, we could find a cure and work out exactly what is going to go on. In retrospect, that will save lives and stop people needing money from the levy fund in the first place. I am no longer confident—hindsight is a wonderful thing—about the figures that were put in front of me and that this will taper off in the way predicted. I am not convinced about that because it involves too many industries and professions that are completely different from what we thought in the first place. We were looking at shipyards and plumbing, where asbestos was used extensively as insulation, but, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned, there are currently teachers in schools who are not allowed to put a drawing pin into the wall for fear of moving the asbestos fibres. When it is in place, asbestos is perfectly safe; the issue is when it is moved. There are also hospitals to consider. There is one in Watford that looks after my constituency and dates back to before Victorian times. I am told that rather than build a new hospital, they are going to plough loads of money into that one to regenerate and refurbish it. We know that the asbestos in that hospital is a major problem. Why are we treating people in hospitals where we know that asbestos and dilapidation are issues? We need to protect the public as much as possible and make sure that the compensation schemes are there.

Before I finish, let me touch on the Health and Safety Executive, for which I was responsible as a Minister back in 2014, and which does a remarkable job. At the time, we looked carefully at how it was funded, and almost all its funding came from the central departmental funding stream. It is relatively different now: the Health and Safety Executive is a world leader in health and safety and brings a huge amount of money into the country’s economy, because we have freed it up to be able to do that. That does not mean that outside money should pay for everything. I am absolutely sure that the Health and Safety Executive needs to do the best possible job.

In 2005, my constituency was blown up by the Buncefield explosions—the largest fire and explosion in this country since the second world war. The Health and Safety Executive was absolutely brilliant. We were very lucky that no one died, and that meant that the Health and Safety Executive was responsible for the inquiry. As the constituency MP, I gave the Health and Safety Executive a pretty rough time, as everybody would expect me to have done, to get answers. In many ways, the Health and Safety Executive got those answers, and it was a privilege to be the Minister responsible for it some five years later.

I want to tell the Minister and the House a little about the life of Jack Hordon, who was until recently one of my constituents. Sadly, Mr Hordon died in December last year after a life in which he had worked in Barrow shipyard and in the merchant navy on behalf of the New Zealand Shipping Company. He was similar to many thousands of my constituents over the years, and similar to many people in shipbuilding areas and coalmining towns who served their families and their communities. They provided for themselves and their families, but in Barrow shipyard they also did a service for the nation by building vessels that went to war and the submarine fleets that have kept our nation safe for many years. Sometimes because of a lack of knowledge and often because of employers’ lack of care for their employees at the time, those people were exposed and unwittingly exposed their families—including their children, as the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) rightly described—to this deadly killer that sometimes lay quiet for decades until it struck and took away their lives in the most cruel and painful circumstances.

I raise Mr Hordon’s case partly because his life is representative of so many, but also because of the particular gap and injustice exposed by his recent experience. I am very proud to be the successor of Lord Hutton of Furness. He now sits in the other place but was the previous Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness. He was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the previous Labour Government, when I was privileged to serve as his special adviser, and he was determined to speed up access to justice for mesothelioma sufferers and to stop the terrible situation in which there were delays in many sufferers getting their compensation payments, as previous speakers have described.

While Lord Hutton was serving in government, there was also a debate about pleural plaques. After he left the post, he privately lobbied his successor in the Department not to close the scheme and to remain alive to the potential pitfalls of the Government’s approach to pleural plaques. The window for claiming pleural plaques compensation was closed in 2007, and there was a debate about that at the time. Mr Hordon fell ill in 2017 and was diagnosed in August that year as a sufferer of malignant mesothelioma. For 20 years, he had been the full-time carer of his wife of 65 years. Throughout their life—all the time that she suffered from severely debilitating disabilities—they had never claimed. He had always worked assiduously to provide for the family so that they could stand on their own feet. When he fell ill, there was severe distress in the family at his no longer being able to perform that role. Mrs Hordon was forced to go into emergency care, which became permanent, at great distress to her and to the family.

