ABI director Nick Starling discusses the Scottish Government’s Damages Bill in his latest blog.
My father lives in Edinburgh, and I hope to get up to see him over the holiday period. Every time I venture north of the border I am reminded of all that is good about Scotland. Beautiful scenery, romantic castles and whiskey for example. But I will not be adding pleural plaques to the list. Maybe my trip will help me understand the rationale behind the Scottish Government’s intention to make pleural plaques compensatable. Because I am struggling to see the logic at the moment.
The publication of the Scottish Government’s Damages Bill flies in the face of common sense. Not to mention the House of Lords ruling and medical opinion.
No one is belittling the concerns of people with plaques. Exposure to asbestos will understandably create anxiety. But not necessarily illness. As the Law Lords recognised, the medical evidence shows that plaques are symptomless, and do not impact on a person’s health. They neither increase susceptibility to, nor lead to, other conditions.
The Scottish Government does not refute the medical evidence. Indeed the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAaskill, recognises that plaques are benign. So why does he want to compensate people with this condition? The answer seems to be to address fears that, in time, they could develop more serious conditions linked to asbestos exposure.
Pushing ahead with this ill -conceived legislation will not tackle the concerns of those with plaques, but will change one of the fundamental principles of law that has stood for hundreds of years. It would create a right to compensation based on worry about the prospect of future damage rather than damage itself. Justice Minister Fergus Ewing claims this principle of compensating exposure would be restricted to asbestos-related conditions. I am sceptical. What assurances can he offer on the future interpretation of this legislation? Or the susceptibility of politicians to lobby groups.
If anxiety alone warrants compensation then we can expect a raft of ‘exposure only’ conditions with severe cost implications for employers, former employers, government, insurers and taxpayers. It certainly would make Scotland a less attractive place to set up a relocate a business.
Education not legislation is the answer. At the risk of antagonising the Scottish Government, they should refer to the recently published consultation from the Ministry of Justice. This favours improving understanding of pleural plaques and providing support and reassurance to those diagnosed to help allay concerns.
Educating the politicians in Scotland is as necessary as is providing help and support to those with pleural plaques. Making pleural plaques compensatable may well be a popular move in Scotland, but it would not be right.