Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.
Relevant document: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, and the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. I am required to confirm to the Committee that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy to do so.
These two regulations will increase by 1.2% the lump sum amounts payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. These new amounts will be paid to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 April 2015. These two 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 confirm the increase of the amounts payable for 2015 by the consumer price index. This is the same 1.2% rate that is being applied to industrial injuries disablement benefit and some other social security disability benefits under the main social security uprating provisions.
The Government recognise that people suffering from diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos or one of a number of other listed agents may be unable to bring a successful claim for civil damages relating to their disease. This is mainly due to the long latency period between exposure and onset of the disease, often stretching back decades. Also, even pursuing a claim can take some time. We therefore fulfil an important role by providing lump sum compensation payments to sufferers of certain asbestos-related diseases through these two schemes. This does not debar a civil claim, which can still be pursued. These government schemes also aim to ensure that sufferers receive compensation while they themselves can still benefit from it, without first having to await the outcome of civil litigation.
Improved health and safety procedures have restricted the use of asbestos and provided a safer environment for its handling. However, the historic legacy of the common use of asbestos is still with us. That is why we are ensuring that financial compensation from both these schemes is available to those affected. I will very briefly summarise the specific purpose of these lump sum compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 scheme—which for simplicity I shall refer to as the 1979 Act scheme—provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who suffer from one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme but are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business and 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, byssinosis and primary carcinoma of the lung, if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payments scheme was introduced to provide compensation to people who contracted diffuse mesothelioma but were unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act—for example, because their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 scheme means that payments can be made quickly to diffuse mesothelioma sufferers at their time of greatest need. Under both schemes, a claim can be made by a dependant if the sufferer has died before being able to make a claim.
The rates payable under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the level of the disablement assessment and the age of the sufferer at the time the disease is diagnosed. The highest amounts are made to those diagnosed at an early age and with the highest level of disablement. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma under the 1979 Act scheme are made at the 100% disablement rate—the highest rate of payment. Similarly, all payments under the 2008 scheme are made at that 100% rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest sufferers.
I will give some detailed figures on claims and monies paid out under the two schemes. In the last full year from April 2013 to March 2014, 3,300 people received payments under the 1979 Act, amounting to £45.1 million; 440 people received payments under the 2008 scheme, amounting to £9.4 million. The total compensation paid out under both schemes during this period was therefore £54.5 million.
Around half of payments made under the Government’s 1979 Act scheme are for diffuse mesothelioma. I know the occurrences of diffuse mesothelioma are a particular concern of Members, with the number of deaths in Great Britain continuing to rise. It is a fatal disease caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Those diagnosed usually have a short life expectancy, generally between nine and 12 months, with the sufferer becoming severely disabled soon after diagnosis. The rise in the number of cases reflects the long latency period of the disease, which can take decades to become apparent. Latest available information suggests that deaths will continue to increase to a peak of around 2,500 in 2018 and then start to fall, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures following its peak use in the 1960s and 1970s.
These regulations increase the levels of support through the government compensation schemes and I am sure we all agree that while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families for the suffering and loss caused by this disease and the other dust-related diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who are suffering rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. The government schemes go some way to ensuring that they receive it as soon as possible. I commend the increase of the payment scales and ask approval to implement them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the regulations today. He has talked about some very significant sums of money to assist some of those who, through either pneumoconiosis or mesothelioma, have had a death sentence merely as a result of their going out to work. I commend the Government for the uprating that they have announced today.
I have some questions for the Minister. He rightly said that Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House have been anxious, first in supporting the Government in the provisions of the Mesothelioma Act last year, but also in pressing for far more resources to be made available, both to those who have been victims of mesothelioma and for the important work involved in research in finding cures and the causes of mesothelioma.
I notice that the Government say in the Explanatory Note:
“An impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument”.
Although I realise that that is a fairly technical thing and it is not a requirement for the Government to do that in this case, I wonder if that might be reviewed for the future, with regard to such an impact statement and assessment along the lines that the Minister has just referred to. I was not certain what he meant about the year in which he said the number of mesothelioma victims was likely to peak. Perhaps he could repeat it.
