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House of Commons

Thursday 31 October 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill


That so much of the Lords Message [29th October] as relates to the London Development Agency Bill be now considered.

That the promoters of the London Development Agency Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present session and that all fees due up to that date have been paid;

That on the fifth sitting day in the next session the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present session;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House and, when so laid, the bill shall be read the first, second and third time and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having been so read;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Committee of Selection

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [16 October].

Hon. Members: Object.

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Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Miners' Compensation

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): What additional measures (a) have been put in place and (b) are under consideration further to speed up the process of full and final payments to miners and their dependants to compensate for work-related illness. [76417]

The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Brian Wilson): Significant progress has been made in processing claims by former miners and their families. Hon. Members will know that I announced earlier this week an extension of the vibration white finger cut-off date for posthumous claims. That will mean that the families of former miners who had not previously been made aware that they could submit claims for the injuries caused to their husbands or fathers will have a further three months in which to do that.

In addition, I announced last year that 50,000 full and final offers would be made this year for lung disease. We are on track to meet that challenging target.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Does my hon. Friend welcome the increase in pay-outs from March this year from #12 million to #22 million in Ogmore? Does he acknowledge that a most significant contribution to that is the employment of 90 additional staff in Cardiff? The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers and others opposed that measure. Will my hon. Friend make a commitment to extend the resources for the settlement of the miners' claims? I extend an invitation to him to return to my constituency and listen to the anxieties of former miners and their widows.

Mr. Wilson: My previous visit to my hon. Friend's constituency was valuable, as are all such visits to the coalfield communities. They inform our decisions, especially that to extend the vibration white finger cut-off date for posthumous claims. There is an awareness that the money is being given as rapidly as possible. Opening offices in Cardiff, Edinburgh and most recently, Manchester, facilitates that process. Matters are going well but there is no complacency, and we shall keep up the pressure and momentum until every claim is paid in full. I stress that every claim will be paid in full. The schemes are not capped. In cases where, unfortunately, the miner has died, the claim passes to the widow and then to the family.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): While I welcome the progress that has been made, I draw the Minister's attention to the appalling wait that workers in the private mines continue to endure. There is a case in my constituency of a 79-year-old miner who worked underground for 50 years, registered a claim in 1998 and has not yet had a medical examination. Will the Minister

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urgently raise the plight of workers in the private mines with his officials, especially with IRISC, and consider bringing forward the results of the pilot programme?

Mr. Wilson: The schemes apply to former employees of the National Coal Board rather than those of private mines. We urge the owners of private mines to enter into the schemes in the same spirit as the Government. However, in many cases, the owners of the private mines have disappeared and the insurers are not rushing to accept the responsibilities. We do our best, and I appreciate that there is an anomaly for the miner who worked in a private rather than a state-owned mine and is less favourably treated. Sadly, as the Tories know, that is the history of private mines.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough): There is no doubt that greater progress is being made, but will my hon. Friend update the House about the number of interim payments? How many are outstanding? There is no doubt that interim payments show good faith to miners who have not yet received a penny.

Mr. Wilson: That is true. As a rule of thumb, the ratio that has been paid in each constituency or nationally in full or final payments, is roughly 2:1. More than that has been paid in interim payments. We are doing our best on both fronts. The prime objective must be to get as many full and final settlements in the cases of the oldest and frailest miners and widows. Nothing must stand in the way of that. However, I agree that it is important to get something to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Interim payments are therefore important and are far greater numerically than full and final settlements.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I thank the Minister for the attention paid to the former miners in my constituency and in the north Somerset coalfield. In view of the decision to which he referred earlier, will he ensure that the fullest possible publicity be given to this matter in areas that have long not had working mines? The networks are obviously less well established in those areas and it is much more difficult to get the message across not only to former miners but to their widows. In the Somerset coalfield, a little local publicity would certainly do a tremendous job in making sure that the message gets through.

Mr. Wilson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I agree with him 100 per cent. The specific difference with the widows' claims is that it has not been widely enough appreciated that a widow or a family has a claim when, sadly, a miner dies before having a medical examination to identify the condition of vibration white finger. That is quite a narrow point, but, in individual cases, a very important one. In that regard, we all have a part to play in our own communities and constituencies, through the network of clubs, pensioners' associations and so on, and we have three months in which to get that done. It is not as though no widows' claims have been received—there have been 11,000 such claims for vibration white finger—but it is because there are many more out there that have not been identified that I have given the

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extension. By using this kind of exchange for local publicity purposes, everyone in the Chamber can make a contribution towards achieving what we all want.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): May I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for coming to the Moodiesburn retired miners' branch in my constituency, and, in particular, for pursuing the call for posthumous payments to widows? We welcome that very much. Does he now have the necessary medical support to speed up the process, and does he have a date in mind for its completion?

Mr. Wilson: I attend as many of these meetings as possible, because it is important to go into the coalfield communities to offer reassurance that the schemes are not capped, that the claims pass to the widow or the family and do not disappear, that the Government have no vested interest in anything other than paying out the money as fast as possible, and that the money is now getting out at the rapid rate of #1.5 million a day. Those are the key points that I try to get across in the meetings. Every available respiratory specialist in the country is working on this, and there is no blockage in most parts of the country.

My right hon. Friend also asked about bringing the schemes to an end. Apart from the posthumous claims, there is a cut-off for claims relating to vibration white finger. I do not think that anyone has questioned the principle of bringing the scheme to an end in that way, so that we can focus our resources on dealing with all the claims that are in. I am wary of setting a cut-off date for respiratory claims, because I do not want to deprive miners who develop these conditions from having the same treatment as those in whom the condition has already been identified. None the less, there eventually has to be a cut-off date, and I hope that that can be finalised in the same spirit of co-operation and openness.

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