Occupational Asthma Scheme

– in the House of Commons at 11:44 am on 29th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe 11:44 am, 29th July 1983

This is a debate about people whose employment has left them stricken by asthma, which, as sufferers from that condition know to their grievous cost, can be one of the most distressing and disabling of all chronic illnesses: ask any sufferer from baker's asthma, which is in its way the pneumoconiosis of the baking industry.

The debate has been welcomed, outside the House, as an opportunity to focus public attention on a disturbing example of ministerial complacency and meanness. It is a debate, long overdue, about the Government's stubborn refusal to ensure fuller take-up of the compensation available to victims of occupational asthma.

It was in January 1981 that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, the IIAC, published its report on occupational asthma. It recommended that it should be prescribed as an industrial disease and the scheme, listing the causes of asthma among workers in seven groups, came into force on 29 March 1982. Since then, notwithstanding very strong pressure to do more to publicise the compensation now available under the scheme, the Government have rejected every call for an effective take-up campaign.

It was anticipated in the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's report that, in respect of three of the seven causes of occupational asthma listed in the scheme—platinum salts, isocyanates, and animals and insects in laboratories — between 30,000 and 40,000 workers would be covered from whom perhaps 7,250 claims could be expected in the first year. In the case of flour and grain dust, around 100,000 workers were estimated to be at risk of occupational asthma, leading to very many more claims. Quite apart from the thousands of people expected to be entitled to benefit from the outset in March 1982, an authoritative estimate in the June 1981 edition of Industrial Safety put the number of new claims to be expected annually at 1,000.

Yet how many claims have so far been made? In the first full year of the scheme, only 549 claims were made, or 7 per cent. of the HAC's estimate. Of the 549 claims received, 303 were processed and only 152 were successful.

In the light of that not just dismal but shockingly low figure, there should clearly have been a critical examination both of publicity and of the monitoring of the scheme. But the Government have evinced nothing but complacency and thousands of workers whose employment has left them with asthma go without their rightful compensation.

In response to a plea that I put to him from Nigel Bryson, the national health and safety officer of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, the BFAWU, for the scheme to be made more widely known, the then Minister for Social Security, with responsibility for the disabled, wrote to me on 17 March 1983 about the publicity given to the scheme since its inception. He said: When occupational asthma was prescribed as an industrial disease last year, the department issued a press notice which was sent to the Trades Union Congress for distribution to interested unions, as well as to the news media and specialist journals and publications. The issuing of a note to the TUC and the press can hardly be described as a publicity drive. The plain fact is that the Government have made no real effort to let possible beneficiaries know of the scheme and the House will not be surprised to hear that so few claims have been made. Indeed, the Government have spent so little on publicising the scheme — I shall be grateful if the Minister will say just how much has been spent—that the only surprise is that even 152 people have been helped by a scheme which it was expected, only last year, would benefit many thousands of workers who suffer from asthma because of their employment. Nor can there be any doubt that most of those who are now being helped by the scheme heard of its existence not from the DHSS, whose responsibility it is to inform people of their social security entitlements, but from the efforts of the BFAWU, among other unions, and the TUC.

That is well illustrated by a case brought to my attention by the BFAWU. A member of the union recently went to his local DHSS office in Stockport for a claim form so that he could apply for benefit under the occupational asthma scheme. Staff at the office had difficulty in finding a form for him. They said that forms for claims were not put on display, because, to use their own words, not many people know about it. The member only knew of the occupational asthma scheme through reading his union's health and safety bulletins. Had he relied on the DHSS, he would almost certainly still be unaware of the scheme's existence. Like the appallingly low take-up figure which I have given the House, that case strongly confirms the compelling need for the scheme to be more widely publicised. Yet the Government refuse to act. They still insist that the unions must be mainly responsible for promoting the scheme. In a letter to me dated 12 May 1983, the former Minister wrote: The Trade Unions in the industries where the prescribed agents are used should be best placed to alert their members to the scheme. This is a spectacular case of Ministers trying to shift to others their responsibilities under the law.

Whether or not they are trade unionists, workers still have to contribute to the national insurance scheme, and they are entited to know of, and to receive, its benefits. The DHSS thus undoubtedly has a clear duty to inform likely claimants of their entitlements under the occupational asthma scheme—the OAS.

