, Baroness Turner, a Labour peer and long time deputy chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services
, asked the government what it was doing about the problem of tracing employers' liability insurers and eventually forced the government minister, Lord Mackenzie, to admit that it was looking at establishing an employers' liability bureau - an insurer of last resort - to deal with the still unacceptably high proportion of insurers that cannot be traced. Lord Mackenzie said that a mere 52% of insurers were traced by mesothelioma sufferers despite all the mechanisms put in place.
, this apparently reluctant admission by a government minister that a fund of last resort was being actively considered was replaced by an upfront announcement and a promise to come back with more information soon. This came during a debate initiated by Labour MP Alison Seabeck on asbestos-related illnesses in Plymouth when junior Justice minister Claire Ward promised more information on a possible employers' liability insurance bureau shortly.
She also told MPs that the government had held a meeting of medical and legal experts on 15 October to see if it was possible to hammer out some sort of consensus on pleural plaques and that a decision on this would also be announced shortly. There is a bill being promoted by former City minister Baroness Quin to reverse the House of Lords' judgement that pleural plaques are not a compensatable condition which has all party support and is waiting a date for a second reading debate. A similar bill was making its way through the House of Commons before the summer recess but ran out of time and a judicial review
is currently underway in Scotland. There was also an Early Day Motion
on the subject tabled in the House of Commons last week.
It does look as if the insurance industry is on the back foot on this one and many will consider that perhaps it is time to give in graciously over establishing a fund of last resort given the dreadful state of employers' and insurers' records. Pleural plaques is a more difficult issue, easy to be emotional about but hard to be objective. I think that it is right that society, through Parliament and the courts, is asked to make a reasoned decision on this and that the insurance industry's viewpoint is heard. The argument may be slipping away from the industry but people do need to recognise that this is not a hard-hearted stance but a logical position to take in the face of the medical evidence.
The possibility of government action over asbestos liabilities seems to edge steadily closer. Two recent exchanges in Parliament illustrate the point.