HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 c545
8. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

If he will make a statement on compensation arrangements for service personnel and former service personnel who suffer from asbestos-related conditions contracted before the amendment of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. [55885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

Compensation arrangements for service personnel and former service personnel who suffer illness as a consequence of exposure to asbestos are the same as for those killed, those injured or those who develop a disease from any other cause related to their service. The non-retrospective repeal of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, on 15 May 1987, by the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987 gave service personnel the right to claim common law compensation from the Ministry of Defence. Compensation arrangements for former service personnel for illness caused before the repeal of the 1947 Act is paid in the form of a war pension and other allowances by the War Pensions Agency of the Department of Social Security. The Government's arrangements for compensating former service personnel are broadly comparable with those for former civilian MOD employees.

Mr. Dismore

Is my hon. Friend aware of the sense of injustice felt by many who are now being diagnosed as suffering from asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma, which is invariably fatal and invariably painful, and results in the rapid onset of symptoms leading to death? Does my hon. Friend agree that that sense of injustice is highlighted by the 1987 Act? People who were exposed to asbestos before 1987, but are experiencing symptoms now, may feel somewhat hard done by in comparison with people who have suffered other injuries since 1987.

As my hon. Friend knows, I have campaigned on this issue for some time, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson). Will my hon. Friend try to devise a method of compensating, in particular, those who are suffering from the most disabling asbestos-related conditions?

Mr. Spellar

I recognise the difficulties and distress suffered by those who have contracted this awful disease, but my hon. Friend must accept that there are complicated interlocking relationships between the war pension, the war widow's pension and compensation arrangements—and, indeed, between asbestos-related and other diseases. The Ministry of Defence is considering those matters, but there are no easy answers.

I understand that my hon. Friend discussed the issue with the last Minister for the Armed Forces, and that my hon. Friend the current Minister will meet him soon to try to unravel some of the problems.