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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:14 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 3:14 pm, 21st 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.