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Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2017

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2017

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2017

My Lords, in moving this Motion I will speak also to the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2017. I am required to confirm to the Committee that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy so to do.

The two statutory instruments will increase the value of 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 by 1%. These new amounts will be paid to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 April 2017.

The 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 announce the increase in the amounts payable for 2017 by the consumer price index. This is the same 1% 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 in relation to their disease. This is due mainly to the long latency period, often stretching back decades, between exposure and onset of the disease. Therefore, by providing lump sum compensation payments through the two schemes, we fulfil an important role for sufferers of certain dust-related diseases. The schemes aim also to ensure that sufferers receive compensation in their lifetime 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 briefly summarise the specific purpose of these lump sum 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 suffer from 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, byssinosis and—if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening—primary carcinoma of the lung.

The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payments scheme was introduced to provide compensation to people who contracted diffuse mesothelioma but who were unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act because, for example, their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 scheme also allows payment to 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 died before being able to make a claim. The rates payable under the 1979 Act are based on the level of disablement assessment and the age of the sufferer at the time the disease is diagnosed. The highest amounts are paid 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 the 100% disablement rate and are based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest sufferers.

The Committee may like to know how many claims we received and the amounts paid out under these two schemes. In the last full year, from April 2015 to March 2016, 3,520 people received payments under the 1979 Act at a cost of £45.9 million, and 400 people received payments under the 2008 scheme at a cost of £8 million. The total amount of compensation paid out under both schemes during this period amounted to almost £54 million. The forecast for the current year, 2016-17, is that 3,592 people will be paid under the 1979 Act scheme and some 420 people will be paid under the 2008 Act scheme. The estimated total amount of compensation under both schemes is likely to be £54.2 million.

I am aware that in previous debates on increasing the value of lump sum payments paid under these two schemes, noble Lords have raised the subject of equalisation of payments between sufferer and dependant claims. However, we do not intend to equalise payments this year. Instead, we will continue to keep this matter under review and consider equalisation once resources allow.

Around half the payments made under the 1979 Act scheme are made for diffuse mesothelioma. I am aware that the occurrence of diffuse mesothelioma is a particular concern of many noble Lords, given that diffuse mesothelioma-related deaths in Great Britain are at historically high levels. Diffuse mesothelioma has a strong association with exposure to asbestos, and current evidence suggests that around 85% of all male mesotheliomas are attributable to asbestos exposures that occurred through work. Those diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma usually have a short life expectancy —generally between nine and 12 months—with the sufferer becoming severely disabled soon after diagnosis.

The number of cases reflects the long latency period of the disease, which can take decades to become apparent. Latest available information suggests that there will continue to be around 2,500 diffuse mesothelioma deaths per year for the rest of this decade before annual cases begin to fall, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures following its widespread use between 1950 and 1980.

These regulations increase the levels of support through the statutory compensation schemes and I am sure the Committee will agree that, while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families for the suffering and loss caused by diffuse mesothelioma and the other dust-related diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who are suffering rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. These statutory schemes deliver an essential part of it. I commend the increase in the payment scales and ask the approval of the Committee to implement them. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am sorry to interfere again but when I read this I got a nasty jangle in the back of my head which said that this does not necessarily fit with what we discussed before, in the days when my noble friend Lord Freud was bringing the Bill through. I remind your Lordships that at that time, I initiated direct discussions with the Royal British Legion on exactly this subject because it is the expert on what is happening, who is suffering and what their state is.

Sadly, the Royal Navy is the principal biggest culprit. Worst affected of all are those who served on the Royal Yacht “Britannia”, which is a terrible scandal. Nearly everybody who served or did anything in the engine room of the Royal Yacht “Britannia” is now either dead or dying from diffuse mesothelioma. The Royal British Legion set up a special department to deal with this, because the tragedy is that people’s wives and children have got it, too, because you have only to wash the coat of somebody who has this to be a condemned person from that moment on. The Royal British Legion has gone to great lengths to make sure that it is monitoring and looking after the wives, families and dependants of these dreadfully stricken people.

At the end of that debate, my noble friend Lord Freud gave an undertaking that he would not do anything that initiated payment structures which interfered with or were diminished by the presence of the Royal British Legion payments, so that people would get the maximum benefits for their hugely distressed situations; that he would look after things to ensure that nothing we did cut across the Royal British Legion’s process, and vice versa; and that it would be wholly co-ordinated. The jangle I got in my head was because I have never heard whether that has happened, and that is why I am asking for some assurance that my noble friend’s undertaking was fulfilled. What is its status today, please? It really matters.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his introduction and explanation of the regulations. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord James, has had a nasty jangle in the back of his head. Clearly, he is concerned about undertakings made in respect of the Royal British Legion. I worked on this—not alongside the noble Lord, Lord Freud, but on the opposite side—and I do not think that anything has arisen in the course of lots of changes to these provisions over a number of years which would be in breach of the undertaking he gave the noble Lord, but it is not for me to defend a former Minister.