As the whole House knows, DHSS Ministers never tire of talking about people who try to abuse the social security system by claiming more than their entitlements. Yet, while they pump ever more resources into the hunt for people who overclaim, they never speak of those who underclaim their entitlements. In a parliamentary reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Short) on 4 February this year, the Minister informed the House that no less than £410 million was unclaimed from the DHSS at the latest date for which figures were available.

Invariably, the main reason for the low take-up of social security benefits, especially new benefits—I speak as a former Minister who introduced four new cash benefits for disabled people from 1974 to 1979 — is a lack of awareness of their existence. That, in turn, usually derives from inadequate publicity. In 1981–82, while spending an estimated £33·4 million on fraud investigations, DHSS Ministers spent only a paltry £714,000 on advertising all social security benefits. As the OAS so plainly shows, official silence about the new benefit can condemn many thousands of needy people to the loss of vital financial help.

I repeat my request to the Minister to say unequivocally just how much has been spent by the DHSS in publicising the occupational asthma scheme. I ask him also to tell the House how much more DHSS Ministers have spent in the past year on their campaign to reduce the overclaiming of social security benefits. It will be helpful if, at the same time, he will update the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East about the benefits that go unclaimed by people who are entitled to them.

The negative and parsimonious approach of DHSS Ministers to spending on publicity for the OAS contrasts sharply with that of Ministers in other Departments in furthering the Government's objectives. One example is the £1 million earmarked by the Secretary of State for Defence for the promotion of "more positive" attitudes to nuclear weapons. Also, the Secretary of State for Employment allocated £39,000 for a national press campaign to publicise the compensation available to people who break their contract of employment by refusing to join a trade union.

Even more striking is the Government's budget for informing small enterprises of the assistance available to them. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state the cost of the Government's television advertising campaign about help for small businesses. His reply was: The estimated cost of the television campaign, which began in March and is planned to run in April, May and June, is £1,546,000."— [Official Report, 15 April 1983; Vol. 40, c. 471.] To compare the spending by other Departments of taxpayers' money on projects that are regarded as ideologically sound with the pittance spent by the DHSS on promoting the OAS is the best possible guide to the Government's priorities.

Asthma is created and aggravated by dust in the lungs. It makes the sufferer gasp for every breath. He or she is wracked by wheezing spasms which, as the excellent guide to disabilities published by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation explains, can be frequently frightening and disturbing to the individual and to others present. By their priorities ye shall know them. I hope that those who learn of the occupational asthma scheme for the first time because of this debate will contrast the £2,585,000 earmarked for the national publicity campaigns about nuclear rearmament, union busting and cash for small businesses with the cost to the DHSS of the few stamps, envelopes and paper used to publicise the OAS.

Nothing more strongly confirms the judgment of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) that we now have a Government who help first those who are in the best position to help themselves. This Government give priority to the strong and fortunate. Look at the facts. They gave no less than £1,500 million in a single day to the richest 5 per cent. of taxpayers. To the weak and vulnerable they offer sympathy more than real support, even in discovering the help to which the House has entitled them.

It is disgraceful that the Government refuse to spend more than the cost of a circular letter to publicise help for people who have to gasp for their breath and who suffer hardship on a scale that more fortunate people can hardly begin to imagine. The Government's approach inflicts unmerited further suffering on people whose employment has cost them their health.

In the first year of the OAS, only 55 per cent. of claims were processed. This implies that there are not enough resources available for the job. In fact, if 303 is the maximum number that can be processed annually, it will take until the year 2007 to clear even the initial estimate of claims. With an estimated further 1,000 claims a year to handle, another 80 years will elapse before the backlog is cleared. Here we come to what is, from the Government's viewpoint, the most compelling reason why there should not be much more publicity for the scheme. Given more publicity, the medical panels would quickly be faced with ever-lengthening queues for assessment. To avoid that happening, and as the Stockport case shows, the scheme is not being actively publicised by the DHSS even on its own premises.

The Minister really must accept that a press notice is not an acceptable way to publicise the scheme. While unions, notably the BAFWU, have striven to make the scheme more widely known—and, indeed, have spent much more than the Government in giving it publicity —it is just not good enough that trade unions should have to be the main source of information about the scheme.

