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Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Murphy) has made the following Statement.

On 20 July 2006 the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) announced interim measures to speed up current claims handling for mesothelioma sufferers. He also confirmed that we would put in place a long-term solution.

We committed to having a full dialogue and invited comments from all interested parties. Initial views were sought on ideas for improving support for those with mesothelioma, both by improving the systems for dealing with these claims and by better focusing government support. The process has been very constructive, with many thoughtful responses and helpful ongoing dialogue.

A summary of responses to the consultation was published on 1 March and is available at

We know that nearly all mesotheliomas occur as a result of occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos, a legacy of our country’s industrial past.

Today I announce that we are committing, subject to legislative approval, to ensure that everyone with mesothelioma, irrespective of their employment history, can claim a payment as those under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 (“the 1979 Act”). That will mean that, once mesothelioma is diagnosed, every sufferer should have early access to a substantial payment, normally within six weeks of diagnosis, provided that a claim is made immediately.

We intend to achieve this by:

Continuing payments from the 1979 Act to all those who currently receive payments; these will remain at existing levels.

Introducing a compensation recovery process so that payments under the 1979 Act are recovered if a civil compensation claim is subsequently successful, in order to prevent double provision and continue with the policy line that the “polluter pays”.

Introducing compensation payments similar to those from the 1979 Act to people who do not currently receive payments from the 1979 Act. These will initially be at a rate commensurate with what can be afforded out of projected compensation recovery amounts.

Increasing these latter amounts to match those paid to others under the 1979 Act as funds allow.

We are holding a mesothelioma summit today to begin to make these changes a reality. We are also continuing the essential work that is ongoing to speed up the full compensation payments due to many sufferers and their families through the civil claims process, and I am confident that this, too, is already leading to improvements for sufferers. Furthermore, we will look at the state benefit scheme so that the claims process is streamlined to provide an improved service to our customers.

We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that these outcomes are delivered as soon as possible.