My Lords, I will put the noble Lord’s assertion to the test with one simple question: can we say with absolute certainty that not one penny from the Royal British Legion has been withheld or interfered with by us through the conflict between its initiatives and ours, and that everybody has gone ahead with the full funding under both arrangements?

No, I cannot possibly say that. It is not my role as a shadow Minister. If anybody is going to give those undertakings, it is the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I wish him well.

As we have heard, the regulations cover various compensation schemes, including the ones for pneumoconiosis and other dust-related diseases covered by the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, and, separately, mesothelioma. The payments are uprated by 1%, which is the September 2016 CPI rate of inflation. One might say that this is a meagre sum, just missing the surge in inflation generated by the decline in the rate of sterling post the referendum, although we acknowledge that there is no statutory obligation to uprate the compensation schedules and that the 1% aligns with the uprating of industrial injuries benefits, as we have heard. Obviously, we support the regulations but I have some questions.

We have no impact assessment for the instruments, although the Explanatory Notes indicate that in the year to March 2016 some 3,520 people made a claim under the 1979 Act, including 310 claims for dependants. I think my question may already have been answered. Can the Minister tell us how many of these claims were successful and can we have an analysis of the various categories of dust-related diseases? I think the noble Lord referred to 3,592 payments. The explanatory memorandum talks about claims. Maybe it is a question of nuances of terminology, but it would good to know the actual number of successful claims. Can we also be provided with an analysis of the amounts of the various claims, how these were funded and the extent to which there has been or will be clawback of social security benefits?

So that we can get the overall picture of the numbers suffering from these dust-related diseases—other than mesothelioma—can we have some detail on what has been covered by employer liability insurance? The ELTO 2015 annual report—when will we get an updated one?—shows an improvement in successful inquiries but apart from mesothelioma itemises only asbestosis and asbestosis-related illnesses. Further, the ELTO report does not cover successful claims which might be made directly to insurers outside of ELTO. Can we be provided with a complete picture of the number of workers entitled to lump-sum compensation arising from the 1979 Act for the latest period available? Can we also be provided with details of how many are missing out on compensation?

The position concerning mesothelioma is different, as we have heard. Diffuse mesothelioma is a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen caused almost exclusively as a result of exposure to asbestos. Symptoms and diagnosis may not emerge until 30 or 40 years following exposure—it is a long-tail disease—and this obviously exacerbates difficulties in identifying relevant employers and employer liability insurers. A number of steps have been taken in recent times to improve access to compensation for sufferers of this terrible condition. In 2008 the previous Labour Government introduced the scheme which is the subject of the regulations before us today. It is a no-fault scheme, so does not require a work-related nexus or proof of negligent exposure to asbestos. It has tended to be illustrated, as the noble Lord, Lord James, said, by exposure caused by washing somebody’s work clothes.

After an initial differential, the rates of compensation under the 2008 Act—for sufferers and dependants—have been separately aligned with the 1979 Act amounts for those with 100% disability, although, as the noble Lord said, there is still the differential between payments in respect of dependants and sufferers. Again, we have no impact assessment, although the Explanatory Note tells us that some 400 people made a claim in the period ended March 2016, including 10 dependants. How many of these claims were successful? How were they were funded? I seem to recall that the original concept was for funding to come from civil claim recoveries. What is the current position? If we are to see the overall picture here, albeit not strictly covered by these regulations, we should consider the further important developments led by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, with the co-operation of the insurance industry. These include the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office, which focuses on assisting claimants to identify an appropriate employer liability insurer. While the 2015 report shows the inquiry success rate improving, it is far from 100%. For mesothelioma, it is just below 77%.

So onward to the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme—a scheme of last resort—which started making payments from July 2014. It seeks to compensate those negligently exposed to asbestos while at work but who cannot trace the responsible employer or insurer. The scheme is funded by a levy on the gross written premiums of those insurers writing employer liability insurance. It was acknowledged that the insurers could not commit to a levy level above 3% of gross written premiums. In its first year, net payments of £24 million were made, with an average amount of £122,000. The tariff payments, originally at 75% of average civil claims, have risen from 80% to 100%. There is an oversight committee, which my noble friend Lady Donaghy chairs.

In respect of mesothelioma entitlements with an employment nexus, can the Minister let us know for the most recent period available the total number of successful compensation claims and the amounts achieved via employers or insurers, either directly or using the tracing office, and the total number of tariff payments made under the payment scheme? Has the DWP made an assessment for the most recent period of the number of mesothelioma sufferers who have not been able to access either compensation or a tariff payment? What do we understand the reason to be for the shortfall between the expected claims to the payment scheme and outturn for the most recent period? The Minister did give us an updated forward projection of the incidence of mesothelioma: 2,500 cases for the rest of the decade. The Minister is probably aware of the extensive debates we have had on this issue and of the focus on funding for research for sufferers. That has been a positive development.

