HC Deb 04 December 1979 vol 975 cc212-3
4. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the progress made in paying compensation under the Pneumoconiosis, etc. (Workers Compensation) Act 1979; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

These have not proved easy regulations to prepare and it is disappointing that we have taken longer than expected to resolve the problems. This we have now done, and the draft regulations will be laid tomorrow. We hope to ask Parliament to approve them before Christmas so that they may come into operation on 1 January. First payments should be made shortly thereafter.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that in view of the anxiety and disappointment aroused by the delay there will be a welcome for his statement? Will he give an assurance that the position of widows, especially those who have been widowed for over five years, will be safeguarded? Will he also give an indication that the position of slate quarrymen, who may have left their places of work with a low percentage of dust that has increased subsequently, will be recognised and that the cash will be paid early in January as he has said?

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. Slate quarrymen and other sufferers of diseases within the Act will be taken into account in the regulations. Their diseases have a different pattern of progression from coal pneumoconiosis. That will be taken into account. Payments will take place within a few weeks of the coming into operation of the regulations on 1 January.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that there is a deep sense of grievance on the part of many pneumoconiosis sufferers and their trade unions about the operation of the present system for paying compensation? Will he consult the Department of Health and Social Security about the abolition of the pneumoconiosis medical boards and their replacement by general practitioners and local consultants who could give evidence about pneumoconiosis?

Mr. Mayhew

The Department of Employment does not have responsibility for the pneumoconiosis medical boards. The right hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in these matters and he will know that the regulations under the Pneumoconiosis, etc. (Workers Compensation) Act 1979 tie the entitlement to benefit to there being either disablement benefit awarded by the pneumoconiosis board, following a finding by the board, or death benefit.

Mr. Burden

Has the position of those suffering from asbestosis been considered?

Mr. Mayhew

Asbestosis is included within the ambit of the Act. I should have said in answer to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) that widows with an entitlement going back beyond five years will be looked after in the scheme controlled by the regulations.

Mr. Harold Walker

Further to the supplementary question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and further to the Minister's recognition that there is a close link between that which my right hon. Friend raised and the eligibility of benefit under the proposed regulations and the operation of the medical tribunals, is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is widespread disquiet, illustrated by the case reported in The Guardian today of a person who has been awarded £10,000 damages for mesothelioma arising from asbestosis, where the panel refused to accept that the person concerned was suffering from an industrial disease? That is only one of many cases. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will discuss that issue with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Mayhew

I shall examine the case to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.