‘Behind closed doors’ deal between government and insurance industry comes to light

Mesothelioma sufferers and their families must come before the profits of insurers.

Mesothelioma sufferers and their families must come before the profits of insurers

In a move which flies in the face of democratic politics, the Tory- led government has struck a ‘behind closed doors’ deal with the insurance industry – one which, if implemented, would boost the profits of the multimillion pound insurance industry at the expense of people dying from the fatal asbestos disease, mesothelioma.

The cynical, secret deal was exposed following a Justice Select Committee evidence session in May at which I gave evidence.

The extraordinary confidential document is now published on the Parliament website, against the wishes of the insurance industry body, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), who fought and failed to block its public disclosure.

When the government introduced The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) to Parliament in April last year, mesothelioma claims were exempted from the Act’s requirement that claimants pay legal costs. But following a ‘sham’ review, the Ministry of Justice announced last December its decision to remove the exemption.

Both the government and the ABI had attempted to present a package of consultation proposals as measures to make the compensation claims process quicker.

But as I explained to MPs on the Justice Select Committee, prior to the document coming to light, I believed that a deal had been done between the government and the insurance industry which tied the industry to funding the Mesothelioma Act 2014 – in return for the government delivering substantial and long-term savings for an industry that makes millions of pounds a year, on the back of those suffering from terminal illness.

James Dalton, the head of Motor and Liability at the ABI who gave evidence after me in that same session, was asked repeatedly by John McDonnell MP whether such a deal had been done. Following Mr Dalton’s evasive answers, McDonnell concluded: “I think we’ll take that as a yes.”

Just days after the Justice Select Committee session, the ABI revealed to the Committee chair, Sir Alan Beith MP, that a deal had in fact been done, but sought to prevent its disclosure. The document, now published on the Parliament website, sets out full details of the deal.

The document clearly details commitments from both the ABI and the government in respect of mesothelioma claims. Interestingly, the industry commitments within the document are four in number whereas the government commits to deliver ten actions for the industry.

The document lays out the details of an ‘indivisible package’ in which the insurance industry’s main delivery is of funding for the Mesothelioma Act 2014, and in return the government undertakes to deliver various reforms including the review of removing the mesothelioma claims exemption under the LASPO Act.

Lifting the mesothelioma exemption will bring considerable savings to the insurance industry at significant cost to mesothelioma claimants.

That one part of the financial services industry can, through its huge lobbying resources and the power of its political donations, influence government policy to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable people in society is chilling.

Aside from its implications for dying mesothelioma sufferers and their families, this deal raises serious questions about how open this government really is.

How many other secret deals on key areas of policy have been made or are taking place between a major commercial instructions and this so-called modern democratic government?

Thompsons Solicitors has represented tens of thousands of victims of industrial diseases including many who are living out a death sentence or have died, because their employers sent them to work in places in which they were negligently exposed to asbestos.

We will continue our campaign alongside victims’ support groups and trade unions for greater transparency around the relationship between the ABI and the current government. The revelation of this secret deal shows we have to long way to go as a society if we are to stand up for, and put the interests of mesothelioma sufferers and their families before the profits of insurers.

Ian McFall is national head of asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors

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