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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 3:11 pm, 21st 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.