It was 2018.
The year is 2018. It is very helpful to know that that is the case. That seems to differ from some of the dates that have previously been given by Ministers and in parliamentary replies.
Will the Minister assure me about continuing assessments, so that when these regulations come forward—alas, they will come forward on a regular basis—we can have much more up-to-date information about the total numbers and how the trajectory appears to be working out? I hear very different accounts from people who say that, as a result of diagnosis now being made in a different way from the past, the numbers are being assessed in different ways. Quite alarmingly, we see the incidence of mesothelioma in non-traditional groups. Those of us who have represented sufferers—through the trade union movement, in the case of some noble Lords here, or by representing constituencies, particularly in urban areas—have always been used to meeting people who worked as tunnellers or masons, or in traditional heavy industries. However, there is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in the number of people who present with the disease for no apparent reason—people who are domestic workers, who perhaps have just been at home or who work in schools, and particularly people in the Armed Forces.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who mentioned in the House people he had been at Dartmouth with and literally playing snowballs with asbestos at that time, not realising the dangers. He mentioned the number of significant figures in the Royal Navy who had contracted mesothelioma and subsequently died. One of the things that I would specifically like to see in an impact statement would be categories of workers, such as those in the Armed Forces, for which we monitored the number of deaths from mesothelioma that were recorded so that we had a far better idea of the impact that this was having. I know that there will be particular interest from a number of those from the Armed Forces who have been following our debates. It was wonderful that the noble Lord, Lord West, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others, were able to meet some of those from the Royal Navy who have contracted mesothelioma, here in your Lordships’ House just a couple of weeks ago.
The Explanatory Note also says:
“It is intended that these rates will be reviewed each year”.
Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether that will always be in accordance with the consumer prices index, as it has been on this occasion.
I shall return to a Question that I raised on the Floor of your Lordships’ House on 9 December, which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on behalf of the Government. It touches directly on the allocation of money, and where it comes from, regarding some of the payments that are made to those who have become victims of mesothelioma. During the passage of the 2014 Act, Ministers said that the levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3%; in fact, the quote from the Minister in another place was:
“Three per cent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.––[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Public Bill Committee, 12/12/2013; col. 117.]
I asked this on 9 December and I ask it again today: why then has it been set at 2.2% when that original undertaking was given by the Government? That represents a shortfall from the insurance industry of around £11 million, so this is not a small sum of money. Although I welcome the subsequent uprating that the Government have announced in the total amounts of money that victims will be awarded under that legislation, I wonder whether there is a shortfall that still can be reclaimed from the industry and which might therefore be used to assist with the problem of research.
I moved an amendment in your Lordships’ House—I think it was defeated by a majority of about seven—which would have placed a requirement on all insurance companies to contribute to another levy to provide for mesothelioma research. I commend those insurance companies, and there are two big players, which have continued to step up to the plate to provide contributions towards research, voluntarily and without a statute. They put the other companies, of which around 150 are involved, to shame but what they contribute is far from enough. It also raises the question of why more public funding is not provided to tackle the disease.
I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm a figure. The Government have previously said to me that around 50,000 to 60,000 people will die of mesothelioma over the next 20 to 30 years. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who is also the Government’s chief scientific adviser for health, has said:
“I hope the research community will now respond by generating new research proposals that will provide robust evidence to help people with mesothelioma”.
What I have quoted was also said by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who said:
“There needs to be a certainty that the money is there but the top-level researchers also need to be aware of it so that the money and the level of the research capability are brought together”.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, also said:
“The funding is very much there”.—[Official Report, 9/12/14; col. 1711.]
However, that seems to contrast with both the Question that I tabled in your Lordships’ House and a letter which I have received from him.
The Question I refer to was answered as recently as 23 February where, in a table, the Government say that there have been four successful applications. One of them is “Subject to contract” and the others have been successful in coming forward to tackle mesothelioma. But then there are several applications which have been turned down, and which were for substantial sums of money. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how this therefore accords with the idea that there are plenty of applications and that they have been sufficiently successful, because that does not seem to be the case.
