Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) Bill

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 24th April 2009.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Justice) 1:42 pm, 24th April 2009

Yes, I appreciate that. I think that I said quite clearly, although I will repeat for the sake of clarity, that we on the Conservative Benches certainly acknowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of people—not just in Britain, but throughout the world—who were forced to work with asbestos when the awful effects it can have were not known. I have previously seen evidence of the dreadful effects of asbestosis. I also accept what the hon. Lady says about the employer in question sometimes being Her Majesty's Government, which means that the person legally responsible for compensation for the injuries suffered is the British taxpayer. I entirely agree that that is an incontrovertible fact.

The hon. Lady asks whether I intend to oppose the Bill today. We are dealing with something that is in the balance—something that is not clear. It is not a matter for party political argument, nor of political principle. It is not a question of our thinking and saying one thing, and the Government thinking and saying another. Far from it: we recognise that people are suffering and have suffered. I believe that the matter ought to be more carefully explored. As a matter of principle, I would always encourage us to allow such a Bill to go to Committee, so that it can be properly considered.

The hon. Member for Hendon said that he would welcome amendments to the Bill in Committee. As a mark of respect to our legislative process, I would not oppose a Bill such as this at this stage in the proceedings. I am not yet certain whether I will support it, but I will not seek to prevent it from having a Second Reading. It is right that all these matters should be explored.

I should like to continue with my exploration of the published medical opinion. I have already quoted Dr. John Moore-Gillon, and I should like to quote a leading consultant, Dr. Robin Rudd, who has said:

"Pleural plaques are not thought to lead directly to any of the other benign varieties of asbestosis-induced pleural disease".

Dr. John Moore-Gillon has also said:

"Pleural plaques do not themselves 'turn malignant' and become a malignant mesothelioma".

The issue is whether the development of pleural plaques amounts to an actionable injury. I would argue that, if there is a causal link between the suffering and the employment that caused the suffering, there is clearly a case in law. If there is no such causal link or no quantifiable suffering, there is no case in law.

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