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Clause 18 - Defined terms used in more than one section of this Act

Mesothelioma Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 12th December 2013.

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Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 2:45 pm, 12th December 2013

I beg to move amendment 51, in clause 18, page 10, line 5, after ‘scheme’, insert—

“‘applicant” means a person applying for a payment under the scheme.’.

Amendment 52 follows on from the previous amendment and is therefore not an amendment with which the Committee needs to concern itself. Amendment 51 simply deals with the fact that—perhaps I missed it or I am entirely wrong—there is no definition of “applicant” in the Bill. A definition is not only desirable, but probably necessary. I hope that this is one amendment, at least, that the Minister will, even if not now, be able to accept in due course.

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

I also discussed that extensively this morning. I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the conversations and detailed work he has been doing with the Bill Committee team. I will consider the amendment as we go forward, but, at this stage of the Bill, I am content not to progress with it.

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

Because I do not feel there is a requirement to do so, and nor does the team or the parliamentary draftsman. Even though my hon. and learned Friend is very knowledgeable in this area, I have to accept the advice that I am given. I have examined it and I feel that it is fine. [ Interruption. ]

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

There is cross-heckling of the heckler going on. I hear what the Minister says, but I do think it would be desirable to have a definition of “applicant” in the Bill. I hope that he will reflect further and no doubt discuss the position with me and with his officials, with whom I can also talk it over, and I hope that he will come back in due course with a Government amendment. On the basis of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I was looking in clause 18 for a definition of “specified payment”. Of course, I did not find it, because clause 18 covers the definition of terms used in more than one part of the Bill. If I turn to clause 2, I find that “specified payment” is indeed defined and

“has the meaning to be given to it by the scheme.”

The scheme, however, is in clause 18, which is why I now seek to comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston made some important points when we met earlier in the week about the T&N Asbestos Trust. Without detaining the Committee on the details, because we did have some discussion about it, I am sure, Mr Howarth, that you and other members of the Committee will know that, because of the company voluntary agreement that was reached in 2006 following that company becoming insolvent, recipients of payments under the T&N scheme receive in the region of £40,000 as compensation.

Based on what it knows at the moment, T&N Asbestos Trust has estimates for the payments to people who will benefit from the fund, which this legislation is about to establish. At the moment, under the present terms—we hope that those terms will be improved as the Minister reflects on the arguments that have been put—the payments would be about £95,000.

Because the £40,000 payments are deemed to be specified payments, those who receive them will not be eligible to make a claim to the fund being established by the Bill. On any reading of that, it seems to be a plain injustice that people who have mesothelioma will receive  inadequate payments for that illness simply because a company insolvency makes them ineligible to claim under the fund being established.

I make that point because I received specific representations from the T&N Asbestos Trust, which is based in my constituency. As the Minister draws up the regulations on what will be provided for in the scheme, will he think of the plight of those workers who face not just the dreadful prospect of a mesothelioma diagnosis, but being at least £55,000 worse off simply because of the insolvency of the company that they previously worked for?

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:00 pm, 12th December 2013

I support my right hon. Friend’s comments. I am aware that the Minister will point out that the people who receive a payment under the Turner and Newall scheme will not suffer a clawback of benefits. None the less, the difference between a typical payment of £40,000 without benefit clawback and a payment of typically £90,000 or £95,000 even with full benefit clawback will mean in most cases that the Turner and Newall scheme beneficiaries will be disadvantaged.

I will raise another point in relation to the Turner and Newall scheme. I apologise for raising this again, but the letter that the Minister kindly sent us this morning to deal with some issues discussed in Tuesday’s debate raised further questions. I hope that he can clarify these points. In his letter, he said:

“The provision in clause 18(3) of the Bill for the scheme to specify circumstances in which a person is, or is not, to be treated as able to bring an action, is linked to the eligibility conditions in clauses 2(1)(d) and 3(1)(c). Those eligibility conditions require an applicant to the scheme to show that there is no employer or employers’ liability insurer that they can bring an action for damages against because those parties a.) cannot be found b.) no longer exist or c.) for any other reason.”

The group I refer to are not Turner and Newall employees, but employees of other businesses who used Turner and Newall products. In fact, almost any worker in the electrician sector, plumbing, shipbuilding, manufacturing and so on will have used Turner and Newall products during some period in our industrial history, because it dominated the asbestos supply market for many years.

In some cases, those workers will no longer be able to trace their employer or their employer’s liability insurer. Ostensibly, in those cases, they should be able to access the scheme provided for in the Bill. The difficulty as I understand it, however, is that the Turner and Newall schemes, which will be specified payments that preclude people from accessing this scheme, also include the possibility of people raising claims against those trusts on product liability claims, not just employment liability claims.

I am concerned that a worker who cannot trace his or her own employer but can be shown to have used Turner and Newall products, and therefore could ostensibly access the Turner and Newall product liability scheme, could be precluded from coming to the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme. I am sure that that is not the legislation’s intention—I would be very surprised if it were—but I would be grateful if the Minister would make that absolutely clear either on Report or in regulations. The real risk is that any worker might be precluded from applying to the scheme, not just those from the manual industries, because, across the decades, so many of us will have come into contact with Turner and Newall products.

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

Let me touch on that exact point. That is not the intention. The intention of the Bill is not only financially to assist sufferers of mesothelioma and their dependants to find out about their employer’s insurance if they were employed, but, if there is no scheme for them to go to and they have no recourse, for them to fit in with this fund of last resort.

I will look carefully at the points made by the hon. Lady, because technical issues such as litigation are involved. I will come back to her between now and Report, or on Report, which I understand will be quite soon—the day after the House returns after Christmas. It has been announced that we will be back on the Tuesday for Report and Third Reading, so I am not pre-empting an announcement by the Leader of the House. We will try to be as expansive as possible about our proposals, as I have been in the letters that I been sending to colleagues during the Committee stage.

The points made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East on behalf of his constituents were covered in issues discussed the other day. I know there will be disappointment in what I say, but the principle of the Bill is that the scheme is for those with no other recourse—for people who cannot make a claim elsewhere. Some will feel that that is unfair, and I understand and have sympathy with that view, but we cannot open up the terms of the Bill more than we already have. The fund has to be one of last resort. I know that that is difficult, but that is exactly what it is—that is what it says on the tin, in the Bill. I understand the concerns, but I hope that the clause is accepted.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 19 and 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.