England’s asbestos scandal

Socialist Appeal reports on the latest example of a) the need for an English parliament, and b) New Labour being soft on safety crime.

The judicial House of Lords has recently ruled that pleural plaque (scarring of the lung – a condition caused by breathing in asbestos) is not an industrial illness for which compensation can be claimed. This reverses twenty years of common law practice. What do the Law Lords know about it? Asbestosis related conditions are not exactly an occupational hazard for judicial bigwigs.

Linda Walman, reporting the House of Lords decision (Guardian 17.10.2007), commented, “While industry and society have benefited from the use of asbestos, today’s ruling effectively means that the people who worked with it – mining it, installing it, using it in manufacture and, more recently, removing it – and those who lived in the vicinity of asbestos companies will continue to bear the social and physical costs. It is the workers, ordinary men and their families, who will continue to pay the price for the mining and manufacture of asbestos. Their experience – watching friends suffer, dealing with doctors and lawyers, trying to find a way in which they can support their families – confirms their deep suspicion of the medical and legal establishment.”

At first Gordon Brown promised to rush through a law reversing the decision. Now he’s decided to have a ‘review’. The Scottish Executive responded by tabling a bill to reverse the Lords’ decision. The English review falls a long way short of doing the same

Construction workers will this week target the constituencies of cabinet ministers David Miliband and John Hutton, in a campaign to force the government to rule that the insurance industry has to pay a £1.4bn compensation bill to sufferers of pleural plaque.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said: ‘The insurance industry seems intent on dismantling the industrial injury compensation system and it has to be fought.’

It seems the government is the prisoner of big business. How gutless can Gordon get? It appears pleural plaque is an industrial illness in Scotland, but not in England.