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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:44 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 2:44 pm, 21st 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.