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Mesothelioma Bill [HL]

Volume 747: debated on Monday 22 July 2013

Third Reading

Clause 2 : Eligible people with diffuse mesothelioma

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

“(c) the person has not brought an action for damages in respect of the disease against the relevant employer or any insurer with whom the employer maintained employers’ liability insurance at the time of the person’s exposure to asbestos,(ca) the person is unable to bring an action for damages in respect of the disease against any employer of the person or any insurer with whom such an employer maintained employers’ liability insurance (because they cannot be found or no longer exist or for any other reason), and”

My Lords, in speaking to these amendments I hope noble Lords will not mind if I open with a few thanks. First, I thank noble Lords for their consistent and invaluable dedication to this important Bill. The Bill looks quite different now to how it did at Second Reading and it is certainly in better shape for its passage through this House. I never cease to be amazed by the attention to detail and rigour that noble Lords apply when examining a Bill and I admit that I have ruthlessly stolen as many noble Lords’ ideas as I could over the past few weeks.

The Bill as it stands is a collaborative piece. I have listened with great interest to the concerns of noble Lords and responded to the pressure points. Since the Bill was introduced we have been able to renegotiate the rate of payment to 75%, which is in no small part thanks to the pressure exerted by this House. We have pledged to explore the creation of an oversight committee to ensure that the scheme may operate in the most efficient and just way, an idea that I cannot claim credit for. For that, and indeed much more, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness have been kind enough to give their time frequently and I am grateful for their supportive approach and their expertise.

Returning to the issue of scheme management, we have announced that the scheme administrator is to be selected through an open-tender route. I am confident that the scheme that will be set up as a result of this Bill will be the best it can be and will offer financial support to those who, through no fault of their own, have contracted this terrible disease yet cannot sue for damages. This represents a substantial achievement and, once again, one for which I cannot claim all the credit; so I thank noble Lords. My particular thanks go to those who have given so much of their time to contribute to the comprehensive debates we have had. The continued support and attention of the noble Lords, Lord Howarth, Lord Wigley and Lord Avebury, have been key.

One issue that we have discussed at length, and I know that many noble Lords feel strongly about it, was research into mesothelioma. As noble Lords will remember, I mentioned that when negotiating the terms of this Bill, I really hit a brick wall at every turn regarding research. A great debt of thanks must therefore go to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising the awareness of the lack of research in this area and, although we disagreed on the mechanism, the pressure of his amendment has helped me, jointly with my noble friend Lord Howe, to form a strategy for how we might encourage proposals for high-quality research into mesothelioma. On Report last week, my noble friend Lord Howe outlined this strategy, and I thank the noble Earl once again for his support and collaboration on that point. The momentum in this area created by his efforts and the efforts of this House should not be underestimated.

I have tabled one amendment for today and I apologise to the House for its tardiness. The amendment is minor and technical in nature and we will come to it in a moment, but I will quickly say that further thanks are due, this time to the noble Lord, Lord Browne. The purpose of the amendment is simply to add further clarification to Clause 2. It was the noble Lord’s careful scrutiny of that clause that alerted us to a possible source of confusion. The amendment was deemed necessary in cases where an individual had tried but failed to bring a claim against a relevant employer but, where any other relevant employer existed, the individual must attempt to bring a claim against that employer also before being able to come to the scheme. It has always been the policy intention that this scheme must be one of last resort and that all other avenues should be exhausted first. The object of the amendment is only to avoid any misinterpretation of Clause 2.

Before I conclude, I will briefly mention the sterling work of the team behind the scenes. There have been many working in DWP, MoJ, the Department of Health and parliamentary counsel to whom I extend my thanks, including, in the Box, Rose Willis and Fiona Walshe of the Bill team. I pay especial thanks to the tireless work of our redoubtable Bill manager, Lee Eplett, with whom I know many noble Lords have worked during the passage of this Bill.

I know that noble Lords have wished for the Bill to go even further than it does but I hope that they can agree with me that it is a major step forward. The issue of poor record-keeping in the industry has for far too long prevented mesothelioma sufferers from receiving the compensatory payments due to them. The Bill represents substantial progress in rectifying this injustice, and I once again thank noble Lords for their role in this achievement. I beg to move.

