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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:05 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 3:05 pm, 21st 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.