House of Lords Bill for levy on ABI to fund research for mesothelioma passes to next stage
On Friday 20th November, the House of Lords passed a Second Reading of the Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool.
The Mesothelioma Act 2014 provides a fund of last resort to compensate mesothelioma sufferers who were exposed to asbestos at work but cannot claim compensation because the employers no longer exist and their insurers cannot be traced. This is funded by a levy on insurance companies. The Bill proposes an additional levy on about 150 insurance companies active in the employers' liability insurance market to fund medical research into treatment for mesothelioma. At the moment there is no cure.
Nearly 40,000 British people have died from mesothelioma from past exposures to asbestos and some 60,000 people will die of the disease in the UK by 2025 if appropriate treatments are not found. This represents the highest rate of mesothelioma anywhere in the world.
However, the real number could be considerably higher because asbestos is coming to light in buildings and enterprises where its existence was previously unsuspected.
Lord Alton said that
"Society owes a great debt to those who went to work, often in hard and heavy industries, and built the economy of this country only to suffer terrible consequences."
He went on to say that
"This is not simply a disease of the past and this is a point underlined by the National Union of Teachers, which states that asbestos remains present in about 86% of schools, leading to an estimated 200 to 300 adult deaths a year. Expert advice given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education estimates that up to 300 former pupils a year die of the disease following contact with asbestos in schools."
In January 2015 it was announced that Aviva and Zurich would donate £1 million over two years to the British Lung Foundation's mesothelioma research programme. Whilst commending those two insurers, Lord Alton noted that this was two fewer companies than had been involved previously and not enough from a group of around 150. Contribution had been proposed on a voluntary basis but it is doubtful that this will result in adequate funding and would not spread the burden across the industry.
Speaking in the debate, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said
"There is an urgent need for research into why some people develop mesothelioma and others do not, and for long-term epidemiological studies, which take money and investment, to understand what is going on in the long term so that we can plan for it if the numbers are going to go up hugely. In my own field, I have made a plea for us to undertake some research into why mesothelioma causes so much pain, and why it appears to be relatively difficult to manage with straightforward analgesics. In my own hospital, the Velindre Cancer Centre, Dr Jason Lester is doing some innovative research on tumour-associated antigens and their expression on the surface of tumour cells, but that research is not cheap—it cannot be done on a shoestring—and needs dedicated cell lines."
Lord Winston said that it is:
"important to emphasise that we are doing research in this country. Whether we are doing enough remains for other people to decide. However, it is important to recognise that these cancers are very resistant to all sorts of treatment, which is one of the reasons why they are so emotionally as well as physically painful."
Lord Campbell – Savours spoke about his father who at the age of 19 turned down the opportunity to study marine engineering at Royal Holloway College to join the Merchant Navy. He joined in 1939 and, by 1943, according to the South Wales press he was the youngest chief engineer on merchantmen crossing the Atlantic, carrying oil, primarily from Galveston to various parts of the world, including ports in the United Kingdom. He died in 1989, having being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1984. He left many letters and diaries, in which he explained why he had insisted on working on lagging in the boiler rooms of the SS “Penhale” and the SS “Duke of Sparta”, the two tankers on which he spent much of the war. His Lordship hoped that additional resources could be found, if only in memory of those who have died in the service of their country.
The Bill will now pass to be considered by a Committee of the Whole House.
Caroline Pinfold, a lawyer who specialises in mesothelioma claims with Fieldfisher LLP solicitors commented:
"As a solicitor who has represented the victims of mesothelioma for 30 years, I have seen the terrible effects of this incurable condition and how the incidence has increased. Although lawyers like me work to achieve the best possible compensation for mesothelioma suffers and their families, we are very much aware that no amount of money truly compensates people for the effects of this devastating condition. It is crucial that research into a cure is given adequate funding. It is also fitting that a significant amount of funding should be provided by the ABI who issued insurance to so many employers who failed to protect their employees from asbestos.
Fieldfisher welcomes this news and hopes that the Bill will be passed into law."