In the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, wrote to me on 16 December 2014, following the exchanges on the Floor of the House, he said:
“In the last five financial years, the MRC and NICR have received just over twenty applications for grants or fellowships that relate to research on mesothelioma. Of these eight applications were successful resulting in an average success rate of 40%”.
That does not seem to be a very high success rate when we are dealing with the potential loss of life of so many British people, who have contracted this disease simply as a result of going out to work.
During the debate on my Question the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, told your Lordships that his own wife had died of mesothelioma. A few days ago, along with the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Saatchi, I met the British Lung Foundation. I met a brilliant young woman who is a registrar in London. She told me that she is the only person working anywhere in the world on an innovatory treatment, using adult stem cells which are targeted at mesothelioma cells. She says that that has proved extremely successful in the animal models that have been used. My heart rose when I heard that, and there are other examples that I could cite but I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships’ time today. Surely this is how we must proceed. During that meeting, she told us that it would take £2.5 million to move from the stage that she has reached now on to clinical trials. Again, that does not seem an outrageous sum of money in terms of what we need to do.
As a result of bringing forward these regulations today, I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances that he will return to the House—with a letter that can be sent to Members of the Committee, with further written replies to Parliamentary Questions or in Statements to the House—to tell us what progress is being made to ensure that we tackle this problem at source. Otherwise, I suspect that year after year, for the next 20 or 30 years, we will be gathering in places like the Moses Room and looking at lists of people for whom compensation is being given to deal with the effects of a disease which at the moment has no cure and which wreaks such tragedy in the lives of so many ordinary working people in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the assiduity with which he pursues the case for the sufferers of mesothelioma, and in particular for the plea that he has just made that those conducting research into a cure for this horrible disease should receive more favourable treatment. Whether that should come out of the 3% levy or from some other source is a matter that we were talking about just before we came into this debate. I know that there are other sources and I hope that the researcher whom he mentioned, who has got as far as she has in using adult stem cells to treat sufferers of mesothelioma, will be able to secure grants from one of them. The noble Lord showed me a list of other applications that have been made but which have not been successful. I very much regret that the sources of funding for research into a cure for mesothelioma have not been more forthcoming in the cases that he mentioned.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his careful explanation of the regulations. I have discussed them with Mr Doug Jewell, the chairman of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, who told me that the forum is pleased that the Government are raising the payments by 1.2%—the same as the increase in social security payments—although they were not obliged to do so by the primary legislation. I thought that it would be even better if the Government undertook to make uprating in line with social security payments obligatory, in primary legislation, when a suitable opportunity arose. It seems that they have every intention of following that path, but it could be an additional safeguard under future Governments if these upratings were in line with those promised for social security payments. Perhaps the Minister could say something about that in the course of his reply.
The forum is also happy with the statement that was made by my noble friend Lord Freud on 10 February, increasing the tariff of payments made under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme—the DMPS—from 80% to 100% of the average payment made on civil claims for those diagnosed from that day onwards. My noble friend said that this was possible because the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office—the ELTO—had been increasingly successful in tracing insurance policies, enabling victims of the disease to pursue a remedy from the companies that issued the policies.
My honourable friend the Member for the Forest of Dean said that that uprating could not be retrospective to the start of the DMPS last July because it was usual for upratings of benefits to be paid from the date of the announcement. In this case, however, the initial decision to pay only 80% of the average civil claims payment was based on a miscalculation of the success rate in tracing insurers. The Government may have needed to be careful not to exceed the 3% gross premiums cap on the contribution to the scheme which had been agreed with the insurance industry, so I assume that they worked on the assumption that the number of successful civil claims would remain constant, and so would the number of claims under the scheme, making no allowance for the work of ELTO. If that is the case, and the decision to pay only 80% was based on a miscalculation, will the Minister please tell your Lordships what the levy is expected to be as a percentage of gross premiums in its first year with the scheme as it is, and what it would have been if the scheme had paid out 100% from the start? I understand that 3% of gross premiums would be £43.6 million, that the cost of the scheme as it is would be £32 million, and that backdating the payment of 100% of civil claims to last July would be £5 million, so that the total would still be well within the 3% gross premiums cap.