I have heard recently from a number of trade unionists who are deeply concerned about the very low number of successful applicants for help under the OAS. I must tell the House that, quite apart from bitterly criticising the lack of official publicity for the scheme, they make a further indictment of the Government. They point out that, with mass and still rising unemployment, there are now many workers who fear that to disclose chronic illness such as baker's asthma could cost them their jobs. I understand that the BFAWU knows of at least two cases in Manchester of people who, having contracted baker's asthma, have decided not to claim compensation under the scheme because they are afraid of losing their jobs. There can be no doubt that the grim statistic which prompted their decision is that they live in a city in which there are today 35 men out of work for every vacancy.

More publicity for the occupational asthma scheme will not, of course, change that sombre reality for working people in Manchester and other places, all over Britain, who are as badly stricken by unemployment. Nevertheless, it is a matter of the utmost urgency that the scheme should be more widely publicised. The former Minister wrote to me to say: I fully admit that the level of claims so far is much lower than anticipated. That was his comment on the fact that only 7 per cent. of the claims expected have, in fact, been made. Moreover, he would still not agree to provide more publicity for the scheme. The success rate of 7 per cent. was, therefore, tolerable to him. I hope that the Minister replying today will see it as intolerable and will agree to take remedial action.

I have spoken of the urgency of the need for more publicity. There is an urgent need also for more investment in research to ensure that health hazards at work are not only identified, but removed. This is an area in which prevention is infinitely better than cure. I refer not only to occupational asthma, but to other and potentially even more dangerous diseases. Members of the BFAWU often work in extremely dusty conditions and it is believed that, in addition to baker's asthma, dusts from materials used in baking may also cause nasal cancer. In fact, a detailed study is now being undertaken to identify whether bakers face a higher risk of cancer than other workers.

Here I pay tribute to Terry O'Neill and Joe Marino, the national president and general secretary of the BFAWU, together with Nigel Bryson, and their colleagues for their leadership in encouraging all possible research. They take the view, as I do, that questions of occupational health and compensation for occupational disease must be given the highest priority. I honour them for the humanity of their concern for the least fortunate of their members. There are still many instances of damage caused to the health of working people for which they are not compensated, and the BFAWU is to be congratulated on insisting, first, that workers are entitled to know the whole truth about the effects on their health of their employment, and, secondly, that any damaging effects must be quickly and fully compensated.

For their part, the Government seem content merely to pay lip-service to the promotion of occupational health for working people, while inflicting cuts that damage its achievement. They have cut the staff of the Health and Safety Executive. In the Employment Medical Advisory Service, doctors are being dismissed. The number of doctors and nurses employed in the EMAS fell from 179 to 98 in the last four years. Only one of the doctors now employed is a trained epidemiologist who can specifically identify occupational diseases.

What chance, therefore, is there of the Government being able to give any real help in discovering whether nasal cancer is, in fact, another industrial disease to which bakers are more exposed than other workers? I shall welcome the Minister's comments on whether there is any help that he can give to hasten the important research in this field. I feel sure that he will want to if he can.

I put it to the Minister that he should look to the energy and enthusiasm shown by the Secretary of State for Employment in responding to my appeal to him to find and inform every possible beneficiary of the occupational asthma scheme. In seeking to track down employees who, by refusing to join a trade union, had Deen dismissed for breaking their contract of employment, the Secretary of State for Employment spared no expense. He instructed his researchers to find everyone who might qualify for the compensatory payment he was providing. At the same time, he authorised a £39,000 national press campaign.

The House must mark the contrast with the effort and finance provided by the Government to inform workers with the debilitating disease of asthma of their rights to compensation. It is a contrast that has caused a deep sense of injustice among people who know the facts about the appallingly low take-up of compensation under the occupational asthma scheme. I hope the Minister will recognise that it is a well-founded sense of injustice and that he will make a positive response to the case I have argued in this debate.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree 12:06 pm, 29th July 1983

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for raising this subject, because I know that he is very concerned personally about the occupational asthma scheme. I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the debate, because we in the Department are concerned to ensure that the help which Parliament has made available should reach as many as possible of those for whom it is intended.

Asthma is a distressing and often disabling condition that has many causes. I have some indirect but fairly close personal experience, since some members of my family have suffered asthma attacks. One of my children suffered quite seriously from asthma when she was very small. It often starts in childhood because of sensitivity to house dust, pollen, animal hair and so on. With my daughter it turned out to be rabbits and guineapigs, as we discovered rapidly as soon as she came in contact with either.

