Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:35 pm on 21 March 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:35, 21 March 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5628, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 2:37, 21 March 2007

The Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill is a short but significant piece of legislation that will help a small group of people who find themselves in tragic circumstances.

At present, under section 1(2) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976, claims by the immediate family of someone who dies as a result of a personal injury are extinguished if the injured person settles their own claim before they die. The purpose of the bill is to address, urgently and exclusively, a horrible dilemma that the law of damages presents to mesothelioma sufferers, who face certain but not immediate death. Most sufferers go without the comforts that compensation might provide before they die so that their families can benefit from larger awards after their death. That is an appalling predicament for sufferers and their families to face at what is already a tremendously difficult and harrowing time. The bill will remove the dilemma by disapplying section 1(2) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976 so as to allow the immediate family of a mesothelioma sufferer to claim damages for non-patrimonial loss under section 1(4) of the act after the sufferer dies, irrespective of whether the deceased has already recovered damages or obtained a settlement.

I want to express my thanks to the Justice 1 Committee for considering the bill so diligently and to its clerking team for ensuring that events have progressed smoothly. Although this small bill was welcomed by all parties, it was nonetheless robustly scrutinised and improved by the committee. I also record my sincere thanks to Des McNulty MSP, who generously allowed us to draw from his work in preparing our consultation, and to other MSPs who have long taken an interest in this important issue. I also thank Thompsons Solicitors for providing us with statistics, and the asbestos groups, the various trade unions and everyone else who has enabled the Executive to introduce this unique bill. We welcome in particular the tireless energy and commitment of the campaigning groups in allowing us to reach this point. Without their hard work and dedication, we would not be debating the bill at all.

I also thank the officials in the Executive's bill team for the good work that they have done in response to the committee's requests and for being extremely helpful to me, as someone who became involved in the bill's progress at a late stage.

During stage 2 consideration of the bill, I was pleased to fulfil the undertaking that was given to the committee at stage 1 that the bill would be amended so that its provisions would apply to any case in which the sufferer recovered damages or obtained a full settlement on or after 20 December 2006. At stage 2, the committee unanimously agreed to the amendments that will allow that to happen. I record my thanks to the committee for exploring the issue of retrospection so thoroughly with witnesses at stage 1 and to the witnesses for their consensus on the matter.

In practical terms, that means that from 20 December last year sufferers have been able to hold someone to account before they die without worrying about disadvantaging their families. As a result of being able to settle their claims or seek accelerated proof dates, some sufferers will be able to get, and to benefit from, their own full damages before they die. In addition, sufferers who had put off starting proceedings to avoid disadvantaging their families have now begun proceedings. There has already been an increase in the number of claims raised by people with mesothelioma.

In the financial memorandum to the bill, we said that, in future, not one but two actions might be raised because if the victim can settle before death, the relatives will be able to raise their own action. At present, if the victim does not settle, a single claim is made by the executor and relatives.

The issue of initiating a single action for the mesothelioma sufferer and their immediate family was explored in detail by the committee in evidence from stakeholders. I then wrote to the committee to confirm that primary legislation would not be required and that it was a matter for the rules of court. The stage 1 report on the bill recommended that the Executive should liaise with the Court of Session, the insurance industry and solicitors to establish whether the raising of a single action in mesothelioma cases would be feasible and whether it would, indeed, be beneficial to all parties. We accepted the recommendation and the issue has been investigated further. Stakeholders agree that the raising of a single action would be beneficial for claimants, as it would save time and expense.

Personal injury claims in the Court of Session are dealt with under the Coulsfield procedures, which were introduced to bring about speedier settlement of claims. A personal injuries user group chaired by Lady Paton was established by the Lord President to monitor the effectiveness of the new procedures and to recommend continuing improvements to the procedure. I am pleased to inform the Parliament that the user group has considered the use of single actions in mesothelioma cases and has recommended that changes be made to the rules of the Court of Session to enable both claims to be dealt with in the same action. The recommendations await formal consideration by the court once the bill is passed, with a view to early implementation.

Looking more widely, the United Kingdom Government believes that, whenever possible, mesothelioma sufferers should receive compensation in life so that they themselves can benefit from it while knowing that their families will be secure in the future. That is completely in line with our approach, and I welcome the proposals to provide faster compensation to all people diagnosed with mesothelioma that were announced on 13 March by John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Once passed, that piece of reserved legislation will mean that every sufferer should receive a state payment within six weeks of making a claim, which will be recovered if a subsequent civil compensation claim is successful. Scottish sufferers will benefit from those proposals as well as from the provisions in the bill.

