HC Deb 08 April 1998 vol 310 c359W
Yvette Cooper

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when the former coalminers suffering from lung disease are likely to receive compensation following the recent High Court decision against the British Coal Corporation. [38924]

Mr. Battle

On 6 March the Department complied with a Court Order giving it four weeks to send detailed proposals to solicitors acting on behalf of the plaintiffs to settle the over 20,000 current claims and thousands more which are expected. We believe these proposals are fair and sensible and provide the quickest way of ensuring valid claims are settled. At a further hearing on 27 March the solicitors acting for the plaintiffs requested a three month adjournment which the Court granted, to allow for further discussions to take place with the Department's agents to seek to agree settlement arrangements.

We welcome this opportunity to further refine our proposals and hope that agreement can be reached quickly so payments can begin. However, we are also conscious that a further 3 month delay may be unwelcome to some claimants, particularly those who are severely disabled. We have therefore offered to make interim payments of £2,000 to a minimum of 5,000 elderly claimants currently in receipt of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit for chronic bronchitis and emphysema. We will begin making such offers as soon as the claimants' solicitors, whose co-operation we require, are able to submit evidence of receipt of the benefit. I am sure they will do all they can to assist this process to ensure that payments can be make quickly to their injured clients.

Some of the claims are expected to be from those miners who suffered from chronic bronchitis, alone. We are seeking to agree sensible payment arrangements also for those in this group. However none of the lead cases included in the judgment provided clear guidance on an appropriate level of damages for this condition.

Therefore, if it is not possible to reach agreement, it may be necessary, while accepting the liability established by the Court, for a further case to be run to establish a level of damages against which other similar claims can be assessed. We believe that such a case could, if need be, be brought to trial quickly and we would do everything possible to ensure that this happened.

I have said already that we have a duty to deal promptly with valid claims that stem from British Coal's previous activities and actions over many years. We are actively meeting that duty. We hope the plaintiffs' solicitors work with us to agree sensible arrangements to allow relevant claims to be processed systematically, and valid claims to be settled as soon as is practicable.

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