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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:54 pm on 21st March 2007.

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

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.