Speech by Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform.
I firstly want to say how important this meeting is today.
Agreeing a mesothelioma support scheme was a major break-through for the insurance industry, for the Government and most importantly for many of the victims of this terrible disease.
Both industry and government have failed to resolve the terrible situation that many victims of mesothelioma have faced.
People were sceptical that an agreement could be reached - so we should congratulate ourselves for this first major step.
That we have an agreement is an achievement.
But both the industry and the Government still have work to do.
We have started the process and we both now need to deliver.
The package of solutions we are working on will mean that people who, through no fault of their own, are forced to rely on a limited package of state benefits, will now receive a higher level of support and receive it quickly.
Although we are still working on the numbers we estimate that, over the first ten years of the scheme, around 3,000 people will receive in the order of £300 million in support.
We have ensured the support scheme sets the right balance between encouraging people to trace an employer or insurer and providing a level of payment to reflect the terrible nature of the disease.
I want to put on record my thanks to the ABI and the insurance industry for coming to the table to work with us to get this deal and their effort, time and enthusiasm in putting this together.
And also thank the teams involved for recognising the urgency of the matter to get this agreement in place as quickly as we did.
It was critical that we found a solution ahead of the forecast peak of deaths in 2015 and we have achieved that.
We worked hard to get the agreement reached in July so that we can have support for people from that date.
The agreement we have reached on funding the scheme, and working to put the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office on a statutory footing are major steps forward.
Before legislation, we will see real gains.
With 99 per cent of Employment Liability insurers taking part in the tracing office already, I hope to see strong results later this year showing more people than ever have been helped to find their employer’s insurer.
A system that provides speedy resolution will ease the major pressure that people face at an extremely stressful time in their life.
It was important to us that we worked collaboratively with the insurance industry. It was the best way to deliver a solution more quickly than by government acting unilaterally.
The negotiations were not always easy and went right to the wire but, by working with the insurance industry, we were able to forge an agreement that meets all our needs, that involves all the industry and puts us on a much stronger footing.
However, the hard work we put into the deal should only be seen as the first step. Now we need to make it happen.
I hope these meetings can keep the momentum going - both on Government, as we get the necessary legislation through parliament to establish the scheme, but also on the insurance industry.
On our side, I want to be absolutely clear that we will resist any pressure to widen the scope of the scheme.
What we have in place is the best solution for getting support quickly to a distinct group who are facing a terrible, terminal, illness and we will stand by it.
As you are no doubt aware the Ministry of Justice is also playing its part.
I have spoken with the new Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, the new Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, about the package of measures in the justice system that will support victims alongside the new scheme.
I know that officials in MoJ are working to streamline the process of bringing a claim for mesothelioma, and that the Master of the Rolls and the Civil Justice Council are looking at proposals for a new mesothelioma specific pre-action protocol to accelerate the pre-litigation process for mesothelioma claims.
Also the review of measures in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment Act should not be seen as a blockage to our work.
The amendment that was put forward by Lord Alton was quite rightly designed to provide safeguards to ensure the Government honoured its commitment to provide support for mesothelioma sufferers. The review that it requires will be taken forward at the appropriate time in line with the work we are doing and supports our work.
Overall the MOJ work will help to both cut the costs of civil litigation for victims and ease the process for them.
But there is still considerable work ahead of us.
The work on the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office and the establishment of a single online claims portal remain a major priority.
Streamlining the process to allow people to seek compensation and support more quickly will be a great step forward.
Families that are facing mesothelioma do not want to have the final months with their loved ones blighted by a fight with bureaucracy. They want the support they are rightly eligible for, paid without needless hurdles.
And we must press ahead to get the legislation we need to make this scheme operational onto the statute book.
But it is clearly in all of our interests to get those payments flowing as soon as possible, to get money into the hands of those who need it, and to minimise the build-up of cases the scheme has to deal with when it is launched.
To conclude, while major strides have been made there is clearly more to be done.
I hope the work here today will continue that process so we can build on our efforts and deliver.
But throughout this process, we need to keep the reason for all this hard work at the front of our minds; to ensure people receive support they deserve.