My Lords, I speak in support of these amendments to the extent that they improve the Bill. I am pleased to have been of some assistance to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in improving the Bill. I venture to suggest that at one stage he thought that I was perhaps more of an irritation than an assistance on Clause 2. However, important issues still need to be addressed and, if your Lordships’ House will bear with me for a couple of minutes, I shall explain.

My noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton first raised concerns about Clause 2 when he moved Amendment 12 in Committee on 5 June. My noble friend’s contribution spurred my interest, and I recollect making some points of observation in debate. In his response the noble Lord, Lord Freud, initially dismissed these points, but as the debate became more engaged he promised to write. That was because he found himself—I think I quote him properly—“in deep legal territory”, or he was concerned that he might find himself in deep legal territory. He promised to write, and on 7 June he did so. He dismissed my concerns again, but I persisted. Thanks to the engagement of the Bill team, in particular the Bill manager, I was able to find a route of communication with parliamentary counsel about my concerns in relation to Clause 2.

I will not take up the House’s time by going into these in detail, but I remain unconvinced that even an amended paragraph (c) of Clause 2(1) is necessary, except in the most remote, hypothetical circumstances. I commend the ingenuity of those supporting the Minister in trying to find sets of circumstances which justify the words in the first draft of the Bill. In my view, the justifications which I was given were either wrong or showed a repeated misunderstanding of the interaction of other parts of Clause 2 with that very paragraph or, as we got deeper into the weeds in this, a misunderstanding of the relationship between Clause 10 and Clause 2, and then a misunderstanding of the relationship between Clause 2 and its provisions, and the draft set of rules which we were then given. I presume they will now form the template for the regulations which will set out the scheme.

At every point at which a justification was made for the wording there was an inconsistency, which I pointed out. However, having said that, the clarification which the Minister gave in his letter of 7 June that the phrase “the relevant employer” in Clause 2(1)(c) was a reference to the same “a relevant employer” in paragraph (a) of the same subsection, perhaps deals with the issue, at least to some extent. If the Minister finds some way of putting that explanation on the record, it may be sufficient to see off my concerns in the short term. In any event, at this stage I do not intend to persist, now that the paragraph has been divided and recast.

Amendment 1, which would put new paragraph (ca) in Clause 2(1), and Amendment 3, which would put new paragraph (ba) in Clause 3(1), are improvements. I support them without any qualification because they deal directly with my concerns about cases where an employee had multiple employers. It is a simple necessity that at the time of application the employee-applicant, or an eligible dependant, must be unable to bring an action against any of the employers or relevant insurers.

I move now to the consequences of Amendment 5. Amendment 5 is extremely interesting. It would amend Clause 18(3) so that it reads as follows:

“The scheme may specify circumstances in which a person is, or is not, to be treated as able to bring an action for the purposes of section 2(1)(ca) or 3(1)(ba)”.

This is potentially a very significant provision. Remarkably, despite all of the scrutiny it has remained totally unscrutinised. It has now been brought to my attention because of this amendment. I presume that these circumstances will now require to be set out in the regulations which will apply to the scheme—in other words, what were the draft rules that we were given copies of. I went through the draft rules in detail after I received this amendment and could find no references at all to any such circumstances. It seems therefore that a very important part of the structure of this scheme has not been subject to any form of parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that this will be corrected when the Bill goes to the other place. If this provision is necessary, the circumstances that are to be in the scheme ought to be shown to Parliament before parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill is concluded, which it has not been.

Finally, the most important point that has arisen from my engagement beyond Parliament with the Bill team is that during my conversations and in correspondence with those advising the Minister it was explained to me that it was the Government’s intention that, when a person was diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma on or after 25 July 2012 but before the Bill comes into force as an Act, application to the scheme would have to be made and received by the scheme administrator not later than three years after the date on which it comes into force, not three years from 25 July 2012. That would be a very welcome relaxation of the limitation rules, given the nature of this dreadful disease and how quickly it can become fatal.

