HOUSE OF COMMONS
First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
DRAFT PNEUMOCONIOSIS ETC. (WORKERS'COMPENSATION) (PAYMENT OF CLAIMS)(AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 1993
Tuesday 16 March 1993
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The Committee consisted of the following
Members: Chairman: MR. JAMES HILL
Anderson, Ms. Janet (Rossendale and Darwen)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine (Lancaster)
Boyce, Mr. Jimmy (Rotherham)
McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment)
Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Maitland, Lady Olga (Sutton and Cheam)
Connarty, Mr. Michael (Falkirk, East)
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew (Gedling)
Galbraith, Mr. Sam (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
Robinson, Mr. Mark (Somerton and Frome)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr. Charles (Wimbledon)
Thomason, Mr. Roy (Bromsgrove)
Hoon, Mr. Geoffrey (Ashfield)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard (Reading, East)
Hughes, Mr. Kevin (Doncaster, North)
Willetts, Mr. David (Havant)
Jessel, Mr. Toby (Twickenham)
Mr. F. J. Reid, Committee Clerk2 3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 16 March 1993
[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 1993. The regulations were laid before the House on 1 March 1993. The regulations will be made under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979. The purpose of the regulations is to increase by 2.5 per cent. the amounts of compensation paid under the Act to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 May 1993. People suffering from industrial diseases have the right to sue the employer concerned for damages. However, certain dust-related diseases take a long time to develop and may not be diagnosed until 20 to 30 years or more after exposure. By the time the disease is diagnosed, the employer or employers responsible may no longer exist. The 1979 Act set up a scheme to provide a measure of compensation to those who could not claim it in the normal way through the courts. It provides lump sum payments to sufferers from certain dust-related diseases, or, when the sufferers have died, to their dependants. However, I would point out that it has never been the intention of the Act to provide an alternative to taking civil action in the courts. There are three basic conditions of entitlement, which must be satisfied before a payment can be made; first, that there is no relevant employer who can be sued; secondly, that no court action has been brought nor compensation received in respect of the disease and, thirdly, that industrial injuries disablement benefit has been awarded. My Department does all it can to administer the Act in a sympathetic way. While we have to ensure that payment conditions are met, we also recognise that each case is an individual disaster and are as generous as the legislation allows. Payments under the Act are additional to any social security benefits awarded. The Government have given an undertaking to Parliament regularly to review the amounts payable to maintain their value. The regulations aim to fulfil that commitment.
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): We come before the Committee not to oppose the regulations but because it is part of our statutory duty, in order to bring them within the law. I think that the Minister would be surprised and even perhaps, disappointed were I not to start by voicing my usual concern that the amounts are not 4 enough. So I shall not disappoint him. I do not wish to dwell on that issue; I just wish to put the Opposition's opinion on record. I should like to raise two general but related points. The first is that an award to someone who is deceased is almost half the award that would be made to someone who is still alive. The second is that the award is made from the date that the statutory medical board awards industrial disablement benefit. Those are related factors, but I shall start with the first. Is it not inappropriate, especially when small amounts of £20,000 to £40,000 are being offered, that dependants should receive a much smaller sum if the person has died? An award could be made the day after a person had died and, consequently, its value would fall by almost half—from £40,000 to £20,000. The award is for the family, to compensate for loss of earnings. It is not an award simply to provide expenses for maintaining someone who is disabled, which is the purpose of industrial disablement benefit. Therefore, we should consider whether it is still appropriate and correct to maintain that differential, according to whether a person is or is not deceased. That brings me to my second point: the date from which the award is made. Is the date of diagnosis by a statutory medical board appropriate? Why not the date of diagnosis? I understand that that raises problems. For example, is that the date on which the general practitioner thought that the person had a mesothelioma, the date on which the mesothelioma was seen on X-ray, the date of the sputum cytology, or the date of the formal biopsy? I understand that that could easily be identified by the statutory medical board when it considers the matter. I realise that anomolies will never be removed. A date will always have to be set and that will produce arbitrary decisions which will aggrieve some people. It would be more appropriate, especially with modern forms of diagnosis such as the CT scan, if consideration were given to dating the award from the date of the diagnosis. The Minister might want to consider those two point before the regulations are brought before the House to be updated in a year's time. Finally, I wish to raise a constituent's case which is related to this matter. I do not want the Minister to answer me today. I shall write to him. However, I should like an undertaking from him that he will look into this case. The problem lies not with the Department of Employment but with the Department of Social Security. However, its resolution might be the concern of the Minister's Department. My constituent, John Alexander Morrison, on claiming benefit for attendance allowance, filled in the section of the form which stated that he suffered from an industrial disease. The chief executive of the Department of Social Security, Mr. Bichard, has admitted that the Department was remiss in not informing him of the other processes that have to be followed. Had they been followed, my constituent's case might have gone before the statutory medical board and an award made at the higher level before he died. By the time the award was granted, my constituent had died and his family received only half the benefit. That is unfair. Although it is not a matter for the Minister's Department, the response and resolution could come from it, if he were to use his discretion to increase that award. We are concerned about the basis of the regulations: not only about whether awards should be uprated in line with the retail price index but about whether the regulations 5 should be considered in more depth to determine whether they should be related to the time of diagnosis and to whether a person is deceased. If those matters were considered, the next time such proposals came before the House, they could be dealt with appropriately.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): Can the Minister confirm that the regulations would not cover the coal mining industry? Can he say what industries are covered by the regulations? Will he explain why the lump sums set out in table 1 of the regulations are considerably greater than the miners' pneumoconiosis scheme which is modelled on the same principle of a no-fault liability scheme?