I am required to signify Crown consent. For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I wish to advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

I feel privileged to have been involved in progressing the bill. I pay tribute to my colleague Hugh Henry, the former Deputy Minister for Justice, who was instrumental in securing a legislative slot for this small but crucial bill. As I have said before, I have been struck by the fact that the issue goes far beyond financial considerations such as damages. It is also about sufferers wanting—and deserving—acknowledgement of what has caused their suffering. In addition to being denied the chance to obtain funds that would have eased their suffering at the end of their lives, sufferers have been denied the chance to hear someone take responsibility and admit that what happened was their fault.

I trust that all members will again support this short but vital piece of legislation, which will bring real benefit to mesothelioma sufferers and their families.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 2:44, 21 March 2007

I apologise, as I will have to leave the debate before the conclusion of the final speeches to go to a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The Scottish National Party heartily concurs with the minister. This is a short but significant—indeed, vital—bill. To some extent, the bill has been fast tracked, which is as it should be, and there were no stage 3 amendments.

Although the bill is short and limited in what it does, it has huge significance for the few individuals involved. We have had debates at stage 1 and elsewhere, but discourse has been limited because the matter is clearly one on which there is unity in the country and in the chamber.

We are aware that our proceedings are heating up as we approach the elections. It is often thought that a gladiatorial amphitheatre is replicated in the chamber at First Minister's questions, when politicians have battles over their respective ideologies. However, sometimes members clearly recognise that, irrespective of the political party that they belong to and the ideology that they profess, some things are manifestly wrong and unjust, such as the outcome of the decision by the House of Lords. Irrespective of where someone sits in this chamber or what political ethos they subscribe to, the situation was unacceptable and it was necessary that we acted with all speed.

As the minister correctly said, great tributes go to those who have been involved with the bill: Hugh Henry; Des McNulty; those involved on the committee; and those who have pursued a battle not only over the bill but over the whole issue of asbestosis. It is a battle that has been fought for more than a generation. Sadly, the struggle will probably continue because, as was mentioned during stage 1, cases are springing up in areas where we had not thought that there would be the possibility of related diseases.

When new technologies and new construction practices were first used many years ago, nobody started out with the deliberate thought that they would set out to make people sick, whether in the shipyards or in the construction industry. However, that was the consequence. Blame can be attributed to some companies that have acted shamefully. The bill will provide some solace for individuals, but some companies have acted appallingly, and some may continue to do so. We must pay tribute to those in Clydeside and elsewhere in Scotland who have fought tenaciously—often with little support from Government or political parties—to raise the issue. The credit goes to them, but, as I said, it also clearly goes to others, such as Des McNulty, who picked up the baton and ran with it.

We had a full debate at stage 1, when members clearly recognised the wrong that had come about. The chamber is frequently divided, but I hope that there is no division over this debate, because we all recognise the injustice involved. It would be perverse if we were to have petty party squabbles over something that matters so much to the individuals affected. The Hobson's choice that those individuals faced—either to seek some recompense in their lifetime or to leave it to their families to pursue recompense thereafter—was manifestly wrong.

We have not necessarily resolved all the problems; doubtless, significant problems will arise for others. I mentioned during the stage 1 debate that, when I had the pleasure of being in the company of Harry Benson, he told me of an outcome of the 9/11 tragedy that I had not known about. Many of the photographers who took the pictures that we have all seen in newspapers and elsewhere got dreadful diseases related to asbestosis because of all the problems that occurred in the atmosphere in and around downtown Manhattan.

Such issues will continue to arise, but—this is perhaps fitting as we come to the end of the session—as members of the Scottish Parliament, we must bury our differences and recognise that there is more that unites us than divides us and that we are here to address problems that exist in Scottish society. It is necessary for all politicians to recognise that some things transcend party ideology and must be sorted out. That is why the bill has had our full support and why it will have our full support at 5pm.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 2:49, 21 March 2007

It is a pleasure to speak in support of this short and unusual bill. It is a measure of the unanimity of the support for the bill that there were no stage 3 amendments.

That is in sharp contrast to my first experience of legislation in 2003, when the new Justice 1 Committee dealt with the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, which involved complicated reforms of High Court proceedings; amended the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995; introduced trial in the absence of the accused; increased sheriffs' sentencing powers; abolished the 110-day rule; addressed bail issues; focused on preliminary hearings; and made other procedural alterations. Suffice it to say that the stage 3 amendments that were lodged then were numerous and varied, and were the subject of robust debate.

Today the situation is very different, as the summary of evidence that was received by the Justice 1 Committee and the Scottish Executive testifies. Interest groups such as Clydeside Action on Asbestos and Asbestos Action (Tayside), West Dunbartonshire Council, Stirling Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Perth and Kinross Council, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, insurers and consumers, as well as various legal and academic respondents, were all in agreement that the existing law is problematic for mesothelioma sufferers and their relatives.

