Michael Faulkner says the government is over-compensating for asbestos with the Compensation Bill
' Remember the Compensation Bill?
That piece of legislation designed to whip claims farmers into line and reduce the public's fear of unmerited claims. Very worthy, of course.
One legal case and a typical Labour knee-jerk later and the Compensation Bill is starting to look more like an asbestos compensation Bill.
Is hasn't taken long for the Compensation Bill to be hijacked by an asbestos lobby, fearful that the Law Lords' ruling in the now notorious Barker case will deprive hundreds of mesothelioma victims of compensation.
And now the government, in a move that looks like a crude attempt by an ailing party to win a few more votes, is going to attempt to overturn it with a new clause in the Bill.
Some legal experts are already saying that changing the law in this way is fraught with difficulties. It is also likely to put the government at further loggerheads with a judiciary that is already itching to tear strips off its homeland security policies.
The insurance industry is understandably enraged by the government's move, seeing it as reneging on the original promises made about the Bill and overturning what is, in essence, a sound legal decision. Why should one insurance company be liable for more than its share of the claim just because another has gone bust or cannot be traced? They are not cash cows there to be milked.
Of course, mesothelioma is a horrendous disease and its victims should be adequately compensated. The question is how should this be achieved in a swift and efficient manner.
At the time of writing, the government has yet to reveal its plans. The insurance industry, through the ABI, is lobbying for the creation of a body to assess and pay claims.
Some MPs, including Michael Clapham, who sits on a committee charged with examining the Compensation Bill, also favour a 'disease pool' to pay mesothelioma claims.
The ABI failed to persuade the government of the need for a pool to pay long-tail industrial disease claims a few years ago at the height of the employers' liability crisis. This time, however, the political will appears to be there to address the problem.
Where problems will undoubtedly arise is over funding. Clapham is keen for insurers to put money into the pot, whereas the ABI wants at least partial funding by taxpayers.
The ABI will be hard-pressed to get any money out of the government. While ministers may be open to the idea of a disease pool, it is likely they will see the bank-rolling of mesothelioma claims as an insurers' problem.
Of course, if the pool idea does get the go-ahead, it will be policyholders who pay for it, whether through their taxes or their insurance premiums. IT
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