HC Deb 15 September 2004 vol 424 cc1251-2
1. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab)

When the Wales monitoring sub-group on compensatory payments for miners' respiratory diseases and vibration white finger last met; and what information on payments was provided to him at that meeting. [187919]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

The Wales monitoring group met on Monday to discuss progress on miners' compensation claims. A total of £437 million has been paid to miners and their widows under the two compensation schemes. In my hon. Friend's constituency, £6.4 million has been paid for chest diseases and £1.9 million for vibration white finger. That is a total of £8.4 million in compensation.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for his sterling work in helping to ensure that miners and the widows and families of deceased miners receive all that they are due under the scheme. However, what unscrupulous advantage is being taken of the scheme by third parties, who take fees out of the compensation claims to the great disbenefit of miners and their families, who are entitled to that money?

Mr. Touhig

There have been instances of lawyers seeking to take money from miners and their widows after successfully obtaining compensation. The Law Society takes such matters seriously and, as a result of Government intervention, lawyers have paid back £60,000 to miners and their widows. The bigger problem, to which my hon. Friend has referred, is claims farmers—companies such as Industrial Diseases Compensation Ltd. As I said in the House on 9 June, those people are nothing but parasites who prey on elderly and vulnerable people. My message to them today is the same as it was then: the money is not yours; give it back to the miners and their widows.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)

Although progress has been made on settling claims from miners and miners' families, there are still problems with surface workers who have worked in dusty and dangerous conditions, and miners who spent part of their working lives in small mines that were not covered by the National Coal Board. Will the Under-Secretary devote all his efforts to ensuring that those cases, too, are resolved?

Mr. Touhig

The solicitors have supplied information to the Department of Trade and Industry in support of claims for surface workers, but officials at the DTI feel that they need more information, especially about lead claims, if the matter is to be progressed. I hope that it will go before the judge at the hearing in October. The matter was discussed in the Wales monitoring group earlier this week, and I am conscious of the concerns of hon. Members of all parties about the matter.

On small mines, solicitors have highlighted some of the difficulties in establishing the liability of an insurer of small and private mines. I have written to the Association of British Insurers, which has told me in writing that its members will continue to co-operate in every way to ensure that the claims are properly investigated and the compensation paid.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

On the subject of third parties and parasites, will the Under-Secretary confirm that if the Liberals' policies to axe the DTI budget went ahead, there would be no money for compensation payments—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Adam Price.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC)

It has been estimated that, at the current rate of progress, the last case in the compensation scheme will not be settled until 2013—a full 15 years after the original judgment. Does the Minister believe that that is an acceptable timetable? Was the need for additional resources to speed up processing raised with him at the monitoring group meeting?

Mr. Touhig

I recognise that that is a serious issue. The scheme closed at the end of March. So far, 25,000 claims have been settled in Wales but more than 92,000 have been registered in total. In the four months before the scheme closed, 30,000 new claimants came forward. I hope that the discussions that are continuing between the solicitors' claimants group and the DTI to ascertain whether matters can be speeded up are successful. If so, the matter will go before the judge and I hope that, subsequently, we will run a scheme under which miners will have the option of either obtaining a fast-track decision or continuing to pursue their claim under the longer process. We are conscious of the need to ensure that resources are given to tackle the matter.

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