Unfortunately, the draft rules make no mention of that relaxation and there is no such relaxation anywhere in the Bill. However, there is a very specific relaxation in draft rule 7, where a person has died on or after 25 July 2012 and the claim is made by an eligible dependant. That very significant concession is known to me and is now known to all Members of your Lordships’ House. It requires some parliamentary acknowledgement or commitment, at the very least. More than that, it requires some commitment that the regulations will deal with this in an explicit way.

My Lords, if it is in order to make some brief remarks in the debate on these amendments which go a little wide of them, as the Minister has just done, I will do so now rather than on the Motion that this Bill do now pass. In the absence of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, I will take a chance and hope to have the indulgence of the House. In our proceedings on the Bill, we have considered very closely the predicament of people who have suffered the tragic misfortune of contracting mesothelioma. This predicament has elicited strong feelings of sympathy all around your Lordships’ House. It is the role of your Lordships’ House to advise our elected colleagues in another place and I would like to reflect for just a moment on what the essence of that advice should be.

In the Bill, we are attempting to deal with the consequences of what should certainly be regarded as a major scandal. Of course, among employer’s liability insurers there are many honourable and conscientious people, but in their ranks there have also been, I regret to say, a significant number who have been deeply dishonourable and reckless. Some of the employer’s liability insurers have behaved as badly as the worst of the bankers and the worst of the touts of mortgage loans did in the run-up to the crisis of 2008.

Because of the long latency of mesothelioma and the three to four decades that the disease takes to incubate, there was scope for genuine administrative confusion, but a significant proportion of insurers have managed to lose the documentation that would have enabled mesothelioma sufferers to make a claim against their employer, or their employer’s successor, and perhaps to make their case in the civil courts. Within that number, it is very clear that there were also significant numbers of insurers who wilfully destroyed that documentation. Such negligence and criminality in relation to people who are doomed to suffer from this most horrible illness and to die of it seems peculiarly cynical and, I would say, depraved. There has been the inhumanity of that but there is also another fundamental issue at stake; the proper administration of contracts is fundamental to the functioning of a free-enterprise economy and to the maintenance of trust in society.

We have all admired and applauded the Minister who, building on the initiative of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, negotiated with employer’s liability insurers the scheme that this Bill would legislate. The Minister and his officials have invariably been helpful to us, and he was most generous in his remarks just now about noble Lords who have participated in these proceedings. As he said, it has been a collaborative process. We recognise and thank him for the improvements that he has made to this scheme during the passage of the Bill—the raising of the rate of payment to 75%; his agreement that details of the scheme should be brought in by regulation; his acceptance of the principle of an oversight committee; and his decision that the scheme should go out to open tender. I am sure that he will continue to give attention to the significant issues raised just now by my noble friend Lord Browne. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a very constructive set of proposals in response to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on how to facilitate and fund further research into mesothelioma.

The difficulty that the Minister has had, and one that we entirely understand, is that having conducted his negotiation with the industry and reached an agreement with it, he has found it very difficult to budge from the exact terms of that agreement. I do not think that Parliament is bound by the terms of an agreement negotiated between the Government and the industry. Indeed, it is the responsibility of Parliament to improve the scheme further if we can in the public interest. There is therefore a small number of issues which we should commend to our colleagues in the House of Commons for their further consideration. I hope that they will want to look again at the rate of payment and the date for eligibility. I very much hope that they will want to look at the plight of people who are at the moment excluded from the scope of the scheme, such as members of the households of people who were employed and exposed to asbestos, where the employee has not so far contracted the disease but the household member, perhaps someone who did the household laundry and washed the contaminated overalls brought back from the workplace, has contracted it. People in that situation are not covered by the scheme. The self-employed too, even if self-employment was something of a technicality, will not be eligible to benefit. I hope also that the Government will after all agree that there should be an annual report on the progress of the scheme to assist Parliament in its necessary further vigilance in the interests of mesothelioma victims.

I know the Minister has been fearful that if such refinements to the scheme were to be brought in by way of amendments to the Bill, the insurance industry would take away its bat and ball and revert to its customary position of taking legal action to prevent the Government from requiring it to do what in decency and justice it ought to do. Of course, we do not want to see any delays to the implementation of the Bill. I hope that Members of the House of Commons will take the view that a legal case by the employers against minor improvements of this kind to the Bill would be very weak indeed, given that they have accepted the principle that there ought to be a scheme of this kind which they should fund. My noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton has demonstrated that the costs of such improvements would be affordable, and I do not believe that the employer’s liability insurers would be so shameless as to go to court to try to prevent these modest further improvements and further advance of justice for mesothelioma victims.