Although 12 of the 15 respondents stated that they were in favour of disapplying section 1(2) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976—the provision whereby the relatives' claim is extinguished if the sufferer settles their claim before death—as a means of remedying the problem, others, notably the Association of British Insurers and the Forum of Scottish Claims Managers, initially argued that the problem could be solved

"by encouraging claimants to initiate their claim, make an application for interim damages, and then sist the claim until after death."

Some respondents, including the STUC, considered that there was justification for including other medical conditions in the bill. Others recognised that, perversely, improvements to court timetables and the more streamlined claims procedure following the Coulsfield report had the unintentional effect of adding to the anguish of sufferers, who, once diagnosed, have an average life expectancy of 14 months.

Despite the initial difference of opinion about how best to solve the problem, there have been none of the entrenched standpoints that are usually adopted when we debate the detail of a bill, once the general principles have been agreed. Instead, all the parties involved have been willing to compromise, in recognition of the uniqueness of the features that relate to mesothelioma: namely, that it is almost invariably caused by exposure to a particular substance—asbestos; that, as medical science currently stands, there is no cure; that life expectancy is short at, on average, 14 months; and that, under the Fairchild exception, sufferers do not need to meet the normal test of causation in civil actions. For those reasons, the bill that is before us today is mesothelioma specific. It is designed to remove the dilemma that sufferers face in relation to relatives' compensation claims, which in approximately 80 per cent of cases has resulted in the sufferer forgoing their claim to ensure that their relatives are not disadvantaged.

No other class of personal injury shares the characteristics of mesothelioma, which means that our passing the bill does not compromise the general principle that relatives' rights are extinguished if the deceased settles their claim in full prior to death.

This is a bill of which the Scottish Parliament can be proud. It represents devolution as it was intended to work. As the minister confirmed, there is no doubt that the Parliament would not be in a position to pass the bill today were it not for the campaigners, for Thompsons Solicitors, who acted on behalf of the sufferers, and for Des McNulty. It is to be hoped that, when the Parliament convenes in the new session, it will give careful consideration to alternative ways of tackling the problems of the day, rather than rushing to legislate, so that precious legislative time can be given over to prioritising bills such as this, which can and, I hope sincerely, will make a difference to mesothelioma sufferers and their relatives.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 2:54, 21 March 2007

I am pleased to speak at stage 3 of the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill.

I have been in the Parliament for only four years, whereas others have been here longer, but I was wondering whether this was the first ever bill to which no amendments have been lodged at stage 3. One or two of my colleagues seem to recall bills for which only the Executive lodged amendments, and one colleague said that there might have been a bill with no Executive amendments. Perhaps one or two of my colleagues on the Justice 1 Committee can enlighten me. It might at least give them something fresh to say in the debate.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I think that the member is correct. I cannot recall a previous occasion on which there were no amendments to a bill at stage 3—although I am sure that I will be corrected if I am wrong.

I think that this is also the first occasion on which the Executive has adopted all the key proposals made by a committee of the Parliament. I am sure that the member will join me in welcoming that.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

Absolutely—without question.

The non-contentious nature of this bill was clearly evident in the shortest ever briefing from the Law Society of Scotland. I was actually able to read it reasonably quickly from end to end and understand it all.

I decided to look up mesothelioma on the web. There are 284,000 references on Google UK and 796,000 references on worldwide Google. Even such a simple subject as this has more information on the web than any of us could ever hope to read.

I was interested to read on Google that the dangers of asbestos were already well known as far back as 1899. Therefore, we might ask why it took so long to ban it. The answer is probably that asbestos was so useful and so cheap in installations in the building industry.

During my exploration of Google, I came across the interesting case of June Hancock, who lived in Leeds near a factory owned by J W Roberts, which was, in turn, owned by Turner & Newall. The factory manufactured asbestos. As a child in the late fifties, June Hancock played in Armley, a suburb of Leeds near the factory. After asbestos dust was pushed out from the factory and covered the area, exposing many innocent residents to the dangers of the substance, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. J W Roberts had long since closed, so she took the parent company, Turner & Newall, to court. In October 1995, she finally won her case and was awarded £65,000. She was the first person to sue who had not been directly involved in the asbestos industry. She had not worked in the industry but was an innocent bystander. She won her case four years before asbestos was finally banned in 1999.

I was surprised to learn that there is a type of mesothelioma that is actually benign. Like the cancerous type, it occurs by lodging in the lining of the lungs, but it never develops into a tumour. However, the benign type is very rare.

Most cases of mesothelioma form into tumours and there is no known cure. It is caused by one of three types of asbestos—blue, brown or white—and it takes between six and 10 years to develop after exposure. As I said, asbestos was finally banned in 1999, but in theory we will still be getting new cases in 2059. It is estimated that by 2015 there will be 3,000 new cases a year. So this small bill, with so few sections, will have a very positive outcome for a great many people for many years.

