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Hope for Meso victims as Lords stand firm on Legal Aid Bill

Tomorrow will see three amendments to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) return to the House of Commons after the Lords reaffirmed their intention to amend the bill. Their initial amendments were defeated by coalition loyalists last week.

The chaotic passage of the bill, which threatens cuts to the legal rights of the disabled, children and sufferers of terminal respiratory diseases has suffered more defeats in the Lords than any other in the last 50 years.

Last week Toby Perkins spoke in the Commons debate on the subject of Mesothelioma sufferers, arguing that given the appalling diagnosis, the short time period between diagnosis and death, and the exceptionally long lead time between exposure and the onset of the illness that Mesothelioma sufferers should be exempted from the provisions of the bill.

On learning that the Lords had once again asked the Commons to exempt Mesothelioma sufferers, he said: “This is great news and shows the level of determination there is amongst peers of all parties that these unjust sections of a very messy bill really are a step too far. I hope that the government will now see sense and support this small exemption, which would make a miniscule difference to the overall cost of providing legal support, but make a huge difference to some of the most terribly ill people in the land.”

Toby has been working closely with the nationally recognised Derbyshire Asbestos Support Trust (DAST) to co-ordinate the campaign against the unfair provisions of this bill.

Toby’s full speech can be read below: 

I start by echoing the distress expressed by my hon. Friend John Woodcock about the tone of the Minister’s remarks, which showed a real lack of empathy with the situation that mesothelioma sufferers and their families face. What happens in so many of these cases is that victims become aware of the illness many years after they been exposed to asbestos, and often after the organisation responsible for that has long since disappeared. They face a troublesome problem in identifying who was responsible in the first place and they are then faced with the shocking news that their lives are shortly going to come to end and they are going to experience agonising circumstances in the run-up to their deaths.

For many of the people who have been on that journey, the last thing on their minds when they receive this appalling news is the idea that they need to embark on some complicated and potentially costly hunt for compensation. People who work with victims of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, say that it is hard to persuade them to make claims because they are so heartbroken by their recent experiences. They tell me that if those who seek advice learn that there may be a cost impact, many are likely to choose to let the matter drop. It would be a real dereliction of duty on the part of all of us if we allowed that to happen.

The Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team has given me some examples including that of Roy Redfern, a joiner in the building trade from Chesterfield who also worked for Severn Trent for 16 years. He was diagnosed

with mesothelioma, but died before he could obtain compensation. His wife Vicky and his daughter Helen pursued his claim, but when they came to see me this week they said that if they had been told that costs would be attached at the time when they were facing the tragedy, they would not have proceeded with the claim. This is not just about the fact that the increased costs will mean victims ending up with less money; it is also about the impact on victims and their families who pursue claims in the first place.

I also question the level of costs that the Government will save. Under the 2008 mesothelioma scheme, every claimant receives a compensation payment regardless of whether the company concerned still exists or whether the exposure to asbestos is secondary. A person aged 77 or over receives £12,666, while one aged 65 receives about £22,000. If someone subsequently pursues a successful civil claim, the Government recoup the money through the compensation recovery unit. If fewer people proceed with their claims there may be a cost saving, but the Government will not be able to recoup that money.

Finally, there is the question of whether approving the exemption for mesothelioma sufferers would open the floodgates. Surely the fact that we cannot always do the right thing for every single group does not mean that we should never do the right thing for any group. As we heard from my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter, these people face an agonising death, and they are never the cause of their circumstances but always the victims. At a time when the Government are proposing massive savings in justice bills, for us to make this small concession to one group of people who are suffering terribly would show the human side of the House. I urge all Members to support the amendment, which was backed by members of all parties and huge numbers of Cross-Benchers in the other place, and to show that the House of Commons has a heart.

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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Tel: 01246 386286
Email: toby.perkins.mp@parliament.uk
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF

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