In the course of our proceedings on this Bill in your Lordships’ House we have defined the issues and laid out arguments and I very much hope that our colleagues in the elected House will wish to pursue these issues.

My Lords, I had not expected to rise at this stage of the debate but, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I feel compelled to do so on behalf of the insurance industry, as he has made a serious allegation of fundamental dishonesty within it. I remind the House that I myself have stood trial in the USA on a charge that would have got me 24 years in the slammer, and was acquitted. At issue was the integrity and honesty of the British insurance industry, for which I signed the audit certificate that led to the ultimate creation of Equitas. The noble Lord should remember that we are a very public arena, and that there are many in the world with other motives who will look to get any crumb of comfort that they can to mount an action that would lead to a financial advantage for them.

The issue on which I was arraigned in the Justice Courts in New York was that, with the fundamental insolvency of Lloyd’s of London totally at issue, I had signed an audit certificate that said it was solvent when it was not. I had seven days’ non-stop interrogation on the subject, but I won. I would like to go on the record to this gathering, for the outside world as well, about why I won so that we may not find that we are undermining the integrity and financial security of the insurance industry on which this scheme will depend. There is no point in us busting the world of the insurance industry for the sake of the Bill and getting nothing.

The point was that I had signed an audit certificate to say that Lloyd’s of London was solvent and could meet all its liabilities, at a time when most people believed that it could not. I relied upon Section 18(1) of the Insolvency Act, which by the greatest irony I wrote when I was assistant to Sir Kenneth Cork in drafting it. The Act makes very specific statements about what justifies a claim for solvency, and I claimed that those conditions were met in the case of Lloyd’s. The ultimate proof that it was is the fact that Equitas, whose creation by Lloyd’s of London I chaired, has been sold to Warren Buffett for an enormous amount of money, with a guarantee that he will fulfil Equitas’s entire liabilities. In the process, he will pick up about £3 billion in pocket money for himself, and good luck to him.

The events of those days cast a very long shadow. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, may be right in his comment that there was dishonesty in the loss of documentation and the avoidance of liability by those devious means, but there is no question of integrity in the industry with which we are dealing. It is adequately funded and has adequate backing, and it is completely solvent for the discharge of all the liabilities that we want to meet, including those that we are discussing in the Bill. It would be an outrageous act of complete disregard for the facts of history and the integrity of the industry if we were to cast any doubts on its ability to stand behind its liabilities. The issue is that there are these liabilities but there are the reserves in the world for them—you just have to find the key to unlock them, and the Bill is a wonderful part of the process of doing that. There is no question of the integrity of the industry regarding its solvency.

I hope that the noble Lord will accept that I did not in any way impugn the general integrity of the industry, let alone cast doubt on its solvency or its capacity to meet its obligations. I asserted, and I believe this to be correct, that there were within that industry at one time people who behaved dishonestly and, because it was convenient to them, allowed that documentation to go missing.

I thank the noble Lord for that. I hope that he will appreciate that my concern was that I did not want to start the forthcoming Session by doing the perp walk down the middle of a 747 on an extradition order back to the USA.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has done for these unfortunate people, but I very much hope that there will be an increase in research. If there is a will, I am sure that there will be a way of finding a cure.

My Lords, before the Bill passes and goes on to another place, I want to add a few words to those that have been spoken. I specifically support what the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said earlier about the limitations and relaxations that may well occur in Amendment 5. Like him, I hope that when the Bill goes to another place it will be subject to further scrutiny.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I hope that the other place will look further at those who will be eligible under the scheme because of the start date. These are questions we debated in Committee and on Report, and I am sure that Members of another place will want to look at them. In particular, I hope that they will look at those people who will not qualify because the scheme was introduced on the last day of the last Session last year instead of on the commencement date of the consultation period and, in particular, at those people who contracted mesothelioma during that period. Even if small numbers are involved, it would be good if people who fall outside the scheme as currently drafted could be brought in.