The disease is almost always caused by asbestos, but very occasionally it seems to develop in other cases. The medical profession does not yet fully understand how that occurs. Research has led some in the profession to think that it might in some way be linked to radiation.

Today we will pass a bill with no dissent. For those who are currently suffering, and for the many who are going to suffer, it will give a better deal. Those people deserve that better deal. Compensation awards are better than they were, but are they enough? June Hancock was awarded £65,000 in 1995, but how much should the award be in 2007?

I also congratulate all those who have campaigned so hard on this issue: Clydeside Action on Asbestos; Asbestos Action (Tayside); Des McNulty, in particular; Duncan McNeil; and many others.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 3:00, 21 March 2007

I, too, am pleased to speak in the debate. As members said, many people should be congratulated on their support for the bill: my Labour colleagues Des McNulty and Duncan McNeil, who secured members' business debates on the subject; members of the Justice 2 Committee in the first session of the Parliament and the Justice 1 Committee in this session—the committees were linked by the convenership of Pauline McNeill, who never gave up on the issue; and Thompsons Solicitors, who helped many people in a tragic situation.

Few of us can imagine what it is like for someone to be told that they have mesothelioma, knowing that life expectancy for sufferers is short and there is no cure. The people who really deserve our congratulations and admiration are the sufferers of mesothelioma and their families, particularly the members of Clydebank Asbestos Group and other action groups. Those people were faced with tragedy, but continued to fight for justice for themselves and others. They deserve our admiration and our action.

Mesothelioma is a dreadful disease. As we heard, it is a type of lung cancer that is almost always fatal. The Justice 2 Committee in the first session of the Parliament oversaw legislation to speed up the compensation process in light of the short period from diagnosis, but we must deal with the unintended consequence of that legislation, which was that it was not possible for both sufferers and their families to claim the damages to which they should have been entitled.

The Justice 1 Committee's scrutiny of the bill required consideration of only a small number of questions. Did we accept the need for legislation? Should it apply only to mesothelioma cases? Should there be retrospection? The committee quickly agreed that legislation was necessary to address the dilemma and that it should be limited to mesothelioma cases. The committee was also convinced that retrospection to an identified date was the right approach. The Deputy Minister for Justice, Johann Lamont, responded quickly to ensure that that approach was taken. The committee's support for retrospection was not arrived at haphazardly; we acknowledged that legislation should not be made retrospective without detailed analysis taking place. On this occasion, the retrospective approach was possible, proportionate and the right thing to do.

In the stage 1 debate, I welcomed the Scottish Law Commission's more wide-ranging review of the law of damages. Too often, people who should be compensated face obstacles that cannot be justified. I am sure that all members of the Parliament would want to progress further legislation if it proved to be necessary. The Scottish Executive should use the Parliament's support to ensure that action is taken quickly.

Health and safety at work is a reserved issue, but the Minister for Health and Community Care, Andy Kerr, often stresses that members of the Scottish Parliament have an obligation to promote our constituents' good health, rather than just respond to their illnesses. Given the Scottish Executive's cross-cutting approach, I hope that the Minister for Communities will not mind if I talk about health in the workplace. The Scotland's health at work programme, which is part of the new Scottish centre for healthy working lives, has done much to encourage good working practices, but, like Kenny MacAskill, I cannot help but wonder about the possible damage that is being done to workers in industries in which people are required to sit in front of computers all day or work with chemicals that have only recently come on to the market, or to workers who are at risk of repetitive strain injury. We need to protect those people, too. It is essential that general practitioners consider their patients' work as a possible contributory factor in their illness. We should learn the lessons of the past, when we were perhaps too complacent, so that we can ensure that we protect workers in the future.

We cannot give mesothelioma sufferers back their good health by passing this bill, but we can try to make recompense for their suffering and that of their families. This is a good bill and a good day for the Parliament.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 3:05, 21 March 2007

As I have said before, we whole-heartedly welcome the bill as a means of bringing some justice to those who are affected by mesothelioma and their relatives. I thank all the campaigners for their hard work, particularly Asbestos Action (Tayside), whose service I had the pleasure of launching in Dundee. I especially want to mention Ian Babbs, who, although greatly affected by asbestosis, has achieved a great deal. Advice and information are now available to mesothelioma sufferers in Dundee, which means that they do not have to travel to receive such specialist support. Given the health difficulties that those individuals face, we should not underestimate the importance of providing advice as close as possible to home.

I wish that that service had been in place for a lady who came to see me in, I think, 2000. Twenty years ago, she had worked in a Dundee foundry; all her life, she had been fit and healthy and could walk for miles, but suddenly she started to get breathless when she was out. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma and, indeed, died within six months of receiving the diagnosis. It proved very difficult to work through the mire of the benefits system and the claims process to provide advice and information, and had advice been available then in Dundee, things might have been much easier for the lady and her family.

