Like other hon. Members, I start by mentioning my right hon. Friend Paul Goggins, who has done much on this subject. He organises an annual memorial event in Greater Manchester, in the city centre, and as a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament I have always been pleased to attend, so I thank him for his work in that regard. I pass on my best wishes to his family, and I hope he will be well again soon.
Hon. Members will be aware that Rochdale was home to the world’s biggest asbestos factory—Turner and Newall dominated the town for many years—and it is fair to say that the legacy of asbestos still haunts our town and its people. Walking around my constituency, it is hard to find anyone who has not been affected in some way by asbestos, whether through family members, friends or colleagues, many of whom have been affected by asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos destroys lives and breaks families. In Rochdale, it has left a community legacy in the form of a massive derelict factory site that nobody is prepared to remediate effectively.
The lack of justice and compensation for many of the victims of asbestos is a scandal that has lasted for far too long. I am pleased that the Bill is before us, but we must go further than what is proposed. I believe that the Bill falls woefully short of providing adequate compensation for the victims.
The Bill contains a number of arbitrary decisions that I think are designed purely to appease the insurance industry. First and foremost among those is the cut-off date for diagnosis,
Secondly, the Bill is very limited in terms of who it supports and helps. It is being spun as a victory for asbestos sufferers, but it is limited to covering just mesothelioma victims and it will not affect people who have come into contact with asbestos domestically. That is a cause for concern.
My final point is about the level of compensation. Frankly, 75% is insulting. We must remember that the Government were proposing a 70% limit. My opinion is that a fair level of compensation would be 100%, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East suggested. I am prepared to support an 80% level. That modest increase would at least give some comfort to the victims.
All those arbitrary decisions raise serious questions about the Bill. I get the impression that the Government are good at standing up for the strong insurance industry, but weak when it comes to standing up for the victims of asbestos.
I will finish by referring to the case of a lady called Mrs Nellie Kershaw. She started work as an asbestos spinner at the age of 12 in the Turner and Newall factory in Rochdale. In 1922, she became too sick to work and was diagnosed by a local doctor as suffering from asbestos poisoning. As it was an occupational illness, she was ineligible for sickness benefit from a local scheme to which she had contributed. Her husband, Frank, who was having to look after the couple’s two children, pleaded with her employers for assistance. They refused to offer any help and she died in poverty on
Nellie Kershaw was the first person in this country to be diagnosed with asbestosis. She and her family were left with absolutely nothing. Fast-forward 90 years and we are here today quibbling over who should and who should not receive compensation and over how much the compensation should be. As it stands, the Bill does the minimum possible to support asbestos victims.