In Committee, I paid tribute to the noble Lord and said that it would be unfair to criticise him for omissions in the Bill because in his discussions with the insurance industry he has done all that he possibly can to bring into its scope as many groups of people as humanly possible and to set the bar at whatever figure he was able to negotiate. Indeed, I join other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to him for being able to lift it from 70% to 75% during our proceedings. I, too, feel this is an issue of justice, and for those who believe that 100% compensation should have been given to them because of a disease that is not just life-threatening but life-taking, there will still be disappointment in some quarters. Although some of the victim support groups that have done huge amounts of work in supporting Members of your Lordships’ House as the Bill has gone through its various stages will be disappointed, I think many would agree that for those who would fall through the net—probably 300 people a year among the 2,200—this offers real hope. It would be grudging, curmudgeonly even, for me not to pay tribute to the noble Lord as others have done for what has been achieved, and I am indeed grateful for that.

The noble Lord referred to the oversight committee that will be established. That is a good step forward. We all owe a debt to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the work he has put in, not just now but previously in trying to shape legislation before the previous general election, to do something about a horrendous disease which, as we know, takes more than 2,000 lives every year in this country and which official figures predict will take a further 56,000 lives. As I mentioned on Report last week, new research from Cambridge University suggests that a combination of the BRIC countries and new forms of fibres that are coming into being could lead to a second wave of mesothelioma in future.

That takes me to the amendment that I moved last week which was lost by seven votes. I was obviously disappointed that the amendment was not passed. I am sure the issue will be returned to in another place, and I wish my friend and colleague Mr Paul Goggins MP well. I am sure he will try to build a cross-party coalition on this issue when another place returns to this question.

Another way of looking at the issue is by the Government being asked to look at the creation of a national research centre, a centre of excellence, specifically geared to the study of mesothelioma. I cannot think of any other disease that has taken so many lives and that will take so many lives in future that affects ordinary British citizens up and down the length and breadth of this land which has had such zero-sum funding. I know that the Minister and I are at one on this. We both agree that it has been a scandal that it has been so badly funded, so while congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on securing the defeat of my amendment last week—it is good to see him sitting below the gangway for today’s debate—I hope that the proposals he laid before us will be implemented. For me as a parliamentarian, my desire is always to see something written in a Bill. Statutory provision is the one guarantee we have in bringing and holding Ministers to account. Even good Ministers have their day, and they are succeeded by others who might not be quite so well intentioned or so committed to the cause as the two Ministers who have been dealing with this Bill and this question.

Therefore, I am sorry that it is not in statutory provision, but I am glad that an increased emphasis will be placed on finding resources and ways forward in combating mesothelioma. We could not possibly remove asbestos from every public building and private home in the land, and people will contract mesothelioma for years to come through exposure to asbestos. The answer is surely to find out why this disease, which we have known about since 1930 and which has this horrendous hibernation period, affects people in the way it does and whether there is a way to combat it. Obviously the fact that it hibernates for so long suggests that there might be ways to neutralise it. This is surely where we should put our resources in the future.

I join other noble Lords in thanking not just the Minister but the Bill team and all those who have been so courteous throughout our proceedings. During the meetings I had with the Minister and with members of his Bill team I was struck by their commitment and their professionalism and dedication. Your Lordships’ House is extremely well served.

My Lords, last time I declared an interest as someone who had worked in the asbestos industry and I made a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which I have researched further. That is that the amount of clean-up that will have to take place over many years is the perfect target for a levy that might be placed upon it for research purposes.

My Lords, before I seek the same dispensation that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, sought at the beginning of his speech, I will say a few words about the amendments which are before us in order to give my noble friend time to locate the answers to them.

