HC Deb 10 February 1987 vol 110 cc148-9
7. Mr. Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has any plans to extend the availability of industrial disablement benefit for occupational deafness.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. John Major)

We have no immediate plans to do so, but the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council is keeping the occupational deafness provisions under review and is expected to report further later this year. We will consider the matter then.

Mr. Evans

While I am grateful for the fact that the council is to report, is the Minister aware that many hundreds of my constituents who suffer from loss of hearing as a result of industrial noise find it difficult to understand how can win a claim against their employer for industrial deafness and they find that they do not qualify for industrial injury benefit? Is that not perverse? Surely the Minister would want that position to be corrected.

Mr. Major

I am aware of the particular problem in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and not least the problems that he has raised in relation to the glass industry. With regard to his specific point, however, there are different criteria governing the awards of industrial disability benefit and of damages in common law. One particular difference is the question of negligence. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that the exclusion from benefit applied to people who suffer from occupational deafness applies to no other disability? Does he recognise that the two reasons for this outrageous discrimination are, first, the shortage of audiologists to carry out the necessary testing and, secondly, the lack of political will? Will he do something about those two points please?

Mr. Major

The right hon. Gentleman probably knows more about this matter than anyone in the House, and I take his point very seriously. It is perfectly true that there is a shortage of audiological resources within the National Health Service. The provision of funding for such resources is the direct responsibility of individual health authorities. I am certainly aware of the right hon. Gentleman's point and I am sympathetic to it.

Mr. Holt

I am sure that none of us would want people to suffer deafness through their industrial occupation, especially in the furniture trade, in which I worked for 20 years. Will my hon. Friend ensure, however, that industrialists are not made to pay the penalty for people playing very loud music and using personal stereos which affect their hearing in later years?

Mr. Major

I take my hon. Friend's point. We are concerned about occupational deafness. That is why we have extended the scheme on two or three occasions and why we keep it constantly under review.

Mr. Loyden

Have not claimants faced a minefield when making claims relating to occupational deafness? I am blaming, not just the present Government, but successive Governments who have failed to deal with this ongoing problem. For example, in the shipbuilding and ship repair industry there are men in their 70s who have not been able to resolve this problem. Is it not time that something positive was done?

Mr. Major

Part of the problem is the point raised by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) concerning the number of audiological technicians available. As I pointed out, we have two or three times extended the scope of the scheme in an endeavour to meet the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.