Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 4th July 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone 2:49 pm, 4th July 2007

I hope that we will be able to get the details of how CMEC will do its work when we discuss the Bill in Committee. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will play her part in ensuring that we do.

This is a Bill for families. It is focused on children, and I think that it will bring many improvements. It is due to be in full operation by 2013, and I expect it to give families a chance to ensure that they have an income that will support their lifestyles.

The Government deserve congratulation on part 4 of the Bill, which deals with the payments made to sufferers of mesothelioma cancer. At present, they can claim industrial injuries disablement benefit, and the Government should be praised for ending the dual system that used to be in force. Under it, a person diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer by a hospital consultant then had to see the DWP doctor for an endorsement of that diagnosis before being able to draw the benefit. Now, the consultant's report on a person diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer is used as the basis for the payment of industrial injuries disablement benefit, which is paid at 100 per cent. That has been a great step forward.

Alternatively, the benefit could be claimed as a result of an action for civil damages under the common law. Where such an action has not been possible, a sufferer has been able to make a claim for payment under the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979. That legislation was brought in originally to deal with problems suffered by slate quarrymen, but up to now payments have been limited by the fact that they had to be decided in the industrial sphere. That meant, for example, that a woman who developed mesothelioma cancer from the fibre on her husband's clothing was not able to claim payment under the industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme.

The Bill is a great step forward because it allows a woman in that position to make a claim under the 1979 Act. The Government have in effect provided a no-fault liability scheme for mesothelioma sufferers. Moreover, the Bill also means that another category of people—those who live near a factory where asbestos is used—will now be able to make a claim.

As I have said, the Government deserve to be congratulated, but it is important that we understand the size of the problem. The document provided by the Library makes some astounding assumptions about death rates. For example, Robin Howie, an industrial hygienist, has suggested that in the 91 years between 1929 and 2020, there are likely to be between 663,000 and 803,000 deaths in the UK caused by problems with asbestos. Mesothelioma sufferers will be part of that total, and we know that the number of diagnoses of the disease is rising. At present, there are some 1,800 or 1,900 a year, but the total is likely to continue to increase until 2015, after which it will plateau and fall away by 2050. It is clear, therefore, that an enormous number of people will die as a result of exposure to the fatal fibre that is asbestos.

We must not forget that the TUC has argued that other cancers as well as mesothelioma are caused by asbestos. We can be sure that asbestos fibre causes mesothelioma but, although the evidence is not quite as strong for other cancers, we know that 4,500 people die each year as a result of exposure to asbestos. The TUC is worried that the number of such deaths between 2000 and 2050 will be extremely high.

Peter Martin wrote an article that appeared in The Sunday Times magazine of 17 May 2004, in which he predicted that, in the UK alone, there would be 186,000 deaths between 2000 and 2020 as a result of exposure to asbestos. It is therefore extremely important to have a no-fault compensation scheme for people who develop mesothelioma cancer.

I look forward to the time when the compensation recovery unit is able to secure payments as a result of successful civil actions brought by people who previously claimed under the 1979 Act, as that will help us to ensure that payments under the Act will equal the payments made as a result of civil claims. They may be lower in the beginning, but I am sure that we will catch up. The average payment made under the scheme is between £6,000 and £14,000—not a lot of money, but people in the last months of their lives can use that resource to make their lives a little easier.

I very much welcome the Bill. I appreciate the changes that it makes to the system of maintenance payments, but I am most pleased by the introduction of the no-fault liability scheme for sufferers of mesothelioma cancer.