Thousands of families suffering from the region’s asbestos legacy could have received justice if the last Labour Government had stood up to insurance firms, one of the party’s own MPs has admitted.
Blaydon’s Dave Anderson said he and other MPs came close to securing from Gordon Brown and Jack Straw a generous compensation package for those left ill after working on industrial sites. But special advisers stepped in to warn of the potentially huge costs involved of helping those who suffer from pleural plaques.
He made the claim while speaking about the Government’s mesothelioma Bill, which would award limited payouts to those handed a death sentence from the terminal illness.
Mr Anderson said: “This issue should have been resolved no later than when the previous Government were in office and probably much earlier than that, this has been known about since at least 1965.
“We should have done something about it. Lots of us had meeting after meeting with the previous Prime Minister and others in the previous Government as we tried to find a way forward. I believe that he was genuine in his approach but that he was badly advised by civil servants and special advisers who were frightened that the cost would escalate. As a result, we did not take the action we should have taken.”
Labour MPs united in attacking the Government for a Bill which pays out compensation where there is not an employer to sue, but only pays 75% and is only available to those who were diagnosed after July 25, 2012.
Across the North East thousands of people have been diagnosed with pleural plaques and the fatal mesothelioma. Mr Anderson was among many MPs pointing out that the limited insurance payouts will see many families lose out on thousands of pounds, while the strict cut-off date is expected to mean 6,000 will never see justice.
The MP said it came as a result of a deal “hatched between the Government and the insurance companies”.
He added: “It might be coincidental that the Tory party is bankrolled massively by the insurance industry, but it might not.”
Mr Anderson was backed by Durham North MP Kevan Jones, who said the Government should be using 1965 as a payout starting point.
The Labour MP told the Commons of his experience of the disease, saying: “The tragedy, it is a tragedy, is that asbestos-related deaths have been known for many years, but they have been ignored. It is a cruel and painful death.
“I saw many cases when I was legal officer for the GMB northern region and no amount of money can compensate for suffering a long lingering death, literally gasping for air at the end, or for the pain that families go through while watching their loved ones die.”
Disabilities minister Michael Penning said it was “absolutely imperative to get the Bill through, or people who have waited for compensation, in some cases for decades, will not get it.”
Addressing concerns that the Government had been too soft with the insurance companies, the minister added: “We have been in deep negotiations, there is no argument about that. The insurance companies did not just stroll up and say, By the way, can we do a deal? They were dragged there.”