Miners' Compensation

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Economy and Taxation; Education & Skills; Miner's Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry) 11:30 am, 27th January 2005

If she will make a statement on progress in determining the position of former surface workers in relation to the miners' compensation scheme.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

A total of 396,000 compensation payments have been made to sick miners, or their widows or relatives, for respiratory diseases and vibration white finger, totalling £2.3 billion. I outlined the latest position on surface workers in my letter of 13 January to the hon. Gentleman and others. Following a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, I have given an undertaking to re-examine the position.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Economy and Taxation; Education & Skills; Miner's Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware of the enormous distress that this issue is causing to former surface workers. Will he tell us whether the Government are insisting on costs being awarded against litigants if they are unsuccessful in any test case? I understand that solicitors acting for the miners have offered to undertake this work at no cost. Could not Government counsel make a similar undertaking?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

Solicitors acting for the miners have had £450 million in public money, so they are not short of such funds. Clearly, with legal aid and other avenues open to miners, those who suffer from disease and who are on low incomes or low pensions can have their legal costs covered through apportionment of costs, as the hon. Member will know. I hope that he will urge solicitors approaching him and his constituents to follow that route.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

I pay tribute to the Government for what they have done with regard to the scheme for underground workers, but my hon. Friend will be aware that there is a question regarding surface workers. There were areas on the colliery surface that were extremely dusty, such as the coal prep plant, the screens and the coke batteries. Will he consider introducing a separate scheme from the current one, which need not involve solicitors and could be drawn up in a similar way to the pneumoconiosis scheme, which, by the way, covered surface workers?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I have been advised of the medical evidence in relation to surface-only workers. Unfortunately, the levels of respiratory disease and dust in their lungs do not appear to make them eligible, and would not appear to do so under the other scheme. I opened up our records to miners' solicitors, so that test cases could be brought forward. Towards the end of last year, 15 cases were identified, and I hope that solicitors can find a way of pursuing those cases, so that we can get to the facts. The medical evidence so far is that dust damage done to lungs on the surface is not comparable to that done to deep-mine workers in dusty pits. We are trying to explore that evidence with miners' representatives.

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

Will the Minister also accept my congratulations on the fact that underground workers in my constituency have received almost £79 million from the compensation scheme? Having said that, I am pleased that the Minister has announced that he is reviewing the Government's stance. Will he explain to me and my constituents who suffer from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, who worked for many years in the washeries and the screens on the surface, where they contracted their CBE if not at work?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

There is nothing to stop a miner taking a civil case. Indeed, the whole scheme arose from a civil case about that. The medical evidence so far has not in any way been conclusive as to whether they have suffered because of other factors. The medical evidence has been presented, and we have worked with miners' representatives to ensure that they have the most open access and the best possible help in bringing a test case. As I have said, 15 miners have been identified, and I hope that one or more of those cases can be taken forward.