As a final point, ELTO has made good progress in tracing policies. It is suggested that better access to the employer reference number from HMRC would assist in this. There was an attempt to amend a recent Bill to try to secure that, but it was unsuccessful. Will the Minister tell us what is happening on this issue?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath for their comments. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked a number of fairly detailed questions, a great many of which will, I suspect, be far better dealt with in correspondence, if the noble Lord will accept that. The answers will come down to rather detailed figures because he asked about the analysis of the levels of claims, which obviously depends on the age of the complainants. I have a sneaking suspicion that a table setting out such details might be of greater use to the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have taken a great interest in the matter.

I appreciate that we did not have a debate on this last year because the CPI was where it was and so there was no uprating. One could say that one of the benefits of this being normally uprated in line with inflation, because it is separate from the others and at the discretion of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, is that we manage to have some debate on this important matter each year, with the exception of last year. That way, these matters can be exercised, rather than subsumed in the general uprating debates that happen—for example, last week. Having made that broad point, let me try to answer a number of the questions that noble Lords have raised.

The first is one on which, again, I will have to offer to write to my noble friend. He asked about the support that the Royal British Legion might be offering to former Navy servicemen, particularly from HM Yacht “Britannia”, who have suffered from this, and whether they were going to lose out as a result of payments being made by the Royal British Legion. I will take advice on that and will write to my noble friend.

One small point that I can make, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has already referred to, is that children and spouses who might have suffered as a result of contamination from, for example, washing clothes and therefore inhaling asbestos will be covered by the 2008 scheme. Since the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, mentioned that, I will repeat—and of course we all remember our dates—that 2008 saw an improvement to the scheme by the previous Government, for which I think all those who suffer are very grateful. That is part of what we are debating today.

The first point that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, made was about inflation and the small rise of 1%. The noble Lord will just have to accept that, as with other benefits, that is the September-on-September figure. Any future inflation will obviously be covered when my right honourable friend considers this. There is of course a discretion in future years, and a catch-up can take place if it is thought appropriate. However, my right honourable friend considered it right that we should stick to that CPI figure to September 2016, though I am sure he will consider that again in later years.

The noble Lord asked, with regard to both pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma—I apologise to the Committee; I have great problems with those words —just how many claims were successful and what was the percentage of success. He sought in particular an analysis of the levels of claims. Again, this is a matter on which it would be helpful if I wrote to him, in this case setting out details of those missing out and so on. I give the assurance that not only will I write to him but I will make the analysis available in the Library in the usual way for the benefit of other noble Lords who have taken an interest in this issue. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, nodding; I know she has taken an interest in these matters in the past, and if necessary I will write to her directly.

Broadly speaking, with regard to the number of claimants, my noble friend Lord Bourne, dealing with these regulations in 2015, talked about them possibly reaching a peak in 2018. I would not want to be quite so specific but we are seeing that the figures will probably level out towards the end of this decade and then, because of the era that we are dealing with— very largely, 1950 to 1980 saw a high use of asbestos, but I appreciate that some other forms of asbestos were not banned until somewhat later—we should begin to see a decline because of the nature and demographic of those concerned and the very long period for which these conditions can lie dormant. So, broadly speaking, we are talking about a levelling out and then a decline but, very sadly, I suspect we will have to continue with this annual debate for a number of years to come.

If the Minister will allow me to intervene, it is not just a question of looking at the total numbers of people who are new sufferers, particularly in relation to mesothelioma; it is the extent to which they are able to access compensation—as the Minister put it—speedily, whether it is through systems such as ELTO, the payments scheme, or indeed any other scheme. Given the nature of these conditions, we should not be looking at the growing trends, but at whether the mechanisms we have in place are delivering and enabling those people to get access to compensation with tariff payments.

I want to make sure I get it right and give the right figure. The noble Lord is asking whether we are reaching all those who we think are affected. I think I can give an assurance that 100% of those who are suffering from the five diseases that I set out comply in other respects; in other words, they have not made another claim, or whatever. Those are successful, but if there are some who are unsuccessful, I suspect that will be because they are not eligible. Once suffering from the diseases, there is no need to prove anything further. We are not talking about people being turned away in that respect, but I suspect I will have to write to the noble Lord with further detail.

The noble Lord also asked about the employers’ tracing scheme—ELTO—and again I can confirm that it is still doing what it was set out to do and it is, as he put it, having somewhat greater success. As a result, something in the order of half of that £54 million—I have the figures here—comes back. Again, I will write in further detail to the noble Lord on that matter. I apologise to the noble Lord for not really being able to give him greater detail at this stage, but I believe that I can set out the figures—as he put it, in further detail—and I have given assurances that I will do. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord and others. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.