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I am glad that the Minister referred to his Department's recognition of the fact that diseases sometimes take a long time to become apparent and to be debilitating. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) for mentioning that the miners have a different scheme. I spent a harrowing 15 minutes this morning speaking by telephone to a constituent, Mr. Robert Snedden, who left the mining industry in 1961. He was told by Professor Ferguson that he had stone dust in the lungs. He was aged 34 and is now 65. The 15 minute conversation consisted of him gasping for 10 minutes and speaking for five. Mr. Snedden claimed that it is difficult to get a name given to stone dust in the lungs. I read to him all the different names that are mentioned in the explanatory note. He recognised none of them as having been put down on paper in reference to his disease. He was told by Professor Ferguson that he had to leave the industry, otherwise he would be in a wheelchair in a year and probably dead in five years. To be told 31 years later that he still has stone dust in his lungs but that that is not covered by any of the definitions in the regulations shows that something is very wrong. People in such a predicament feel that they have great difficulty in getting their condition recognised. He said that his father had had to appeal three times before eventually being awarded 100 per cent. compensation on the basis of 100 per cent. pneumoconiosis. We still seem to have a major problem if, in January 1993, people can go to their doctor who tells them, "Yes, you have stone dust on the lungs but you are not eligible for any compensation under any of the schemes." My constituent is obviously deeply concerned that none of these definitions seems to apply to people who are clearly suffering tremendously from the effects of early infection of the lung, which means that they have to leave their jobs. In that case it was a job in the coal industry. In the Minister happy about these definitions? Are they sensitive enough? Is there no other way for it to be recognised that people who suffer from an industrial disease can be allowed some form of compensation? Or must we remain bound by these technical terms? I am sure that some medical friend of the Minister could tell me what coal dust or stone dust in the lungs is, if it is not some form of pneumoconiosis.6
Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham): I support the regulations. They represent a slight improvement on the previous provision. However, I do so reluctantly because, according to my rough calculations, the increase amounts to about 0.2 per cent. of the total bill. Last night we debated a 13 per cent. increase in precription charges. To say the least, this is a miserly measure. What concerns me is that, nowhere along the line, together with the continued attacks on health and safety at work has the problem of prevention been addressed. What we have here is a miserly compensation scheme for people whose health has been ruined. There is even less compensation for the family if, as a result of deteriorating health, the sufferer dies. I shall support the measure because it represents a marginal increase, but I do so reluctantly.
Mr. McLoughlin: A number of questions have been raised by hon. Members. If the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) writes to me as a result of a specific case that I know that he has been following, I shall consider the case and investigate it further to see whether anthing can be done to help. In his speech, he was right to reveal some of the difficulties involved in deciding the date at which compensation should begin: whether it should be from when the illness was first diagnosed. To some extent, we have to rely on the medical board for our determination point. However, I shall consider carefully the hon. Gentleman's points. As to the questions relating to the coal industry, it is correct that the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979, which was passed by the previous Labour Government, applies to all those who are suffering from pneumoconiosis, who do not have a former employer against who they can pursue a claim through the courts, and who satisfy other conditions of entitlement. One has to recognise that nearly all coal miners have worked for British Coal, which means that they have an employer to sue. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) asked about the level of compensation under this scheme and British Coal's scheme. Both schemes seek to compensate injured workers but tackle the same problem in different ways. It is difficult to make direct comparisons. British Coal's scheme provides a much smaller lump sum than this scheme but compensates its workers by means of a reduced earnings allowance, or a pension, related to earnings. If miners are not satisfied with their compensation they can sue British Coal. The lump sums under this compensation scheme are larger than those under the British Coal scheme and they are complemented by a disablement benefit and other social security allowances provided for by the social security legislation. That answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East concerning the difference between someone who was working for a company that had gone out of business and a former employee of British Coal. British Coal is still in business, so the right to compensation through its own scheme is still available. The hon. Gentleman referred to the level of increase. I am pleased that we have increased the payments this year, as we have done in most years since 1979, thus committing 7 ourselves to the undertaking that the original value of the lump sum schemes should not be destroyed. I hope that the Committee will give its approval to the order.
Mr. Galbraith: I thank the Minister for his response and his undertaking to consider the matter, especially the date from which the award is made. Currently it is made from the time of diagnosis by the statutory medical board. That, presumably, stems from many years ago when diagnosis was often more difficult and may not have been confirmed by histology. Diagnosis is much easier now that new techniques are available. The statutory medical board should consider that point.
Mr. McLoughlin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way for a few seconds, because I omitted an important point?
Mr. Galbraith: Certainly.
Mr. McLoughlin: A key condition of the Act is entitlement to disability benefit which is determined by the medical board. That triggers the provision.
Mr. Galbraith: I accept that. The problem is that the relevant date is that on which the statutory medical board made its diagnosis in the case of disability. A lung biopsy 8 might confirm mesothelioma, which is a clear diagnosis, but the statutory medical board may not meet until three months later and perhaps after the person concerned has died, so the compensation would then be lower. The board should have the right to award compensation from the date of diagnosis, not only for disability benefit, which would be retrospective, but for the lump sum, which would be increased significantly.
Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall not argue with the medical expertise which he possesses, and I do not, but I shall consider the point that he raised.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 1993.
Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Maitland, Lady Olga
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Robinson, Mr. Mark
Vaughan, Sir Gerard