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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:28 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 3:28 pm, 21st March 2007

It is no great secret that we have some fairly confrontational debates in this place from time to time and that, although we speak this afternoon in a spirit of consensus, not all parties here have coalesced around a single view of the world. It is therefore particularly pleasant that, in the last stage 3 in this session of Parliament—the remaining bill is a private bill, which has no stage 3—we coalesce around an issue in relation to which there is not one scintilla of difference in our objectives and not an iota of criticism of how those objectives are being sustained by a bill.

It is good that we have found a way of pushing the boundaries a little and of introducing a degree of retrospection in respect of implementation of the legislation. It is also good that, in doing so, we have obtained the consent and support of all parties involved in the matter, including not only the sufferers but we parliamentarians. Let us note that we are but bit players in the matter. The people who have really brought deliverance to the sufferers are those who progressed the issue by campaigning on it and bringing it to MSPs' attention. Those people are represented in the gallery today.

There are, of course, members who have campaigned on the matter for some time. I pay tribute to Des McNulty and to my late colleague Margaret Ewing, who raised the matter on behalf of some of her constituents. However, in the gallery today is someone who stands head and shoulders above everyone else—quite literally. My wife had only ever seen Frank Maguire on the television, which of course gives us no sense of scale. She did not realise that Mr Maguire—a formidable legal intellect and a tremendous campaigner for the sufferers—is somebody under whose armpit I, at 5ft 11in, can comfortably walk. He is an interesting character. I never want to get on the wrong side of him.

A number of things have happened en route to the point that we have reached today. The Coulsfield procedures, which were mentioned earlier, were an excellent first step because they helped to resolve some of the sloth-like procedures of the civil courts and deliver some benefit. For every benefit in life, however, there is almost always a disbenefit. In this case it proved to be severe, so it is a privilege and pleasure to be one of those who is playing a small part in addressing that disbenefit.

We should commend the work that we have done on the matter today and in recent weeks as a case study that shows members in the next session of Parliament how they can deal with matters that are readily identified as not being party-politically contentious. The Justice 1 Committee and Parliament have dealt with the subject thoroughly and with a shared objective. They have the pleasure of sharing the outcome and the merit that derives from it.

At stage 1, I said that the "British Journal of Cancer" pinpoints how many people will suffer from mesothelioma. I will expand on what I said then. The journal suggests, on an epidemiological basis, that there will be some 90,000 deaths in the 80 or so years from 1968 to 2050. Perhaps my colleague Kenny MacAskill was only half right when he said in his opening remarks that only a few individuals are involved. At any point in time, the number of individuals involved is comparatively modest, but over the period for which we expect this terrible disease to affect people in our society, a significant number of people will be affected. We are all pleased to help those who are sufferers today, but we are also delivering an on-going benefit for the next 45 years and possibly longer. That will continue to reflect well on today's work. We support the bill.