The financial burden and the uncertainty meant there was a real imperative to seek mesothelioma compensation. The initial contact with solicitors was positive. As was the experience of many Members’ constituents, the solicitors said that the case could be taken forward at the greatest possible speed. However, they soon came back with the discovery that Mr Hordon had previously made a claim for pleural plaques, and it turned out that he had signed that, on the strong advice of his solicitors at the time, as a full and final settlement. The family were left unable to claim. They went back over their experience, and Mr Hordon could remember that the advice he was given was that there was only a 1% chance of the pleural plaques worsening into a terminal condition. The solicitors advised him, in the words of the family, “to bite off the hand” of those offering it.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to a meeting because, clearly, this will not be an isolated case. Two issues arise from Mr Hordon’s tragic death and the circumstances around it: one is the injustice of him being denied the compensation that he needed every bit as much as anyone else who falls victim to such a condition; and secondly, there is a case for an inquiry into the practices around pleural plaques at the time. Mr Hordon’s family is clear that he cannot have been given proper advice by the solicitors and by those who were estimating the chances of his condition developing into something that was terminal. The fact is there was a financial incentive for some firms to use sharp practices: they wanted to seize the chance of cash without proper analysis of what the real risks were to people and what their circumstances might be in the future.

Mr Hordon and his family were clear that the risks were not properly spelled out to him. He cannot be alone in that. I speak on behalf of my own constituent and, as I said in my intervention on the Minister, of a constituency that has the highest number of asbestosis-related lung cancer deaths in the whole of England and Wales. I am sure that, potentially, the condition will affect many thousands more people across the country. Will the Government please agree to examine this issue so that there is the prospect of justice for people who find themselves in this situation?

I never thought that I would be involved in this debate at such a late stage in my life. I remember making my maiden speech. I had worked down the pits. There were 700 pits and 700,000 miners at the time. Those miners were very much responsible for assisting the nation both during the second world war and after. Those were very hard days in the mines, yet I finished up in this place, mainly because they wanted me to stop another Labour candidate from getting the seat. [Interruption.] That is the truth. I finished up in the palace of varieties, and here we are, many years later, discussing the very thing that I spoke about way back in 1970. It is almost like the Common Market coming back all over again—which it is.

I want to say from the outset that I agree with the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) and the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) who talked about the yearly increase. We do that for a lot of things in Parliament; we increase things automatically. When I think about this subject, I can say that there is no better reason for having an uprate in September, or whenever it is, in accordance with the increases that have taken place in inflation, in pensions and in quite a lot of other things. It would be excellent if, in these 90 minutes, we were able to get that message across. If we get the right kind of people at the Dispatch Box later, perhaps they will be able to give a nod and a wink in this direction. I have seized on this issue today mainly because it was raised by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead from the Tory party and the hon. Member for Glenrothes from the Scottish National party.

I remember the time when mesothelioma was first raised in the House; it was raised by Mick Clapham, one of my colleagues from Barnsley. Unlike Lord Hutton, he is not in the House of Lords. I suppose that he should be—in a way. He was the one who came here with this funny sounding word that is very difficult for people to remember—mesothelioma. I remember thinking, “How does he manage to get it out of his mouth?” I had to practise saying the word at night. Yes, it is very important to remember Mick Clapham and the fact that he seized on this very important subject.

I remember Mick Clapham because for my sins—for which I have repented through my rebellions over the Mesothelioma Act 2014—I worked for the insurance industry. Mick was the bane of our lives, particularly around the subject of compensation not just for mesothelioma—for those who could not find their employers—but for pleural plaques. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to recognise the sterling work that he did to change hearts and minds among not just Labour Members but Conservative Members for the plight of those who suffer from asbestos-related diseases.

Yes, I will get on the phone to Mick and let him know about today’s events. Seriously, if I can tell him that there will be an automatic yearly increase, it will be a token to him and to all those who took part in that exercise at the time. I am very pleased to be here, and very pleased to be taking—

I just thought that it would be important to the House to put this on the record: I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) never thought that he would agree with me.

Well, he has actually.

