§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)
My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy recently attended the Welsh coal health claims monitoring group to discuss the operation of the scheme in Wales, following which he and I then met volunteer workers with the National Union of Mineworkers. My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales established the Welsh monitoring group specifically to address coal health issues in Wales. I am convinced that the measures discussed, and the actions taken so far by the monitoring group will further speed the process of paying out claims to miners and their widows.
§ Ian Lucas
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. While I recognise that this is the largest legal claim in British history and appreciate my hon. Friend's commitment to the issue, does he accept that practical difficulties remain? They include the case of my constituent, Mr. Thomas Evans, who has been waiting two years for a spirometry test. Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the Wrexham assessment centre operates at full capacity in future?
§ Mr. Touhig
I am aware of the case to which my hon. Friend referred. Mr. Evans had a spirometry test in October 1999; in December 2000, the test was declared invalid and he was given the option of being re-tested. He declined the offer and, as a result, went on to apply for the full second-phase test, the MAP test. I am given to understand by IRISC, the Government's claim handlers, that it wrote to Mr. Evans's solicitors in July asking for a claims pack to be completed and is still awaiting its return. I shall do anything I can to help my hon. Friend speed up that claim. The monitoring group is fully aware of the problems that have been causing difficulties with the operation of the Wrexham testing centre, but we are satisfied that everything is being done to provide the necessary respiratory consultants to carry out all the tests required. If he wishes, I shall look into the case further. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy will also reply to him directly.
§ Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
We have already heard how bad the situation is in north-east Wales. However, according to the Government's own figures, only 3 per cent. of claims in Carmarthenshire have been fully and finally settled. After all the representations that the Secretary of State has had on the issue from Welsh Members, why does Wales still have the slowest processing rate for full and final claims?
§ Mr. Touhig
May I, in the friendliest possible way, warn the hon. Gentleman to be wary of statistics? There 850 are various reasons for the comparative figures that he gave on full and final settlements in Wales and the United Kingdom. Although it is true that 7 per cent. of claims in Wales have been settled fully and finally, there are reasons for the delays. There can, for example, be delays because of the number of claimants and the difficulty in collecting evidence and the work records of older claimants—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would like to listen I shall give him an answer. There have, of course, also been difficulties in collecting hospital records.
In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and in the two postcode areas to which he referred in his interview in this morning's newspapers, 1,620 claimants have submitted claims and have received £2 million in interim and in full and final settlements. Additionally, a further 613 claimants have made claims under the vibration white finger scheme and have received £1 million. Therefore, about 30 per cent. of all claimants in his parliamentary constituency have received funding—