The bill, therefore, rights a wrong. Given that mesothelioma cases are expected to peak around 2015, we must make the claims process as quick and as simple as possible for people. It was an absolute travesty of justice to force people to make the difficult choice whether to pursue damages in their own name at a time when their health rendered them unable to take such decisions. Once the bill is passed, people will not have to face such an agonising dilemma. Indeed, that is the least that should happen, given that their suffering is no fault of their own.

Of course, other corrections need to be made, one of which is the limited availability of medication for mesothelioma sufferers. Members have already mentioned Alimta; as we know, it is not a cure but at least it alleviates the symptoms of the condition. I do not want to get into that matter today—the decision of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to recommend the withdrawal of that drug is under appeal—other than to say that it is another issue that mesothelioma sufferers and their families have to face. Depending on how the appeal goes, I am sure that we will hear more about the issue in this Parliament after 3 May.

Today is all about unity of purpose. I am certainly pleased that I have been able to take part in the debate and that this parliamentary session is ending with legislation on a touchstone issue that is important not only to those who are directly affected by the condition, but to many other people who know that those individuals have been victims of an injustice for a long time now. I pay tribute to the Parliament for correcting that injustice today.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 3:09, 21 March 2007

In my brief speech, I will record my party's support for the bill. This is a short, circumscribed but very important bill, which, because it has received support from all parties, will probably not make any headlines in tomorrow's newspapers.

I, too, pay tribute to everyone who has been involved: Des McNulty, whose member's bill received Green support; the parliamentary committees that dealt with the matter; and, of course, the mesothelioma sufferers and their families who have campaigned for so long.

It is a good day when the Parliament is able to right a wrong. It was wrong that 80 per cent of mesothelioma sufferers were not pursuing their claims in order to protect the financial situation of their loved ones in the future. The bill will remove that anomaly and enable sufferers and their families to make choices together about compensation, without risking the family's access to compensation in the future. I commend the speed and the consensus with which the Executive and the Justice 1 Committee worked on the amendments on retrospection at stage 2. The Green party supported those amendments as well.

There is so much consensus that I shall not use my four minutes—I simply wanted to put my party's voice on the record. We are about 10 days away from dissolution. During the election campaign, we may well be asked what difference the Parliament has made to people's lives in Scotland. Well, here is one instance in which the Parliament has righted a wrong and made a real difference to people's lives. My party supports the bill whole-heartedly and will vote for it at decision time.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 3:11, 21 March 2007

The Scottish Socialist Party very much welcomes and supports the bill. Politics is about power: who has it and how they use it. Although I am part of the consensus in the Parliament on the bill, I think that we should acknowledge that the bill is a small measure against a huge injustice. Those who have suffered that injustice have mainly been working-class men—there have been some women—and their families. Although the bill makes compensation claims easier and is not discriminatory, big problems in claiming compensation still exist for mesothelioma sufferers.

Until now, sufferers have found it enormously difficult to claim. Every possible obstacle has been put in their way. Employers and insurers have continually tried to evade responsibility for paying compensation. The big insurance companies have denied responsibility and delayed the legal process; then, when the campaigners and their families have got the companies bang to rights and, through the legal process, have forced them to compensate, they have resorted to selling off their profitable assets, leaving the unprofitable parts to pay the compensation. One insurance company left £30 million in an account to pay £250 million of estimated liabilities. As Shona Robison said, the peak of the epidemic is expected to be 2015 to 2020. Given that the hot spots are in areas such as Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, where the death rate is higher and people are dying younger, the Parliament has a big responsibility.

I make a plea that in the next session of Parliament, after the election, we carry on pursuing the issue. The bill is a very small step. We should consider whether we can introduce legislation that nails the big companies. How can we make it easier for sufferers and their families to sue? What can we do to ensure that the medical services are there for mesothelioma sufferers? Every member is in favour of the bill but, considering the injustice that has been suffered, it is not enough. If we have the powers to do so, we should consider using legislation to force compensation to be made in a much shorter period. Furthermore, considering the lives that have been taken, the compensation for spouses—£30,000—is paltry. The insurers and companies knew about their liability and they knew what asbestos had done. The Parliament has a responsibility to right the bigger wrongs. However, the SSP will support the bill today.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 3:14, 21 March 2007

Members know that there has been a long history of tackling the injustice of mesothelioma. The Parliament has attempted to use its powers to reform the law, where it can, to tackle that injustice. As other members have said, the Executive should be praised for its approach to this short but much-needed bill. As Mike Pringle said, the key issues on which we wanted change—retrospection and the single action—have been responded to by the Executive. I whole-heartedly welcome the update on that today.

There are many people to thank. Clydeside Action on Asbestos must be congratulated on lobbying the Parliament, ensuring that we understand the nature of the problem and suggesting practical solutions.

