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Clause 4 - Payments

Mesothelioma Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 12th December 2013.

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Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 11:30 am, 12th December 2013

I beg to move amendment 22, in clause 4, page 3, line 10, leave out from ‘dependant’ to end and add

‘apportioned in such manner as the scheme shall direct’.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Davies. For whatever reason, you are being punished by having to listen to me a lot.

The amendment will allow the Minister to deal with why clause 4 provides, as I understand it, that when there is more than one eligible dependant who receives compensation under the scheme proposed under the Bill, that compensation will be equally divided between the eligible dependants. The Bill achieves that simply by stating that

“where there are two or more eligible dependants, the amount for each of them is the amount for a single eligible dependant divided by the number of eligible dependants in the case in question.”

As a result, when there is more than one eligible dependant, the compensation will be equally divided between them.

Eligible dependants are dealt with in clause 3, which we have already debated and in which their entitlements are set out. The definition of an eligible dependant under clause 18—perhaps there is something even in clause 3—is set out by reference to section 3 of the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979. I have that Act with me, but I will not read the entire definition in it into the proceedings of the Committee; suffice it to say, as I understand it, that if the scheme is set up under the present drafting, when there is more than one eligible dependant, which would include spouses, children and those who are in the position of spouses though not formally married, the compensation would be divided equally between them.

The Minister needs to reflect on that and justify it, because there may be eligible dependants who ought to receive a greater chunk of the payout under the scheme that will be set up by the Bill—should it pass its remaining stages and receive Royal Assent—than other eligible dependants. This probing amendment is therefore an attempt to elicit from the Minister some indication of why the Government think that the compensation should be equally divided between eligible dependants in all circumstances. For example, if there is a spouse and young children, it would seem sensible for a far greater chunk of the compensation to go the spouse who is responsible for those young children, at least until they achieve their majority.

The amendment is probing, but I want an indication from the Minister of why equal division is appropriate in this scheme that he is advocating.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank colleagues and you, Mr Davies, for being present today, so that we can make good progress on the Bill.

My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. In the circumstances he described, the compensation would go to the spouse. If the spouse or partner was not there, it would be equally divided among the other dependants. The reason why we have taken such an approach is that we do not want to bog down the administration of the fund with disputes between family members. We feel that that is something that should be done outside the administration. I understand his point, but I do not think that it will become a problem, especially given that the fund will pay to the spouse or partner.

With that clarification, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw his amendment. Although I understand where he is coming from, we want to keep administration costs to a minimum and we do not want to get involved in disputes.

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. From what he says, I understand it is intended that, if there is a surviving spouse, the payment will go to the spouse, and thereafter it will go to eligible dependants, such as children. Perhaps I have misunderstood, or not properly read, the definition of “dependant” in the 1979 Act but, on the basis of the Minister’s assurance—although I would like to discuss this point with him outside the confines of Committee—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.