Minister of state makes claim as plaques bill gets second reading

The MoJ's minister of state, Michael Wills, said the government is "not far off" a decision on whether pleural plaques sufferers in England and Wales should be compensated.

His claims came during the second reading of the Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) (No.2) Bill in the House of Commons on Friday.

The Bill, which aims to overturn the House of Lords ruling that pleural plaques are not compensatable, was put forward by Labour MP Andrew Dismore who described it as “modest” and claimed it was "Groundhog day" after an identical bill being abandoned last November when it ran out of time.

In response to the second reading, Wills said: "I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr Dismore) is pleased that we have made so much progress on the Bill - I know that he has been here before. The government want to resolve the issue, and again I pay tribute to him, to my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) who are not here today, and to all the hon. Members who participated in the debate today and who have made representations to the government over the past few months.

"As we have heard, the issue is extremely important for many, many of our constituents, affecting every aspect of their lives. Because of that, there should be no doubt about the government's determination to resolve the issue. The fact that we have not yet been able to do so is not an indication of any lack of will on our part. There has been huge activity. Many members of the house will be aware how much work has been continuing on the part of officials throughout Whitehall to try and resolve the issue once and for all.

"It is a feature of our system of government that from time to time the courts produce judgments that throw public policy into disarray, and the government then have to react. We must react in a way that is sustainable and which sends the courts a clear framework and a clear message about the will of the House. We have to make sure that we have covered every dimension. I hope I have shown today just how complex this area is."

He continued: "It is important that we try to achieve a comprehensive solution, and I think we are not far off that. Today has been another step forward. It is not the final resolution, but we are not far off that stage."

When asked to provide a time scale, Wills, who is not standing for re-election, said: "I certainly hope that it takes place while I am still a member, so that I can report to my constituents in North Swindon that this government have taken decisive action on pleural plaques, just as we have done on that dread disease of mesothelioma, which has caused such anguish for so many people."