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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, with this excellent proposed directive to limit the hours of driving, why did the Government abstain on the vote of the Council of Ministers rather than support it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we supported the bulk of the proposition. As is normal in European negotiations, there were a number of moves that we could not support and we were unhappy with parts of the deal. We very much welcome the improved proposal in relation to night work. It gives greater flexibility than the original proposition.

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However, the maximum hours--there is an average of 48 hours--are set in this proposition at 60 hours. We were looking for at least an interim derogation from that to 65 hours. That would have allowed for greater flexibility in shift patterns. Part of the road haulage industry indicates that that works. As I indicated, the bulk of the agreement is acceptable to the UK Government. We are now in a period where the final text will have to be produced. The European Parliament's assessment of it will also have to be taken into account. We are some way off the transposition of this proposal. It will be a three year run-in once the directive is in force. Therefore, there is substantial time for the industry to adapt.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, who is responsible for checking the tachometers? Is it the employer or a separate inspectorate? How does one assess whether drivers have worked the hours which match the directive?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the directive is concerned with total hours, not simply driving hours. EU directives which are in force for most of the road transport sector relate to driving hours--that is, hours at the wheel--which are governed by the tachograph. The responsibility for the tachograph is primarily that of the driver, subject to the employer's responsibility. Enforcement is by the Vehicle Inspectorate checking at the roadside or elsewhere.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us strongly support the outcome of the December Council? It dealt with a sector that had been excluded from the working time directive. The provisions have been a long time coming and the compromise reached meets the essential needs of both sides of the industry. We should all support its early implementation.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's remarks. I recognise that the provisions are in line with much of what he and his colleagues in the trade union movement have campaigned for. However, on his call for rapid implementation, we need time to adapt the shift patterns worked in the industry, as occurred in manufacturing and other industries with the general working time directive.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, does the Minister believe that the introduction of the working time directive has made the British economy more competitive internationally or less?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the main competition is with countries in the European Union, the point of the working time directive and other related legislation is to create a level playing field.

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Ex-Miners' Compensation: Speed of Payment

2.51 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government

    What progress has been made in the payment of compensation to ex-miners suffering from dust-related diseases.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, to date the department has registered nearly 134,000 claims for respiratory diseases, 28,000 of which are from Wales. Progress has been slow, but payments are now starting to flow. In total, 113 million has been paid in respiratory compensation, of which 27.1 million has been in Wales. Taken together with compensation for vibration-related diseases, in recent weeks we have paid out about 1 million a day across Britain, with 1 million paid out in Wales alone last week. However, that is not good enough. We are constantly seeking to streamline the process and speed up payments further. New assessment centres are being opened and more doctors recruited. We are looking into using mobile testing units in some areas.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that one of the major stumbling blocks for early settlements is the shortage of consultants? If more were taken out of the National Health Service for that work, it would tend to cause resentment among the general public. Will the Government consider approaching the judge with a view to waiving some of the regulations? That might help to achieve earlier settlements. Does the Minister appreciate that the issue has become a national scandal in Wales? It needs to be tackled urgently.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that the shortage of doctors has been a major stumbling block. We have about 200 respiratory disease consultants working on the scheme, mostly in mining areas. Healthcall, the contractors, are now looking outside mining areas for additional consultant expertise. The agreement could be varied effectively only with the consent of both sides. That would be difficult, although I have no doubt that the judge will take account of all the issues when he holds his next meeting on 16th March. I agree with my noble friend concerning the outrage in Wales and sympathise very much with what he says.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the Minister recall that in the debate on this subject on 19th December, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract, his noble friend Lord Sainsbury said that the Government had introduced a fast-track arrangement to expedite matters? What offers have been made under that arrangement and to what extent have they been taken up?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, 74 million has been offered under the fast-track arrangement, of

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which only 25 million has so far been claimed. That leaves nearly 50 million unclaimed. That is disappointing. Peter Hain has extended the deadline for claims to be made, but the situation is not satisfactory.

Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract: My Lords, we all appreciate the efforts that the department has made to speed up the claims, but many people feel that the situation has reached saturation point. The consultants that are needed are not there to be recruited. That means that many miners will have to wait up to five years, despite all the best efforts that are being made. Is my noble friend also aware that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury assured me on a previous occasion in the Chamber that he would look again at my suggestion that the miners who had already been assessed and awarded industrial injuries benefits for this disease should be paid with no further examination? He also informed me that he would have to get the permission of the judge and the acting solicitors.

Having received that information, I wrote to Mr Justice Turner, who told me that he found my suggestion interesting and would put it to the review body on 16th March. If the judge and the solicitors are sympathetic, can the Minister assure me that the department will support my suggestion?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have carefully studied the correspondence between my noble friend and the Ministers--Mrs Liddell and now Peter Hain--and that between my noble friend and the judge. If there were any mileage in using the DSS assessment, we would be keen to do so. Discouragingly, the correlation between DSS assessments and assessments under the scheme is poor. As my noble friend will know from the reply sent to him by Peter Hain, there are only 11,100 successful DSS recipients, of whom 7,000 have already received or been considered for offers. The scope for improvement in that direction is not great. I am sorry to have to give such a disappointing answer.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, as 134,000 people are applying or are eligible, would it not be in the interests of the Government and of the miners--many of whom have waited so long that one wonders whether they will survive to get any compensation--to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse, who has lived with the problem for six to eight years to my certain knowledge, and maybe for more than 10 years? How many of the 134,000 are yet to be assessed?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is obvious from my previous answers that we have listened very closely to my noble friend Lord Lofthouse and to others who know a great deal about the issue. I in no way seek to defend the slowness of the process, but, given that the question has come from the Conservative Benches, I have to point out that this Government immediately accepted the findings of the

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court and immediately took action to implement them. The number of claims being received week by week is still higher than the number of claims being settled. That is the measure of the problem. If anybody had said two years ago that there would be 134,000 claims, they would have been laughed at. That is the scope of the problem left to this Government because of many years of neglect by the previous government.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, at the present rate of progress, how long will it take to settle all the claims? During the past three years, a number of applicants have died before their claims were fully assessed. Do the families of those who have been able to prove their entitlement but who then died benefit?

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