This is why this House is so important. We can come together and say what is right, what is wrong and what can be done. If we come together to put a little bit of pressure on the Minister—not so much at the Dispatch Box today because she will be dragged over the coals—the Secretary of State and the Treasury, we can simply say, “This must be easier for you as a Government, and rather than bringing this forward, we can unite on this.”

I could not agree more. The fact is that it would be a breath of fresh air away from Brexit. That is my selling point. This is something that the Government will be remembered for. I will tell Mick Clapham on the phone that it is on its way and all the rest of it. It is an exercise away from the torment of Brexit, which even I never thought would reach this stage of argument. I have been voting for about 10 or 15 years—almost on my own—against every treaty. When I used to walk into the Lobby, I would sometimes bump into our leader, and I would say, “What are you doing here?” I used to think that I should have been on my own. However, we are not arguing about that today, because we want to concentrate on this issue.

I want to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on the Front Bench, who has put the case very well indeed. With all my experience of representing people in the pits, I know how difficult that can be. I want to ensure that we make something out of this, and that yearly increase would be marvellous.

I thank everybody who has taken part in this important mini debate. When we think about the problem of mesothelioma and asbestos, we realise just how lucky we are to escape from it. Many of us go through life never realising that we are so close to all these things. My father was the same; he worked for 50 years in the pit, and when he went for the pneumoconiosis tests, he was told that he had it but he did not qualify for the scheme because the level was less than 10%. I have found countless others who fell into the same trap. I ask the Minister to look at the question of pneumoconiosis, because although it would not make any difference to my father—he went a long time ago—the truth is that a lot of people need a helping hand in that regard. I was speaking to one today.

I thank everybody for taking part in this important debate. It means that people suffering from mesothelioma will be regarded in a different light than they were before. People will understand that they are not the forgotten few who have been left on the shelf. There are still thousands of people with pneumoconiosis, particularly in the mining areas and especially in Wales. I found out about the levels in Wales through my own experience working in the pits. It may have been because of the anthracite—I am not sure. It is pretty clear that miners in Wales mined a lot of anthracite, and pneumoconiosis levels there were sky-high compared with some other areas’ mining districts. That is something to remember.

I compliment everybody who has taken part in this debate. It is very important and it means a lot to the people who are suffering and hanging on, especially those with mesothelioma and those who have been affected by asbestos, with pleural plaques and everything else. Believe me, this condition is almost like a death sentence the moment that people get it. Pneumoconiosis is slightly different from a medical point of view.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way near the end of his speech. I just want to echo his thanks. It is 30 years and one month exactly to the day when my father died of mesothelioma, having served his apprenticeship at the docks in Glasgow and in Burma before then. He was not able to claim and my mother was not able to claim at the time because she did not know how to go about it, so I thank everybody for the work that has been done.

Well, the story goes on and if I can stay on my feet long enough, there will be some more. There is no doubt that mesothelioma has affected a lot of people, whereas pneumoconiosis was almost entirely connected to the mining districts. The truth is that this a killer disease, and we have to keep our eye on the issue and assist in all the ways that we possibly can, today and in the future. We shall all be on the phone to tell our friends that we managed to get this issue discussed and debated in a way that means it is not a static thing—that a lot of us have decided it would be a good idea to always remember them.

It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). He probably does not realise how much we have in common. It was wonderful to hear him talk about when he came into the House back in 1970, when the subject of his maiden speech was mining in his constituency. When I had the privilege of being elected to represent my home in Cornwall in 2010, the subject of my maiden speech was very much my community and my ancestors, who were Cornish miners. They were mining different things—minerals, tin in particular—but of course suffered the same risks of exposure to dust. In our case it is silica dust rather than coal dust. I have always had the passion, as the hon. Gentleman does, to speak up for those people in my constituency and for my ancestors. My grandfather worked in the docks in Falmouth and was exposed to the very risks that so many hon. Members have spoken about this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Bolsover and others have asked why we are not automatically uprating these particular compensation schemes. Well, let me gently say that this debate makes a powerful case for why it is important that we do have an annual debate. I will absolutely think about what has been said about automatic uprating, but if we had automatically uprated the schemes this year and the provisions had gone through on a motion along with every other social security payment, would we have had the benefit of this debate? We have had the benefit of the hon. Gentleman reminding the House of the huge contribution of Mick Clapham. As he said, it is really important that we do not forget these things and that we do not forget the hard work that has been undertaken by colleagues from all over the House over many years. These are hard-won successes, so it is important that we take these opportunities to remember.