These regulations cover the related question of payments under the 2008 lump-sum payments scheme and the workers compensation Act 1979, as my noble friend has explained. These payments are also uprated by 1.2%, so that a person of the Minister’s age—I am talking about my noble friend Lord Freud—and diagnosed in July would receive the princely sum of £23,881. Someone of my age would receive £13,445. Neither of those amounts would provide financial security for the victim’s partner or dependants when the patient died, as they do within an average of 12 months from diagnosis.
But the situation is even worse if the claim is submitted after the victim dies. Patients with mesothelioma realise only too well that their life expectancy is limited, and one of their main concerns is the financial security of their dependants after they die. Most of them manage to submit claims themselves, obviously while they are still living, knowing that the amount paid out in a posthumous claim is greatly reduced. In the case of a patient of my age, a surviving spouse would receive £7,462. Thus, of the 3,770 payments that were made in 2014, only 360 were posthumous. The DWP estimates that it would cost another £2 million to equalise payments between sufferers and their nearest and dearest. Will the Minister please explain on what assumptions that calculation has been based? Does it take into account the substantial incentive that patients have to make a claim so that the number of posthumous claims would decline as time passes?
The forum also suggests that the DWP’s figure does not take into account the sums that are recouped when the applicant is eligible for the DMPS, which they say would amount to £960,000, making the net cost of uprating just over £1 million instead of £2 million. The argument for moving towards equalisation relies not on the relatively small cost in relation to the social security budget as a whole, but on the fact that because of sufferers’ short life expectancy, the beneficiaries of compensation schemes were always going to be mainly their spouses and children, not the applicants themselves, and it was illogical to divide them into two classes according to the date when the claim was made.
The forum also points out the unanimous view of parliamentarians and stakeholders, which was acknowledged by the DWP in the person of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, when he was Minister in 2010, that the difference in payments was “unfair and unhelpful”. He added £5,000 to the amount that dependants would otherwise have received under the regulations then under consideration, which he said went some way towards our commitment to bridge the gap.
It is an ancient principle of law that when Governments enter into commitments the public faith is thereby pledged and cannot be lightly abrogated by their successors. I know that neither my noble friend Lord Freud nor his predecessors since the coalition came into office have said that equalisation has been abandoned, but they rely on the argument that in the prevailing economic climate the cost would be too high. I hope my noble friend can say in replying to this debate that the Government are still committed in principle to eliminating the difference and that if the economic conditions continue on their present trajectory, they will do so if they remain in office after the election.
My Lords, as a former president of the TUC, I reiterate the tribute to the trade union movement for its identification and campaigning on this issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has mentioned, it was a tremendously long time after the start of the trade unions’ campaign before there was any official recognition. I also speak having had a sister-in-law who died of mesothelioma. I am currently the chair of the oversight committee of the mesothelioma fund. The fund was set up after debate by this Parliament and is a matter for congratulation on all sides. I will not say too much about the work of that committee as I am not sure how appropriate that is.
I will say something first about the non-traditional industries that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned. It would not be appropriate for the oversight committee to take responsibility for this, but the DWP could undertake more publicity about the so-called non-traditional industries. I will mention jewellery repairs as an example that may surprise some. In the old days, particularly in the big centres where there was a jewellery quarter, the glossy shops would take the jewellery that needed repairing off to somewhere else. There would be asbestos benches and the workers would sit with their chin virtually on the bench, scraping grooves into the asbestos to put the mould in so that they could secure the jewellery. Some people worked in these sorts of surroundings for years, but it may not have been an obvious area for others to identify what was wrong with them. They therefore may not know that the disease could have happened as a result of their work in the 1950s and 1960s. In some of the non-traditional industries there was consistent exposure to asbestos but it is not so well known as in some of the traditional industries.
Often when people worked in factories, they were called, for instance, warehousemen. That covered a multitude of sins in the 1950s and 1960s. They were not always warehousemen at all; sometimes they swept up pure asbestos from factory floors. The term “warehouseman” was simply a designation of the grade or the pay rather than an accurate job description. We were all a bit more casual about job descriptions in those days, compared with the rather minute detail that we seem to go into now. Again, it would be useful if some publicity could be given to the fact that job descriptions did not always accurately describe the work that was done. Some publicity by the DWP would be very welcome.
