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Employment: Liability Insurance

Volume 715: debated on Monday 30 November 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to assist industrial accident and disease victims whose employers’ liability insurance policies cannot be traced.

My Lords, state support is available through the industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme and additionally, for some dust-related diseases, lump-sum awards are payable for those who cannot obtain civil damages.

We are actively considering measures both to improve the processes for tracking and tracing employment and insurance records—including establishing a database of all current and future employers’ liability policies and those historic policies that have been identified—and to support individuals who are unable to trace such records.

I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he not aware that, especially as far as long-latency diseases are concerned, it can be impossible to trace the insurer because records have been lost or destroyed? That means that people cannot claim compensation, which they need and deserve. That may affect many vulnerable people. Would it not be possible to move towards the establishment of what one could call a fund of last resort in order that individuals who otherwise would not be able to claim compensation for serious injuries that they sustain at work could then obtain compensation through that means?

My Lords, we fully accept that the current arrangements for tracing employers’ liability insurance policies are not satisfactory and that too many individuals are not able to access the compensation that they deserve, particularly in relation to long-latency diseases such as mesothelioma. As well as the database that I just mentioned, we are looking keenly at establishing an employers’ liability insurance bureau exactly as my noble friend suggests—a fund of last resort. We are actively working on that proposition that I hope to be able to say more about it shortly.

My Lords, to what extent are my Government consulting the TUC? After all, if more workers were members of trade unions, their cases would be looked after much more strongly.

My Lords, I acknowledge to my noble friend that trade unions are heavily involved in this, as they should be. They have great experience and are often intimately involved in helping people receive justice. As well as discussions with the ABI, trade unions are involved.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether a no-fault system would speed up rehabilitation and reduce legal costs?

Yes, my Lords, there is merit in that proposition. Existing arrangements through the IIDB scheme are essentially no-fault arrangements. Certainly, it is it is not only a question of being able to access compensation at the end of the day; the process and the costs involved are an important issue. The bureau for the fund of last resort could play a significant part in reducing those costs.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the last people to suffer as a result of these industrial accidents and illnesses should be the very people themselves? Some arrangement should be made for a fund of last resort along the lines suggested by my noble friend who asked the Question.

My Lords, as I said, that is something that we are actively looking at. Of course, there are tracing arrangements at the moment. Although they have improved in performance, there is still a long way to go. If you look at the most recent data for mesothelioma claims, you will see that only 52 per cent of claimants are able to trace a policy. Since 1972, employers’ liability insurance has been compulsory, so that is not a good outcome. We need to do better.

My Lords, having listened to the Minister’s answers, it is clear that he accepts the basic premise behind the Question. However, could he give us a rough timescale for when he thinks any scheme that is a protector of last resort will come into being?

My Lords, I cannot give a precise timetable. We wish to move ahead and examine this quickly, by which I mean in a matter of weeks, rather than months. It is not only the bureau itself; there is merit also in having a tracing office to replace the current code of practice so that progress can be made on current and future policies, as well as the fund of last resort, which is—effectively—to look at policies from the past which cannot be traced.