I thank the Scottish Parliament information centre for its excellent briefing, which allowed members to understand the fatal nature of this incurable disease. After many months of saying mesothelioma, I can now pronounce it without stuttering. For those who have not managed that yet and are struggling, there is an excellent guide in the SPICe briefing, which spells out the word in phonetic language.

As we know, there is no cure for this dreadful disease and there had been long delays in the court process, which was obviously out of step with the need to tackle the problem. For too long, the civil system was not friendly to the needs of mesothelioma victims. This tragedy has prevailed for too long and the bill is one of a series of reforms that I hope will tackle the injustice.

As Frances Curran said, men working in industry have suffered, but so have women—the figures are shocking. As Mary Mulligan said, this sort of workplace disease has motivated the trade union movement to fight hard to improve all employers' approaches to health and safety in the workplace, because nothing can be more tragic than the cases of those who have contracted the disease while simply getting on with their job.

Nothing can take away the tragic deaths and the suffering of families who have been affected by the illness and death of the person they love, but the least that the Parliament can do is to ensure that we have the best and most appropriate legislation. The drafters of the bill—which will soon be an act—should be congratulated on its simplicity. The predicament that was caused by section 1(2) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976, whereby any claims of relatives were extinguished when the sufferer had also claimed, has been removed.

The bill has set many precedents. There were no stage 3 amendments and there has been an amazing amount of consensus throughout the chamber. That consensus was reflected in the evidence of the witnesses from whom the Justice 1 Committee heard. Although there was initial trailing of disagreement, ultimately, all the witnesses agreed that the bill was the right way forward. The bill has universal support, which I am sure is unprecedented.

A future Parliament will have other issues to address in tackling the injustice of mesothelioma. We know from the Parliament's work that the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers raised the issue of the three-year prescription period and the narrow way in which the judges had interpreted it. It is clear that there is more work for a future Parliament to do.

We have shown that we can and will act where we are needed. I am certain that the new Parliament will fight on on this issue. I hope that it does.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 3:18, 21 March 2007

By the law of averages, I have no right to be standing here, because I worked in the shipyards. In 1947—60 years ago now—I worked in the city of Johannesburg as a young apprentice marine engineer. I worked in an area roughly the size of the chamber with scaffolding up either side of the inside of the ship's hull. Young apprentice laggers who put on the asbestos would make snowballs out of it and have snowball fights back and forward. Asbestos fell like snow on everyone in the hull of the ship. How they did not all die more or less instantly is beyond my comprehension. I used to go home at night and my boiler suit was white with asbestos. Many women have died because they came into contact with the deadly asbestos through washing their son's or husband's overalls.

The bill is tremendous. Thanks are due to Des McNulty and others who have pushed the issue. The bill has gone through in a consensual way, which is how the Parliament should work. As was said, there is far more to politics than yah-boo debates and First Minister's question time.

I had a good friend, Alex Forbes, who died, it was said, of lung cancer. With hindsight, his death was obviously due to asbestos poisoning. He drilled and countersunk holes in huge slabs of asbestos on a daily basis. That was about 30 years ago—there is no chance of compensation for him or any of his family. Thinking back to the conditions under which people worked, there was ignorance of the fact that asbestos was a dangerous substance to use. It took a long while for that to be realised.

When I see people with their masks on to lift little layers of asbestos out of buildings, I shake my head and think, "My goodness, I didn't realise the danger I was in." At the same time, I was on 40 to 60 cigarettes a day. I stopped smoking on 4 July last year, thanks to the legislation that was passed in this building. People cannot get a smoke nowadays. I am into my 10th month without a cigarette, cigar or pipe, and that is due to this place. We are doing some good. The Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill is excellent, and I thank the Executive for steering it through.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 3:21, 21 March 2007

The Deputy Minister for Justice set out all the essential details of the bill, so I will not go over them again. She made an extremely good point about an issue that has emerged as a result of the bill—that of needing just one court action. People will need to go to court only once. That is extremely good news, for which I am sure that all those involved will be grateful.

I agree with Kenny MacAskill about the many businesses that have acted in an unacceptable way on the issue. John Swinburne has given some illustrations of that. I gave an example when I spoke about the classic case of June Hancock. She fought for years against Turner & Newall Ltd to get her compensation, and finally won. She had to go to at least one, if not two, appeals. She did not have the big money and the lawyers that Turner & Newall had.

I agree with a good point that Margaret Mitchell made about legislation, although it perhaps does not relate particularly to the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill. Since I became an MSP, I have thought that we try to get through too much legislation and that we need to give more thought to those bills that we put through the Scottish Parliament. However, the bill before us is an example of good legislation.

Mary Mulligan covered the question of retrospection. That did not occur to us at the beginning of our discussions, but we quickly agreed that mesothelioma is an example of retrospection being a good idea. The Executive responded to that point quickly, and the Justice 1 Committee was grateful for that.

