I regret that the precise information requested is not available, but it is estimated that there were in the latest periods of twelve months for which we have figures for prescribed diseases, about 28,000 awards of injury benefit, some 2,000 initial awards of disablement pension, including about 1,500 for pneumoconiosis, and about 3,000 initial awards of disablement gratuity. In addition, there were about 750 awards of death benefit, of which about 700 were in respect of pneumoconiosis.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a great deal of hardship is being caused to those people who suffer from diseases which neither are prescribed nor come about as a result of an accident? Could not something be done to tighten up the law to stop this loophole whereby people in this position are deprived of benefit so that all those suffering from illness caused by employment are entitled to benefit?
I assure my hon. Friend that, on both sides of the House, many of us have been aware of this problem for many years. I hope, however, that he will accept from me that we are doing our utmost, in great difficulties, to try to get a complete answer to the question of prescribed diseases. It will take time; I assure my hon. Friend that we are not wasting time.
Is my hon. Friend aware that medical support for these appeals is of very little account and that as a consequence consultants and trade union officials alike are becoming quite cynical about this? Would he not agree that when there is a conflict of opinion between eminent medical men the appellant should be given the benefit of the doubt?
I hope my hon. Friend does not assume from the brevity of my Answer that I intended to be cynical. The fact is that the figures asked for would be of little significance because consultants are employed on both sides.