This really is about doing the right thing and working together. Obviously we have heard very powerful historical stories from Members right across the Chamber, but automatic uprating is the right thing to do.

Of course we want to do the right thing, which is why we are here today, uprating the scheme. However, we should pause to reflect on the fact that this debate has enabled us to look at this dynamic situation; the hon. Member for Bolsover was absolutely right to describe it as such. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) said that he has doubts about some of the forecasts around the schemes. We have also heard from other Members who want us to look at research and at what more we can do. If we did not have the opportunity of this debate, how would hon. Members have been able to raise those matters? I will seriously look at the question of an automatic uprating, but today has also proved the importance of giving hope to so many constituents through such a debate.

The Minister is being very generous and the House is listening very carefully because this is such an important debate. This House is not going to turn down the uprating—never would. But we could actually have a proper debate on this subject through the Backbench Business Committee or in Government time. Actually, half the things that we have been talking about today are nothing to do with what is actually on the Order Paper, with all due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker; we have been having a more general discussion. That is probably the answer. I accept that the Minister has to take this question away, but this is a golden opportunity to say that this House accepts that the scheme should be automatically uprated. We should then have a general debate on the issues, but that should not be a reason not to uprate the schemes.

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. I have already committed to taking this matter away, but this debate has been very valuable. As we have seen from the quality and range of contributions, this debate has allowed the time for Members to raise a lot of important matters. Quite rightly, we have roamed far and wide, but this was an important debate none the less.

Following on from the comments of the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), with respect I do not think that the opportunity for us to talk to ourselves—and possibly to people watching—for an hour or so justifies the potential uncertainty for sufferers. Just now, they do not know how much they are going to get next year or the year after. I would quite happily forgo the chance to listen to my own voice for 10 minutes if I knew that my constituents could be certain for the rest of their lives that their payments would always keep up with inflation. This is the fourth time in three weeks that businesses has collapsed hours early, so there are plenty of other opportunities—through the Backbench Business Committee and elsewhere—to have these debates if Members so wish. I appreciate that the Minister cannot give a definite answer from the Dispatch Box just now, but I really hope that she will take this point back to her colleagues and come back with a positive answer at some point in the future.

I am happy to confirm what I have already confirmed to other hon. Members across the House—that I am absolutely happy to take that away and look at it.

I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for his support for these upratings. He asked me a number of questions that I would of course very much like to answer. Before doing so, I join him in paying respect to his constituent Brian Jamieson. One of the things the hon. Gentleman asked me about was engaging with unions. Of course, trade unions play a really vital role in our society. I have already had a meeting with the National Union of Mineworkers, together with the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock), where we talked about a range of issues that the hon. Gentleman raised today. I will continue that dialogue, as well as meeting the Union of Democratic Mineworkers too.

This debate reminds me of my own grandfather, George Winter, who suffered from pneumoconiosis. I cannot remember the exact percentage he had, but it was high, as was true of many miners in Tredegar in south Wales, where I am from. He was crushed in a pit fall in the Ty Trist colliery in Tredegar in his thirties. He had a broken femur and a crushed ribcage, and he was hospitalised for nine months. He always taught me, as I am sure that many Labour Members have been taught, that the trade unions were the most important vehicle for promoting good health and safety to make sure that people were respected and looked after at work.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing with us the tragic case of his grandfather. That reminds us, as so many colleagues have done today, of the sacrifices that people have made in these essential industries. So much of what we look around at has been created by people who made the sacrifice of working in these very, very physically demanding and dangerous industries. He is right to remind us of the sacrifices that the families have made.