In adults, asthma can sometimes be caused by substances encountered at work. The sufferer becomes sensitised to these substances and has asthmatic attacks, which are characterised by wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, just like attacks of non-occupational asthma. The symptoms can continue over several years even when the sufferer is no longer exposed to the substance in question.

Since 29 March 1982, asthma caused in this way—occupational asthma — has been prescribed as an industrial disease for which disablement benefit can be paid under the industrial injuries scheme. This followed recommendations by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, the independent body which advises the Government about changes and additions to the schedule of prescribed diseases. Now that the scheme has been in operation for just over a year, this is a good time to look back and take stock of how it is working.

The scheme is quite limited at present. A great many substances— some people say as many as 150—have been suggested as possible causes of occupational asthma. However, under the present scheme as recommended by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in the report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, coverage is restricted to seven groups.

It might help the House if I list the seven groups. They are isocyanates, which are used for making plastic foams, synthetic inks, paints and adhesives; platinum salts, which are used in refining workshops and some laboratories; acid anhydride and amine hardening agents, including epoxy resin curing agents, which are used in a wide variety of industries and include adhesives, plastics, moulding resins and surface coatings; fumes arising from the use of rosin as a soldering flux, which is met with mainly in the electronics industry; proteolytic enzymes, used mainly in the manufacture of biological washing powders; animals or insects used in laboratories for research or education; and the one to which the right hon. Gentleman paid specific attention, dust from grains or flours.

The restriction of the scheme to these seven groups of substances follows the recommendations by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in its report on occupational asthma which it submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in July 1980. the council's view, these seven groups of sensitising agents are the most clearly established causes of occupational asthma and it recommended that initially coverage should be limited to workers exposed to one or more of them. The intention is that the council should continue to keep the subject under review, however, so that the terms of prescriptions can be extended when there is sufficient evidence. I understand that a further investigation is now being mounted by the council. It is currently seeking evidence of occupational links with any sensitising agents not at present covered. It will be looking particularly at pharmaceuticals — especially antibiotics — wood dust, formaldehyde and other chemicals, and exposure to animals and insects outside laboratories.

One of the problems is that because asthma is such a common condition, affecting about 5 per cent. of the whole population, it is far from easy to identify cases caused by exposure at work and to distinguish them from asthma caused in other ways. The advisory council gave some valuable advice on this in its report, which is now used in the assessing of claims. To help shed more light on this problem and to provide a source of expert advice the DHSS has made special funding available for an occupational medicine unit at the Brompton hospital. The unit is concerned with identifying and preventing acute respiratory diseases caused by occupation, in particular the diagnosis and assessment of occupational asthma. The unit was set up in May 1982 and I look forward to receiving a report on its first year's work, I hope before the end of the year.

It follows from the difficulties that I have described that when new measures such as the occupational asthma scheme are introduced it is bound to be difficult to estimate in advance exactly how many additional claims for benefit will result. The council had considerable difficulty in obtaining any firm information about the likely number of cases of occupational asthma and sometimes could not even make any realistic estimate of the number of workers exposed to a particular substance.

One of the points which the right hon. Gentleman underplayed was that the figures quoted in the council's report are rough estimates of the maximum number of people who could be suffering from occupational asthma as a result of exposure to the agents discussed.

In its report, the council emphasises the difficulty that it has had in obtaining reliable figures. In, for example the case of isocyanates— probably the largest group— the estimates of the workers sensitised to that substance vary from 5 to 25 per cent. of the total number exposed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts as fair comment that the figures that he used are drawn from the upper end of that wide span of estimates. If the figure is 5 per cent., not 25 per cent., the right hon. Gentleman's figures would have to be revised downwards. The trouble is that not one is absolutely clear what the figures might be.