I appreciate all the work that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has done to get to this point. He referred to remote and hypothetical places where things might occur. I hope that what I will say is not hypothetical, although I suspect that it will be remote. I am worried about the omission of the words,

“at the time of the person’s exposure to asbestos”,

from the new provisions now proposed as Clause 2(1)(ca) and Clause 3(1)(ba). The hypothetical, or rather remote situation, is the following. A company at the time of a person’s exposure did not have employer’s liability insurance—it was behaving negligently—and subsequently, when that person had left that company’s employment, it secured employer’s liability insurance in order to become compliant. As this is written, that would mean that there could be a possible—or not possible—claim against that employer’s liability insurance, which was subsequent to that person’s period of employment. That very remote case leads me to wonder about the omission of those words from the second part of each of those clauses and whether they need to be inserted, or rather made clear. Of course, maybe this could occur in the regulations that may follow from the rules of the scheme that pursues this.

I will quickly say a few words about the Bill. As regards the achievements that noble Lords have made in this House and the work they have done towards the changes that have been made to the Bill, in each of those three or four key issues there has been a change and a degree of success which we ought to recognise. I will first address independence and oversight, which was raised by noble Lords from all sides of this Chamber. They are both very important: the first ensures that the people who manage the process do not rule the way it operates, and the second ensures that there is a degree of observation of how it is run by all those who are, if you like, the actors on the stage who are affected by this dreadful disease.

The second issue is that of research. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already referred to the work which is being done by the two Ministers present today, my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Freud. Clearly, there are differences of view as to how that might happen—statutory versus non-statutory. That is probably the way this House deals with issues: they have been raised, and although the solutions may not be the same ones that noble Lords wanted, they are, none the less, an approach to doing research into this disease.

One way in which we can keep track of what is happening in this area is by scrutiny of Ministers. It is not a matter of whether the Minister who follows is a good Minister—to rephrase the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—but of being able to hold Ministers to account. That is what Parliament can and should do. These things should not be kept from the public eye. I am sure that, in years to come, noble Lords will pursue this issue strongly with Ministers of whatever persuasion, from whichever part of the House they come, in order to ensure that we better understand this dreadful disease and how it can be treated and ameliorated. It is important also to take an international approach and work with those who suffer from this dreadful disease in other parts of the world.

The third area that has been of importance to your Lordships’ House during the course of the Bill is the level of compensation. Clearly, a major issue at the beginning was the percentage of civil damages that was to be given, according to a ratio or tariff. Noble Lords sought to raise the bar. There was some success, and, given the public interest in these matters, clearly on one side you wish to ensure as much compensation as you can, quite rightly, for sufferers who cannot trace their employer or their employer’s insurance company. However, you do not want to put another burden on companies that are not responsible for what happened, which would in turn pass on the costs to customers, who would have to pay them. We may not have reached the right balance but I pay tribute to the Minister for moving the bar upwards against all the pressure he was put under during the passage of the Bill.

There are ways in which the Bill can become a model for dealing with other forms of industrial illness relating to asbestos, and with other industrial diseases. The situations may not be exactly the same because, appropriately, this measure is directed at a unique and terminal illness that is dreadful in every aspect. However, it may be that we can derive other models from some of the work that has been done in the Bill.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister on his personal commitment. Many noble Lords will know that he has personally taken this as a challenge that he will see to its conclusion. The job was started by the previous Government, and the noble Lord has obviously taken it a step forward from where it was left by that Government. I pay tribute to the starting point. However, to see it to its completion, having undertaken what must have been horrendous negotiations with people who were not responsible but who had to pay for the people who were responsible and had disappeared off the scene, cannot have been easy. When eventually the fly on the wall in those meeting rooms publishes its memoirs, I am sure that we will be able to see the level of pressure brought by the Minister. From these Benches, I congratulate him and say that it was a job well done. We have taken a step that will lead us in future to deal with problems associated with this disease in an appropriate way. I hope that we will see an early start to implementation, so that people will no longer have to wait for compensation in cases where their former employer, or its insurance company, has gone out of business.

My Lords, perhaps, in summing up, the Minister could address two matters that were raised last week, one by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and one by him. First, I think it is true to say that during the proceedings a cocktail of suggestions were made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as to how research could be opened up, extended and encouraged. Secondly, I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who sought from the noble Earl an undertaking to look at a reporting mechanism so that we might have some way of following progress. Can the Minister say when he feels that it will be possible to initiate this process, and can he keep us informed of the progress being made with regard to the research, which is so critical for the future?