One of the awful things about this dreadful disease is that by the time it is diagnosed people are sometimes so ill, and their families so upset, that the last thing they think of doing is filling in a form. I know that we are supposed to live in a “compensation culture” age, although personally I do not believe that, but some of these families have to be dragged kicking and screaming to fill in a form when all they want to do is think about their loved one. Any publicity or ease of access into the system that the DWP can provide would perform a genuinely good social service.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these regulations, and all noble Lords who have spoken. It is a privilege to be gathered with the same cast of people with whom we have debated these issues over the past couple of years. This is a terribly cruel disease. Some of the stories that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Donaghy, which reminded us of the ways people contracted these conditions, should give us pause for thought about what we are missing today. As the Minister has indicated, there is no requirement to uprate these payments. We welcome the uprating by 1.2%, particularly since it is broadly in line with increases to some other social security disability benefits and industrial disablement benefits.
The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on whether the Government would consider putting these upratings on to a statutory footing, was also raised by my honourable friend Kate Green when these regulations were considered in another place. As she noted when the regulations were considered last year in a Delegated Legislation Committee in another place, the then Minister for Disabled People said that the Government were actively reviewing the way that the uprating could be done. Kate Green asked how that was getting on. The answer she got this year was that the matter was still under review. Could the Minister tell the Committee something about the nature of that review and how much longer it might take? Could he share the barriers found during the past year to putting this uprating on a statutory footing in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury? Has the Minister any sense of the timescale for when that might be resolved?
Secondly, I want to revisit the question of differential treatment of dependants and sufferers under the scheme, also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. This came up when these regulations were being uprated last year. Dependants receive lower awards than sufferers in these two schemes, in three broad ways. The cut-off age for dependants to be in receipt of an award is 67 for dependants, compared with 77 for in-life claims. Some in-life claimants can receive a 10% enhancement under the 1979 scheme, although not, I acknowledge, under the 2008 scheme.
Awards for sufferers are also set at a higher level than those for dependants. As we discussed last year, that is at odds with the treatment of civil claims for mesothelioma compensation in the courts, where dependants receive higher awards. Because sufferers live for such a short time, as the Minister acknowledged, this can become a real problem. I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Donaghy about the fact that when someone is diagnosed, often the last thing that people want to do is spend the little bit of time left to them having to worry about money. Because the awards are lower to dependants, though, there could be pressure on a sufferer to spend that bit of time trying to sort out a claim because they are worried about what will happen to their dependants. Because the amount is lower if the claim does not get in before they die, that can add to the pressure on them. Have the Government been able to think any more about that?
As was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, when my noble friend Lord McKenzie was the Minister in 2010 he began to eliminate that difference in treatment and began to work towards equalising payments for dependants and sufferers. However, there has been no progress since then in narrowing the gap. When we debated the uprating last year, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that the Government were also keeping this issue under review. I had hoped that the Minister would come back to it. Perhaps he can tell us how that review is going: is there any intention to revisit it? Since he told us that we are now looking at deaths from mesothelioma peaking in 2018, the amount of time for this to be addressed is beginning to run out. Can the Minister tell us anything today?
Finally, before I come on to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have a brief question about education. When the noble Lord, Lord Freud, wrote last year after our uprating discussion to all of us who had contributed to the debates, he mentioned an awareness-raising campaign due to launch in Autumn 2014 with a budget of £1.3 million. He also kindly gave details about what the campaign would cover and how it would be run. Will the Minister update the Committee as to whether the campaign was launched and is proceeding in line with the information given in that letter a year ago? How will the campaign be evaluated and will the evaluation be published?
I turn to the Mesothelioma Act 2014 and the important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The question of 3% is very important. We spent a huge amount of time in this House at every stage when the Bill was going through discussing the appropriate level. We negotiated in careful detail about the amount of the levy, who would be covered, what the backdating period would be and the levels of the payment. We were absolutely reassured that that was the most that could possibly be afforded. So be it.