Page 12 of the report says of bakery workers: It is estimated that up to 100,000 people might be exposed to flour dust in the course of their work, but continuous improvement in processes with the enclosure of machinery has so reduced the levels of flour dust in concentration that few people now develop asthmatic symptoms. That shows how difficult it is to arrive at precise estimates.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

My figures were based on information from people who are extremely knowledgeable about the realities of work in the baking industry. What does the hon. Gentleman say about the expectation of 1,000 new claims every year? That estimate is well based and comes from a most authoritative source. Does the Minister have anything to say about that?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am coming to that. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is seriously quarrelling with me. We must agree that neither of us knows the precise figures. With so much uncertainty about how many people might be exposed to asthma-creating agents and who might respond so that asthma is caused and therefore might be expected to claim, whether initially or after the scheme is under way, it is difficult to make estimates. I put it no stronger than that. I hope that I can carry the right hon. Gentleman with me to that extent.

Apart from the uncertainty about the numbers who might be suffering and therefore might be expected to claim, we must remember that some people exposed to the prescribed substances will not be in employed earner's employment and so will be outside the scope of the industrial injuries scheme and therefore not covered. Others, as the right hon. Gentleman said, are likely to be reluctant to admit to their employers or workmates, or even to themselves, that they are suffering from a work-related illness. That phenomenon is not associated only with a high unemployment level. Many people would have doubts about admitting to such a disease in any circumstances. Others may have different reasons for not claiming, or they may simply not bother to claim.

In the first 15 months since the scheme has been in operation, just over 650 people submitted claims for occupational asthma. My figures slightly update the right hon. Gentleman's figures. Decisions were made on 358 of these and benefit was awarded in 190 cases. It is difficult to put the figures in context because the scheme is new and an initial flood of applications could be expected. To put the figures in some kind of context it might help, for the sake of comparison, to explain that during 1982 733 new cases of pneumoconiosis, which includes asbestosis, and 133 of byssinosis were diagnosed by pneumoconiosis medical panels. That can be regarded as roughly comparable, although the figures are a little higher for pneumoconiosis and byssinosis. The right hon. Gentleman expressed concern that there had not been more claims and urged that more be done to make sufferers aware that they might be eligible for benefit.

For the reasons that I have given, I am not convinced that underclaiming for this condition is as great as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. As he said, when the scheme was introduced it was announced in a press release which went to all the news media as well as to specialist journals. Leaflets were made widely available through DHSS offices, hospitals, citizens advice bureaux and other outlets and the TUC was asked to alert trade unions in the relevant industries. I remain sure that, given that we can define fairly clearly the target industries and target workers, that approach was the best way of conveying information about the introduction of the scheme to those likely to make use of it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me for a specific statement on expenditure on publicity. Identifiable expenditure so far is about £2,000 — the cost of producing the special leaflet. That may seem a fairly small sum. However, I want to emphasise that, for reasons which I have just mentioned, effectiveness in this area is not necessarily in proportion to cost. Indeed, in trying to promote the take-up of social security benefits in general it is often much more effective to mount a relatively low-cost operation directed towards those who might be expected to benefit than to spend large sums of money on massive press or television advertising campaigns, which are inevitably a very inefficient way of reaching a relatively limited number of people.

I continue to believe that the trade unions and employers in the relevant industries are best placed to alert workers to the coverage of the industrial injuries scheme.

Photo of Mr Gregor Mackenzie Mr Gregor Mackenzie , Glasgow Rutherglen

I was troubled to hear the Minister say that only about £2,000 was being spent. I have been a life-long sufferer from asthma and am very concerned about it. I never realised the implications of the scheme until I came into the Chamber, purely by accident, and heard about them. I appreciate that trade unions and employers should be told, but it would help if doctors were also told. I keep my ear to the ground as much as I can, but I had never heard of anything like this until I did so, by accident, today. If I have not heard about it, what about those whom I represent? Doctors' surgeries and so on should be given more information.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

That is a fair point and I hope that it will become clear that I am not in any way seeking to say that it would be wrong to seek further ways to bring the scheme to the attention of those who might benefit from it. But, to put it in a nutshell, it is more sensible to spend £2,000 on leaflets that are firmly put into the hands of all those who might be helped than to spend several hundred thousand pounds on advertising on television to the entire population. However, we are arguing about what we can best do to ensure that the information finds its way to those who, like the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), have a particular interest in it.