We keep repeating the mantra about how 56,000 people in this country may yet contract this disease. However, I remind noble Lords that western countries are exporting the disease to south-east Asia, where I believe it is a disease of the future, not a disease of the past. Together with our colleagues in the European Union, we ought to be looking even harder at whether there are certain things that can be justified.

I join in the thanks to the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as well as to the Bill team, for the work that they have put into this. Whatever shortcomings some people may feel there are, I believe that significant progress has been made with this legislation.

My Lords, we support these amendments, which were spoken to by the Minister some little while ago. We do so in the confidence of having received advice from my noble friend Lord Browne, to whom I pay tribute for his tenacity in pressing certain points, even at Third Reading, and for the food for thought that he has left for colleagues in another place, added to that suggested by my noble friend Lord Howarth and the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

We have heaped praise on the Minister for all his efforts in developing and bringing forward this scheme, and we should do so again this afternoon—in particular, for his determination to have a co-operative approach to a scheme which, sadly, will have to last for many years. This has been reflected in the welcome approach of the Bill team, for which we are very grateful, and indeed in the attitude adopted by all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Sherlock in particular.

Of course, we would have hoped that the scheme would go further, especially in terms of the level of payment. However, we have something solid and substantial to build on in both another place and with a future Government.

I have a final word for all those who have campaigned on behalf of people who are or will be affected by this terrible disease. They, too, can be justifiably proud of what has been achieved so far. It will be their efforts that continue to remind us of what we still have left to do.

My Lords, I shall just tidy up the questions that noble Lords have raised. I turn, first, to the concerns about the scheme rules raised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, who takes pride of place in terms of specificity. He was looking at the draft rules, and we will update them to reflect the points that he has made. I do not have an answer for him right now concerning the discrepancy between “a relevant” and “the relevant” employer but I will write to him over the summer. If possible, I should like to borrow his expertise in the coming months. We are still seeing the Bill through and I retain overall responsibility for making sure that it gets through in good shape. Perhaps I may borrow the noble Lord to go through some of these points with the Bill team, because he seems to have been most effective and helpful.

My noble friend Lord German raised related points concerning a company which is uninsured at the point of exposure and which later moves on. If the employer still exists, a claim would have to be made against that employer. If the employer no longer exists and no employer liability insurer can be identified, the person could come to the scheme. That is relatively straightforward to address.

I should take up the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who has been utterly assiduous in looking through the Bill, for which I thank him. I will touch on some of the points that he commends to another place. These issues are very specific, so the rate that we can pay is tied very much to the risks that the costs get passed on to British business. The start date is very much tied to the structure of the smoothing that we have, so that would be very difficult to change. We also have a problem with the household member concerned because it is cover not from employer liability but from public liability. We look at the point on annual reporting in the context of how the oversight committee works.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on research, we are having a meeting later this week on this issue with key players, launched by the British Lung Foundation. My noble friend Lord Howe and I will be there, and it might be a useful place to discuss how we might look at the progress of research. While we did not agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, we very much agree with the sentiment behind his motivation for raising the issue because something most disturbing was happening with the lack of research. We are looking for the very best way of making sure that we have quality research. I know that my noble friend Lord Howe went through that in great detail and that he has put a lot of energy into ensuring that we transform that situation. With that, I beg to move.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 16 to 18

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 3 : Eligible dependants

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 3, page 2, line 26, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) no one has brought an action for damages in respect of the disease under the fatal accidents legislation, or on behalf of the estate of the person with the disease, against the relevant employer or any insurer with whom the employer maintained employers’ liability insurance at the time of that person’s exposure to asbestos,“(ba) no one is able to bring an action for damages in respect of the disease under the fatal accidents legislation, or on behalf of the estate of the person with the disease, against any employer of the person with the disease or any insurer with whom such an employer maintained employers’ liability insurance (because they cannot be found or no longer exist or for any other reason), and”

Amendment 3 agreed.

Clause 18 : Defined terms used in more than one section of this Act

Amendments 4 and 5

Moved by

4: Clause 18, page 10, leave out line 32

5: Clause 18, page 10, line 47, leave out “2(1)(c) or 3(1)(b)” and insert “2(1)(ca) or 3(1)(ba)”

Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.

A privilege amendment was made.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.