When the Bill then went to another place, the amount of compensation was raised from 75% to 80%, which was very welcome, but the question of the level of the levy was raised then. On Report in another place, my honourable friend Kate Green moved an amendment to enshrine the 3% in law. The response given by the then Minister for Disabled People was:
“Three per cent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.––[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Public Bill Committee, 12/12/2013; col. 117.]
and that the amendment was therefore unnecessary.
Now, of course, the amount has come out at 2.2%. When the order was debated in another place, the Minister said that it is not a target, it is a cap. What has happened to move from what was clearly a flat 3% to something that becomes a cap, not a target, in the intervening period? One indication being given, as has been suggested, is that the take-up rate is lower than expected. I very much hope that the Minister can give us some information to help us to understand why the take-up rate is so low and what action the Government are taking to look into either the success rate or the coverage, the reach, being taken into non-traditional areas—a point made by my noble friend Lady Donaghy. That would be very helpful.
If more money is available, there are plenty of ways in which it could be spent, which were pushed for when the Bill was going through Parliament but we were told that the money was not there. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made a point about research, to which he has returned more than once on the Floor of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made a point about entry. There was much pressure on the Government at the time to backdate claims to earlier than 25 July 2012, which was the date eventually settled on. Did the Government consider that?
I echo the request from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Donaghy for more information about what is happening. If the Minister can give information about the categories of workers affected, can he also give us further information about those who were not workers at all, whom we discussed at length, such as spouses? There was much discussion when the Bill was going through of spouses who had contracted mesothelioma from washing the overalls and work clothes of people of people who contracted it, but who were not covered because they were not workers. Is there any more information about that? I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their helpful contributions to the debate. The Government recognise that the two schemes form an important part of the support available to sufferers of mesothelioma and certain other dust-related diseases, and the regulations will ensure that the value of those schemes is maintained. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, said, there is no statutory liability to uprate them but, like other noble Lords, I am pleased that this has been managed this year as it was last year.
Let me try to deal with the many valid points raised. In so far as I cannot supply information, or if I miss anything, I will ensure that we write to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I will try to take the points in the order in which they were raised.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his support and acknowledgement of the assistance that we have provided. We believe that the impact will be greatest in 2018. That is our best information but we will double check that, and will certainly write to noble Lords if that is inaccurate. We do not intend to make an annual impact assessment but we will look at whether it is possible. We certainly will have access to the indication of the estimates of the people who are likely to contract the disease, and I hope that we are able to do something around those in terms of the increase as it comes each year—hopefully, it will—to indicate that in some sort of impact assessment.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for intimating that at least the proposal will be looked at. It is pretty clear from all the interventions that have been made in these proceedings that it would be incredibly helpful if a narrative could be provided annually, along with these upratings, of where we stand on the broader horizon of the issues that have been referred to during the debate. For me, it would be a very useful outcome of these proceedings if we could have an undertaking that an impact assessment will be provided routinely each year.
I can certainly undertake to look at this and I hope that we will be able to do so. I need to go back to the department to make sure that it can be done, but the noble Lord can have my undertaking that we will certainly look at that.
The measure currently being used is the CPI, and many people have suggested that that could be put on a statutory basis. We are still looking at that and certainly have not ruled it out. That would require a statute, but we are continuing to look at the evidence as to whether it is something that we should be doing. In the mean time, we have flexibility and I think the record speaks for itself: we have been seeking to do what we can.
The noble Lord was keen to push for more research money for projects on mesothelioma. Like him, I was delighted to see that Aviva and Zurich have agreed to pay £1 million to the British Lung Foundation, which does fantastic work. I remember the work that it did when I was in the National Assembly for Wales. It is indeed an excellent organisation. We have set up a partnership that includes patients and clinicians to identify mesothelioma research priorities, and the results were published in December. I will make sure that those are circulated to noble Lords so that they have a record of what is happening in that connection.
