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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:33 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:33 pm, 21st March 2007

I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up this debate on the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill, which takes forward the work that I did on my member's bill last year and brings it to a successful conclusion.

The consensus on the bill is welcome, but in a sense it is slightly misleading because the history of arguing for rights and compensation for sufferers from asbestos-related diseases has been a struggle. Many people have been involved in that struggle. In particular, I pay tribute to Tony Worthington MP, who was involved for a long time, and to Margaret Ewing MP and MSP, who also took up the sufferers' cause. Over the years, they consistently fought for the right thing, which is justice for sufferers from asbestos-related diseases.

The various groups—Clydeside Action on Asbestos, the Tayside group and the STUC and its various affiliates—have all played prominent roles, but I want particularly to highlight the role that has been played by the Clydebank Asbestos Group, with which I have close contact, and to highlight its work to develop the arguments for the bill and to advance other cases and issues on behalf of asbestos sufferers. It has a formidable reputation—not just in Scotland but in the UK and, increasingly, internationally—as a group that has a clear perspective, direct campaigning methods and a strong record of success. The reasons for that include the fact that so many of the group were involved in Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and have a sense that class was a factor in people being exposed to asbestos in their working conditions because of neglect as well as ignorance. Their pursuit of the matter and the methods that they have used are highly commendable.

I want to thank many individuals. I obviously thank Frank Maguire of Thompsons Solicitors, and Iain Jamieson, who did so much to draft my bill. I thank my researcher, David Halliday, who did so much in taking the draft bill on and in producing a consultation paper. I thank the officials in the Executive's bill team, who have done a terrific job throughout, and I thank members of the Justice 1 Committee, led by Pauline McNeill. They have not only been involved in working with ministers to improve the bill, but Pauline McNeill and Bill Aitken were also involved in earlier discussions about how to speed up the treatment of cases. The bill will act on that and it links with work that has been done before.

I must congratulate the ministers who have been involved. Hugh Henry, when the case and arguments were brought to him, acknowledged that there was a wrong that needed righting, and Cathy Jamieson and Johann Lamont have taken the bill through Parliament and have led us to the point where Scotland is in advance of not just the rest of the UK but, in many ways, other places in the world in how we deal with compensation for victims of asbestos. The bill not only makes us feel good and that we are doing the right thing; through it, we have advanced the interests of this category of people further than others have.

Stewart Stevenson said that this is the last Executive bill that will be passed in this session. It is interesting that the last action of Parliament before the previous summer recess was to pass a legislative consent motion to overturn the House of Lords ruling in the Barker v Corus case. The work of the Scottish campaigners in particular was instrumental in encouraging the Westminster Parliament to consider the House of Lords judgment and to find a way of overturning it. We have also had some impact on benefits issues, which have been addressed recently by John Hutton in giving people benefit entitlement.

This is an excellent story—and not just for Parliament. It is another mark of achievement by campaigning organisations that have worked hard for a cause over many years. Other such issues will be brought forward, but over the past two or three years campaigning organisations have had a tremendous run of success. They have focused on the issues that legislators—people such as ourselves—can address and they have presented them in ways that we can help them to resolve. Thankfully, Parliament has been able to deal with the specific matters.

The bill will be very good legislation and I am proud of having been involved in it. Parliament has done the right thing and the bill does credit to Parliament, although greatest credit is due to campaigners. I hope that the greatest benefit will be felt by the people who are contending with mesothelioma. As other members have said, many more such people are in the pipeline. The contaminatory material is already in their bodies, so they will end up dealing with mesothelioma. We will remove an additional stress and dilemma for those people, which is the right thing to do. Today has been a good day for Parliament and I am pleased to thank everyone who was involved in the bill.