The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) recognised—I join him in this—the work of Willie Clarke and John MacDougall, and other NUM officials, in creating the schemes that we have before us today. He also talked about Peter Quinn, his grandfather, and his premature death as a result of exposure to asbestos. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) about his father, who died 30 years ago. That really shows how the exposure to these dusts has had such a catastrophic effect on so many people’s lives, not only in this House but across our country.

I am absolutely delighted that the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, was able to join us today and speak so passionately, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I recognise the really important contributions that they both made, as well as the former Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, in bringing in the 2014 diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme. As was so rightly pointed out, that filled the gaps in the schemes we are talking about today, meaning that many, many more people are getting financial support.

I want to add my own tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford—our meso warrior. This really shows the difference that individual Members of Parliament can make in this House by banding together with other colleagues to make such important changes to people’s lives. I take on board her very sensible suggestion that we look at the age of people when they are diagnosed as well as their occupation. We need to be constantly looking for new trends to make sure that we are aware of people working in new or different occupations who had hitherto been thought not to be so directly affected and who might benefit from these schemes. I know that she takes a particular interest in teachers and teaching.

I perhaps ought to put it on the record that, because of my passionate speech on Second Reading of the Mesothelioma Bill, when it was quite clear that I wanted to make changes to the legislation, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), as the Minister at the time, made sure that I was not put on the Bill Committee. Newer Members of the House looking to make a difference in this place should perhaps make a more anodyne contribution on Second Reading and then do their bit in Committee.

My hon. Friend is a doughty parliamentary campaigner, and she shares a very interesting tip with newer Members of the House.

I am very happy to take away my hon. Friend’s suggestion, which was powerfully backed up by the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, that we should look at the surplus within the scheme, which is funded by a levy on the industry. Those surpluses could well be used for further research. I will take that away and look at it. It was rightly pointed out that we need to be very mindful of future projections about the numbers of people who might be affected to make sure that the scheme has adequate funding to meet any future unanticipated needs. I will look at that again to determine whether there is more that we could do on that.

I want to reassure the House on the two points raised about what more the Health and Safety Executive is doing to raise awareness of the risks of asbestosis, especially in schools. The Department for Education and the HSE have been working for long periods on what more can be done to be raise awareness of the good management of asbestos, whether in hospitals or in schools. The Department for Education has taken a real interest in this. There is now a new assurance scheme that started last March, and funding is made available through the Department for the upgrading of school facilities. We are making a lot of progress in assessing the risk and skilling people up to manage asbestos when they find it and then ultimately replace it. The Health and Safety Executive is always informing all the different workplaces of the risks of asbestos and what can be done to reduce them.

It is absolutely fair to say that the Health and Safety Executive has had to make efficiency savings in its budgets over the past few years. However, in no way, shape or form can one say that that is leading it not to be able to do its job well. When I meet the chief executive and the chairman, as I do regularly, they tell me that they have the resources that they need to keep people safe at work. We have only to look at the evidence of what is happening in workplaces to see that the HSE has been innovative and creative, working in partnership with others. As I said in my opening speech, there are far fewer people acquiring injuries, and having fatal injuries, at work. That is to the great credit of the Health and Safety Executive, as I think a lot of Members across the House have recognised.

Finally, there is the question of the equalisation of the sums that are paid out between the people who are directly affected by the conditions and their loved ones. The same issue is raised each time this debate is held. The Government’s view is that it is most important that the funding is given to the people with the condition who would most benefit from it. Of course, I fully understand that families can be devastated and very badly affected, but there is still the recognition that they are able to get compensation, even if it is not at the same level. When we have to make decisions about how we use our precious resources—the taxpayers’ money that is available—it is only right that we target that money by giving it to the people to whom it can make the biggest difference.

We have had a really excellent debate in which we have managed to raise a lot of issues around the health service, education, the Health and Safety Executive, and research. I am very grateful for Members’ contributions and for the support across the House for these very important schemes that are having a very positive impact on people’s lives. I look forward to working with Members who have asked to meet me on how we can work even more closely together and make an even more positive contribution.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.


That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.—(Sarah Newton.)