I turn to the 3% levy, which has been raised by many noble Lords: the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. It is a cap, and setting it at 3% was a hard-fought agreement with the insurance industry. It is not, as it were, a budget; it is a cap and it was set at that level because we wanted to ensure that there would be sufficient funds in the scheme to pay out the money. We have to take account of the cost of the scheme, and that is what the agreement was—it was not to fund research. However, I hope that other insurance companies will follow the excellent example set by Aviva and Zurich, which I have mentioned.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but this is an important point. It seems grievously unfair on the two companies that the noble Lord has rightly referred to, which for purely voluntary reasons have stepped forward and provided £1 million of funding to the British Lung Foundation, when there are around 125 insurance companies involved in this. The two companies that have provided these resources have asked why other companies are not being required to do the same. There is a question of equity here, apart from anything else. I am sure that the Minister will agree that, welcome though the £1 million is, even the one suggestion that I have made, which would require £2.5 million to bring it forward to clinical trials, indicates that the sum really is a drop in the ocean. When compared with all other cancers, mesothelioma has traditionally always been at the bottom of the league table in terms of private and public funding.
I think that the noble Lord is being a little inventive in suggesting that we should compel other insurance companies to follow the voluntary effort being made by two. I certainly commend that effort but it is a voluntary one, and there is always room for voluntary effort. We would not want to see insurers having to pass on additional costs of the scheme to their customers. As I say, a hard-fought, robust agreement has been made with the insurance industry. That is not to say that it cannot ever be revisited but, as things stand at the moment, it was set as a cap, not as a budget.
My Lords, I agree with the Minister that you cannot compel the rest of the insurance companies involved to pay money when two companies have voluntarily come forward and made contributions, but perhaps he would write to the 125 other companies asking whether they consider that they are in any way morally obliged to follow the lead which has been set by those two companies and make a voluntary contribution.
I do not undertake to write to the 125 companies involved, but we will make sure that a copy of the debate and a covering note is sent to the Association of British Insurers so that it can pass it on. The noble Lord made a very fair point.
Equalisation with dependants has been raised. The rules on the status of dependants and the amounts they get are not straightforward because it depends slightly on the nature of the dependency, when the sufferer died and so on. We certainly have not ruled out equalisation but it is not a top priority. The top priority is to get money to sufferers quickly, which we do under the 1979 and 2008 Act schemes. That remains our priority. I am not saying that equalisation will never be looked at. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, along with other noble Lords, asked about an indicative estimate of the cost. It is about £2 million per annum. We will review the situation in more detail and I will write to noble Lords on that issue.
I acknowledge the work the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, has done as a former president of the TUC and, indeed, the role of the TUC in campaigning on this issue. It has certainly done more than its ration in this regard. The noble Baroness usefully highlighted some of the hazardous industries which are not immediately obvious, such as the jewellery repair business, which she mentioned, and gave the example of a warehouseman who was exposed to the substance we are discussing while sweeping up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, referred to publicity on this issue and the campaign mentioned by my noble friend Lord Freud on a previous occasion. My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People helped to launch the current £1.13 million Health and Safety Executive asbestos awareness campaign in October 2014, to which the noble Baroness referred. The campaign aims to help at-risk workers recognise that asbestos is relevant to them and their work, encourages them to seek reliable information on how they can protect themselves and encourages safer working with asbestos through behavioural change. The campaign is not due to end until March 2015, and a full evaluation will be undertaken before any decision is made about a further campaign so that we are able to take that information onboard in framing any future campaign. However, we will, of course, report back after the evaluation has concluded. I do not have a date for that, but I suspect that the evaluation will be completed some time in the spring or early summer of this year.
I think that I have covered the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for her comments on, and general support for, the uprating. As I say, we have not ruled out the statutory footing and I have just referred to the awareness campaign. I think that I have dealt with the other points that she raised. Do we think that the low uptake is a communications issue? I do not think so. Specialist health workers and clinicians support sufferers and are fully aware of the nature of asbestos. Our schemes are in addition to that. However, I am not being complacent. Obviously, we will make an assessment of the current campaign. We also make use of social media to ensure that we get messages across.
I think that I have dealt with the points that noble Lords have made. This is a really important issue. I am very pleased that we have been able to bring in uprating at 1.2%. I will write to noble Lords with the points that I have mentioned and any other points that I have missed. In the mean time, I commend the uprating of the payment scales and ask for noble Lords’ approval to implement them.