Oral Answers to Questions — Chester Street Holdings

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie 12:00, 3 April 2001

What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the collapse of Chester Street Holdings and its implications for sufferers from asbestos-related diseases in Scotland; and if she will make a statement. [155170]

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Secretary of State, Scottish Office, The Secretary of State for Scotland

I am well aware of the difficulties relating to Chester Street. I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and also with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We well understand the concerns of those who are suffering from asbestos-related diseases, and we are working very hard across government and with the insurance industry to alleviate those concerns as far as we possibly can.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

I thank my right hon. Friend for her active involvement. Her record on pensions mis-selling gives great credibility to her efforts.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I believe that our first duty is to the sick and dying: they must be paid full compensation, and not lose out because of Chester Street. Is it not appalling, however, that Mr. Robert Hardy, chief executive of both Iron Trades and Chester Street, should have sold Iron Trades to QBE for less than its book price, then joined it as chief executive and taken £1 million out of his various firms? Is that not disgraceful, and does it not demonstrate that we need a full independent inquiry into this sorry matter?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Secretary of State, Scottish Office, The Secretary of State for Scotland

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign that he has waged on behalf of sufferers from asbestos-related diseases for so many years. The last thing anyone needed was the scandal of the collapse of Chester Street, and I share his anxiety about some of the activities that went on.

The provisional liquidator is examining the state of Chester Street. It will be for the provisional liquidator, in the first instance, to investigate what went on in Chester Street. If he turns up anything that gives rise to further inquiries, the Government will not hesitate to pursue them.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute

I commend the efforts of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) to sort out the appalling situation involving Chester Street.

May I draw the Secretary of State's attention to a recent letter from a constituent? She is a widow living alone, whose husband died in 1997 from an asbestos-related disease. Her claim has still not been dealt with. Will the Secretary of State ensure to the best of her ability that any necessary inquiry or investigation will not delay or stand in the way of those who have suffered and should be receiving compensation?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Secretary of State, Scottish Office, The Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Lady is right. We all have a great desire to find out what happened in relation to Chester Street and who was responsible for it happening, but we must have a twin-track approach. We must not only find out what happened, but protect the sufferers.

I am very concerned that the provisional liquidator has been able to find only 5p in the pound to meet the claims; I find that very disturbing. I am also concerned about people whose cases relate to before 1972 because they are not covered by any of the existing schemes. We are working hard across government to find routes to assist those people. It is not an easy matter. I have spoken to senior people in the insurance industry, too. They are as appalled as we are at what has happened. We will not rest until we find a way forward. It will not be easy, but the hon. Lady has my commitment that we will do everything possible to help her constituent and others who are affected.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on his excellent work following the Chester Street collapse. My hon. Friends the Members for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and I were impressed by his speech at the rally on Saturday. He did an excellent job for the people. Sufferers in Anniesland would like to thank him personally for that. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the insurance industry meets its responsibilities in respect of pre-1972 claimants?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Secretary of State, Scottish Office, The Secretary of State for Scotland

Some of the issues involved relate to whether individuals are covered by any other insurance company. Where an individual was with an employer who was insured only through Chester Street, there is a significant difficulty. If, however, the individual's employer was insured with another company as well as Chester Street, the other company will meet the liability.

I know my hon. Friend's constituency. Many of his constituents will have worked for British Shipbuilders. That company will acknowledge all liability in relation to victims of asbestosis, but all of us recognise that not everyone is covered. We must find out the full information and find the best way in which to help them.