Good, but not yet good enough

Bill McKenzieBill McKenzie outlines Peers’ remaining concerns with the Mesothelioma Bill

The government’s Mesothelioma Bill – announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year and today reaching its Lords Report stage – is an important piece of legislation that at last brings some justice to those suffering from the disease. 

Diffuse mesothelioma is a particularly pernicious form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and where there is a work connection it is accepted that this has been as a result of employer negligence. It is invariably fatal with life expectancy, once diagnosed, being less than a year.

But because diagnosis happens many years after the exposure, it can be difficult to identify a current employer or the relevant employer liability insurer to access compensation. Tracing of old policies are improving but there are some 300 individuals who miss out each year. This is not just a problem of the past, because diffuse mesothelioma cases have not yet peaked – something they are expected to do so during the next few years.

The Bill includes a payment scheme for those who cannot trace a relevant insurance policy. These payments will be based on a tariff which represents average civil compensation claims for mesothelioma, and will be funded by a levy on insurers currently in the employer liability market.

So far, so good and we want this to come into effect as soon as possible. 

It is not perfect however, and we are seeking to improve the Bill by increasing the % of the tariff paid – 100% rather than the 70/75% suggested by Ministers; and by having an earlier start date for the compensation scheme . 

We are also pressing for an oversight committee to monitor the scheme, especially given concerns about possible conflicts of interest of the insurance companies. 

And we are also very supportive of moves to ensure that more medical research into this terrible disease is undertaken. 

Much as we support the thrust of this Bill, there is a real disappointment that its scope is not wider and covering other asbestos related and long latency diseases. In this respect, the campaign goes on.  

Lord Bill McKenzie of Luton is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Work & Pensions in the Lords 

Published 17th July 2013

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