Insurance industry welcomes ‘measured’ tone of public consultation.

The government has published its long awaited consultation on how to deal with pleural plaques, the symptomless growths on the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.

Following a sustained campaign to a overturn a Law Lords ruling that exempted pleural plaques from compensation claims, the Ministry of Justice has issued the consultation looking at how best to support victims of pleural plaques.

It sets out a range of options, including greater medical support and “no fault” compensation funds for victims. It also examines the potential consequences of overturning the Law Lords ruling.

In a statement, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said: “The consultation paper considers what the most appropriate way of supporting people diagnosed with pleural plaques would be, following the Law Lords' decision on 17 October 2007 that pleural plaques are not actionable or compensatable damage.

“The paper proposes action to improve understanding of pleural plaques and to provide support and reassurance to those diagnosed with pleural plaques to help allay their concerns. It considers the issues that arise in relation to changing the law of negligence and invites views on whether this would or would not be appropriate. It also seeks views on the merits of offering no fault financial support to people diagnosed with pleural plaques, and on two possible ways of doing this.

“We would welcome responses to the paper from Honourable Members and from all those with an interest in this important issue.”

The consultation, which closes on October 1, does not state a formal position on whether or not the Law Lords ruling should be overturned, but was welcomed by the insurance industry.

Charl Cronje, partner at consulting actuaries Lane Clark & Peacock LLP, said: “As we hoped, common sense has prevailed. The UK government is making it clear that it has no appetite for reversing the House of Lords judgment, citing 'implications for the fundamental integrity of the law of negligence'. Instead they are proposing to improve education and understanding of the nature of pleural plaques. This should help to counteract some of the scaremongering of recent years, which has probably caused unnecessary anxiety for those affected by the condition.

“The insurance industry has been holding its breath since the Scottish Bill on 23rd June 2008 which arbitrarily reversed the House of Lords judgment. However, [prime minister] Gordon Brown's remarks in the Commons over the past few months have been carefully worded and the consultation has a similar, measured tone. The government's response to this complex issue is level-headed and the paper distances itself from the Scottish approach, which is now left looking rather like an act of political grandstanding.

“The government has commissioned a further review of the medical evidence surrounding pleural plaques. This is possibly an attempt to finally close the book on this issue. The government has also said that it is open to ideas for establishing 'no fault' compensation schemes but is careful to state that there may be significant obstacles to the viability of such schemes.”