I do not want to indulge in a party political punch-up in a relatively low-key debate, but I regard the comments made from the Front Bench by the right hon. Member for, Wythenshawe about the Government's attitude towards the problems of social security take-up as extravagant in the extreme. As he well knows, the number of claims for attendance allowance and mobility allowance is rising very sharply. I think that the figure last year was 16 per cent. in one case and 22 per cent. in the other. If I remember the figure rightly, we spent£250,000 last year, or at least a sizeable sum, on writing from Newcastle to all those whom we could identify, in a fairly closely targeted way, as possible recipients of one-parent benefit but who nevertheless were not claiming it. We have spent money on putting new inserts into child benefit books and on advertising family income supplement on television. Indeed, that is a more widespread problem and cannot be targeted as closely as an industrial injury scheme.

There is no evidence that the Government are failing to encourage the take-up of social security benefit because of a shortage of resources, a desire to save money or anything else. I shall not attempt to debate the matter further in the few minutes left, but I do not accept the observations made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

The figures that I gave were taken from parliamentary replies. I pointed out that £33·4 million was spent by DHSS Ministers on fraud investigations against a paltry £714,000 on advertising all social security benefits. Again, I informed the House on the basis of information provided by Ministers themselves that £410 million went unclaimed in social security benefts in the last full year for which figures were available. That must be a cause for very deep concern. I very much hope that more will he done to emphasise the problems of under-claiming. I am deeply disquieted to learn that only £2,000 has been spent on publicising the occupational asthma scheme, and I am sure that many people outside the House will share my concern.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I have great respect, as we all do, for the right hon. Gentleman's interest in, and concern for, the disabled, but some of his comparisons are ludicrous. I do not have all the details in front of me, but to compare the amount of paid advertising — which I think is the £714,000 figure—with the total cost of staff used on investigating fraud and abuse is to make a bogus comparison. Any figure for the full resources employed by the Department on take-up would have to include virtually the whole of the salary bill for the staff in our local offices and the many people who spend their time working with citizens advice bureaux, local authority social services departments, writing and producing leaflets, and improving and simplifying forms. A proper figure for the effort that the Department puts into take-up would certainly far outweigh that which the right hon. Gentleman said was put into investigating fraud and abuse. His comparison simply does not stand up.

I should like to reduce the temperature and return to the points which the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe raised. For reasons that I have already given, I do not accept that a large-scale, expensive and poorly targeted national publicity campaign is the right way to approach the problem. As I have said, I am concerned to ensure that those who could and should benefit from the scheme are aware that they might be entitled to do so, and are encouraged to submit claims. We shall draw the problem once again to the attention of the TUC, because unions have an important part to play. We shall also approach the CBI along the same lines, because employers, too, have a part to play. We shall contact the Asthma Research Council and the Asthma Society, which are in touch with many sufferers from asthma, and which may he able to alert some of them to the possibilities of the scheme. We shall certainly welcome suggestions from other organisations and individuals, including the right hon. Gentleman, about other ways in which we might be able to contact the appropriate people. I am happy to say that officials of the Department are willing to meet those to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred from the bakers' union to discuss positive and concrete ways in which we can collaborate in helping with the problems of their industry.

In those and other ways we shall continue to do everything we can, in a targeted and effective way, to draw the scheme to people's attention. At the same time, we shall take every opportunity to publicise the scheme where possible through the press and the more specialised television and radio programmes, which offer a more closely targeted method. I also welcome the chance of making the scheme more widely known through debates such as this.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe referred to nasal cancer and to the investigation mounted by the bakers' union. I was interested to hear that the incidence of nasal cancer among its members is being looked at. That form of cancer — carcinoma of the nasal cavity or associated air sinuses to give it its full title—is already a prescribed occupational disease for workers engaged in the manufacture or repair of footwear made of leather or fibreboard or in the manufacture of wooden furniture. With effect from 3 October 1983, in accordance with regulations laid earlier this week, the occupational cover is being extended to include the manufacture or repair of any wooden goods. Carcinoma of the mucous membrane of the nose or associated air sinuses is prescribed for work in the production of nickel.

That change will extend the coverage of the scheme into aspects not related to those upon which the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe touched, and it is a demonstration of our continuing concern and that of the advisory council. If the bakers' union has, or comes up with, evidence relating to any other occupations, I am sure that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council will be glad to consider it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the end this is a matter for the advisory council to consider, but the very fact that we now have the occupational asthma scheme and that we have had this debate this morning is a sign of our concern and that of the council to make sure that the spread of industrial injuries coverage is as good as we can make it. I shall continue every reasonable effort to make sure that the benefits go to those who are entitled to have them.