Shona Robison outlined a case that clearly illustrated what was wrong before, why the bill is essential and why the action that we are taking will make things much better for sufferers in the future. I gave the example of how much money June Hancock got in 1995. Frances Curran made a good point about compensation, to which we will need to return in the future. I tend to agree—I am not sure that the levels of compensation that people are getting are adequate.

Pauline McNeill described the bill as a very simple one, and so it is. However, it is also very important. Eleanor Scott spoke about what we can say during the election campaign when people tell us that the Parliament does not make a difference—we hear that all the time. I agree with Eleanor Scott that we can tell people about the bill, which is a good example of how the Scottish Parliament has made a real difference.

I was fascinated by John Swinburne's description of snowball fights; I never thought that people could have snowball fights without snow, but we heard about an example of just that. Why did people not know about the dangers? The research that I conducted on Google showed clearly that, as far back as 1896—the century before last—people knew about the dangers.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

I think that it was not so much that the employers did not know, as that they did not care. That is the difference.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I agree almost entirely with that point. That shows how irresponsible some of our industries were, given that the facts were known a long time ago.

This is a good bill, which will help a lot of people, and I congratulate the Executive on introducing it.

There can be no doubt that the Liberal Democrats will support the bill at decision time.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:25, 21 March 2007

I declare a technical interest, in that I am the beneficiary of an insurance company pension. I am sure that this is the first time that anyone in the Parliament has declared an interest on an issue that is more likely to cost them money rather than ensure that they gain money over the years. As I have said before, I intend to make the most of my pension, which is a privilege that is not granted to the sufferers of mesothelioma.

The bill is a good piece of legislation. I am the last to wallow in self-satisfaction or—as the minister can, no doubt, confirm—to offer congratulations to the Executive, but I think that the bill reflects well on the Parliament.

When John Swinburne spoke about his experiences—I was grateful to him for reminding me that there is someone in this chamber who was working before I was born—he highlighted the issues that were relevant in previous years. There was a complete lack of health and safety and a cavalier approach was taken to issues that were a threat to health. I do not accept that that was born of any particular malevolence; I think that it was born out of ignorance—people simply did not know. However, as a result of that ignorance, at least two generations have suffered.

The bill seeks to ease the predicament of those who suffer from this condition. They and their families must have faced the ultimate in dilemmas. The ability to choose the direction in which to go was, in many ways, constrained by the economic circumstances of that family. The bill will prevent that cruel dilemma from arising.

There is not much more that needs to be said. Congratulations go to the campaigners, in the first instance, because they made their case in a moderate, persuasive and reasoned manner, assisted by high-quality legal representation. Congratulations must also go to the Executive. Let us acknowledge its success. It would be churlish and quite unjust were we on this side of the chamber not to allow the Executive this moment of praise.

As other members have said, the bill reflects well on the Parliament, which has dealt with this matter thoroughly and expeditiously and with a degree of sympathy, which we all have for those who find themselves in the situation with which the bill is concerned. The legislation is, indeed, a justification for the existence of the Parliament. Everyone can take credit for the way in which the matter has been dealt with and will, today, be disposed of.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 3:28, 21 March 2007

It is no great secret that we have some fairly confrontational debates in this place from time to time and that, although we speak this afternoon in a spirit of consensus, not all parties here have coalesced around a single view of the world. It is therefore particularly pleasant that, in the last stage 3 in this session of Parliament—the remaining bill is a private bill, which has no stage 3—we coalesce around an issue in relation to which there is not one scintilla of difference in our objectives and not an iota of criticism of how those objectives are being sustained by a bill.

It is good that we have found a way of pushing the boundaries a little and of introducing a degree of retrospection in respect of implementation of the legislation. It is also good that, in doing so, we have obtained the consent and support of all parties involved in the matter, including not only the sufferers but we parliamentarians. Let us note that we are but bit players in the matter. The people who have really brought deliverance to the sufferers are those who progressed the issue by campaigning on it and bringing it to MSPs' attention. Those people are represented in the gallery today.

There are, of course, members who have campaigned on the matter for some time. I pay tribute to Des McNulty and to my late colleague Margaret Ewing, who raised the matter on behalf of some of her constituents. However, in the gallery today is someone who stands head and shoulders above everyone else—quite literally. My wife had only ever seen Frank Maguire on the television, which of course gives us no sense of scale. She did not realise that Mr Maguire—a formidable legal intellect and a tremendous campaigner for the sufferers—is somebody under whose armpit I, at 5ft 11in, can comfortably walk. He is an interesting character. I never want to get on the wrong side of him.

A number of things have happened en route to the point that we have reached today. The Coulsfield procedures, which were mentioned earlier, were an excellent first step because they helped to resolve some of the sloth-like procedures of the civil courts and deliver some benefit. For every benefit in life, however, there is almost always a disbenefit. In this case it proved to be severe, so it is a privilege and pleasure to be one of those who is playing a small part in addressing that disbenefit.

