HC Deb 30 March 2001 vol 365 c792W
Gillian Merron

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress there has been on reaching a settlement to enable compensation to be paid to surface only and mixed underground/surface claimants under the Coal Health Compensation Scheme. [156751]

Mr. Hain

The Department accepted liability for surface dust in a minute to Parliament dated 10 July 2000. However, questions remained over the extent of that liability.

The Department's medical advice is that surface-only workers in jobs categorised as 'dusty' may well suffer from chronic bronchitis or temporary exacerbation of asthma because of exposure to the sort of particles which form visible dust. However, it is the much smaller particles of 'respirable dust'—not visible to the naked eye—which cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). At the respirable dust levels recorded by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and using the figures for loss of lung function accepted by the Judge, the Department's medical advice is that there is very little likelihood of men in surface-only 'dusty' work developing COPD, even over a whole working lifetime.

Claimants' solicitors do not share the Department's position. To move matters forward, the Department and the claimants' solicitors are carrying out a joint study on surface dust issues. The results of the study will be put to each side's medical advisers and will help to inform any final settlement.

The study is in two parts:

  1. (i) a study is being carried out of x-ray data from periodic health surveys of an agreed sample of collieries in England, Scotland and Wales; and
  2. (ii) 100 surface only claimants are being put through the MAP in normal priority order, to establish the prevalence of COPD and its causes among this cohort.

On 'mixed' (underground/surface) claims, the Department has reached a negotiated agreement with claimants' solicitors and arrangements are being made to incorporate the claims within the terms of the Claims Handling Agreement so that compensation can be paid out as soon as possible. The position on mixed workers is different from surface only workers. The Department's view is that people with mixed claims may well have legitimate claims for dust-related COPD for the surface element of their claim because their exposure to dust underground will have taken them over the 'threshold' after which further exposure to dust will cause them further incremental disability.