We should commend the work that we have done on the matter today and in recent weeks as a case study that shows members in the next session of Parliament how they can deal with matters that are readily identified as not being party-politically contentious. The Justice 1 Committee and Parliament have dealt with the subject thoroughly and with a shared objective. They have the pleasure of sharing the outcome and the merit that derives from it.

At stage 1, I said that the "British Journal of Cancer" pinpoints how many people will suffer from mesothelioma. I will expand on what I said then. The journal suggests, on an epidemiological basis, that there will be some 90,000 deaths in the 80 or so years from 1968 to 2050. Perhaps my colleague Kenny MacAskill was only half right when he said in his opening remarks that only a few individuals are involved. At any point in time, the number of individuals involved is comparatively modest, but over the period for which we expect this terrible disease to affect people in our society, a significant number of people will be affected. We are all pleased to help those who are sufferers today, but we are also delivering an on-going benefit for the next 45 years and possibly longer. That will continue to reflect well on today's work. We support the bill.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:33, 21 March 2007

I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up this debate on the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill, which takes forward the work that I did on my member's bill last year and brings it to a successful conclusion.

The consensus on the bill is welcome, but in a sense it is slightly misleading because the history of arguing for rights and compensation for sufferers from asbestos-related diseases has been a struggle. Many people have been involved in that struggle. In particular, I pay tribute to Tony Worthington MP, who was involved for a long time, and to Margaret Ewing MP and MSP, who also took up the sufferers' cause. Over the years, they consistently fought for the right thing, which is justice for sufferers from asbestos-related diseases.

The various groups—Clydeside Action on Asbestos, the Tayside group and the STUC and its various affiliates—have all played prominent roles, but I want particularly to highlight the role that has been played by the Clydebank Asbestos Group, with which I have close contact, and to highlight its work to develop the arguments for the bill and to advance other cases and issues on behalf of asbestos sufferers. It has a formidable reputation—not just in Scotland but in the UK and, increasingly, internationally—as a group that has a clear perspective, direct campaigning methods and a strong record of success. The reasons for that include the fact that so many of the group were involved in Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and have a sense that class was a factor in people being exposed to asbestos in their working conditions because of neglect as well as ignorance. Their pursuit of the matter and the methods that they have used are highly commendable.

I want to thank many individuals. I obviously thank Frank Maguire of Thompsons Solicitors, and Iain Jamieson, who did so much to draft my bill. I thank my researcher, David Halliday, who did so much in taking the draft bill on and in producing a consultation paper. I thank the officials in the Executive's bill team, who have done a terrific job throughout, and I thank members of the Justice 1 Committee, led by Pauline McNeill. They have not only been involved in working with ministers to improve the bill, but Pauline McNeill and Bill Aitken were also involved in earlier discussions about how to speed up the treatment of cases. The bill will act on that and it links with work that has been done before.

I must congratulate the ministers who have been involved. Hugh Henry, when the case and arguments were brought to him, acknowledged that there was a wrong that needed righting, and Cathy Jamieson and Johann Lamont have taken the bill through Parliament and have led us to the point where Scotland is in advance of not just the rest of the UK but, in many ways, other places in the world in how we deal with compensation for victims of asbestos. The bill not only makes us feel good and that we are doing the right thing; through it, we have advanced the interests of this category of people further than others have.

Stewart Stevenson said that this is the last Executive bill that will be passed in this session. It is interesting that the last action of Parliament before the previous summer recess was to pass a legislative consent motion to overturn the House of Lords ruling in the Barker v Corus case. The work of the Scottish campaigners in particular was instrumental in encouraging the Westminster Parliament to consider the House of Lords judgment and to find a way of overturning it. We have also had some impact on benefits issues, which have been addressed recently by John Hutton in giving people benefit entitlement.

This is an excellent story—and not just for Parliament. It is another mark of achievement by campaigning organisations that have worked hard for a cause over many years. Other such issues will be brought forward, but over the past two or three years campaigning organisations have had a tremendous run of success. They have focused on the issues that legislators—people such as ourselves—can address and they have presented them in ways that we can help them to resolve. Thankfully, Parliament has been able to deal with the specific matters.

The bill will be very good legislation and I am proud of having been involved in it. Parliament has done the right thing and the bill does credit to Parliament, although greatest credit is due to campaigners. I hope that the greatest benefit will be felt by the people who are contending with mesothelioma. As other members have said, many more such people are in the pipeline. The contaminatory material is already in their bodies, so they will end up dealing with mesothelioma. We will remove an additional stress and dilemma for those people, which is the right thing to do. Today has been a good day for Parliament and I am pleased to thank everyone who was involved in the bill.