Today in the House of Lords peers have started the second reading of Lord Alton’s Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill which would compel active insurance companies to pay into a fund for medical research into this devastating asbestos related disease.

The Mesothelioma Act already requires insurers to fund the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) which makes payments to certain mesothelioma sufferers who have good claims but who cannot obtain compensation because their employer has no assets and its insurers cannot be found.

This bill would add a research levy of 1% to the DMPS, bringing about £3.5m in extra research funding.

It is estimated the active insurers will have to pay about £350M over the first 10 years of the scheme’s life.

‘Something can be done’ about mesothelioma

The bill was introduced by Crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool. He told the house that the UK has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world and calls the 2014 act a “partial and very welcome” response.

He says very little money is spent on research in the UK compared to cancers with a similar mortality rate. Crossbench peer Lord Freyberg cites British Lung Foundation figures estimating just £800,000 a year is invested in mesothelioma research, compared to £9m a year for skin cancers.

Alton adds that something can be done about it, and it is not enough to rely on private donations and “modest” government contributions.

According to Cancer Research UK, the number of mesothelioma cases are expected to “rise sharply for the next few years”.

The charity attributes this expected rise to the high use of asbestos in industry from the second world war to the 1970s.

‘Three quarters’ of schools have asbestos

Crossbencher Baroness Finlay of Llandaff says she wants to highlight mesothelioma as a problem not just for today but for the future. She says that more than three quarters of school buildings have asbestos in them.

She adds that research has shown that children exposed to asbestos have a far higher risk of eventually developing mesothelioma than adults do.

“The fact that asbestos is still present in our public buildings means research is ever more important” she says.

‘Shining a light’ on Mesothelioma

Summing up the debate, Lord Alton of Liverpool says that “shining a light” on mesothelioma is a worthwhile endeavour, given the low profile of the disease.

He adds that it is important to realise it is not just a disease that is “just confined to heavy industry”.

He tells peers that “the only way” that parliamentarians have of raising awareness about issues such as these is through “bills of this sort”.

Labour’s Lord Howarth of Newport says the bill is a challenge to insurers to put more money into mesothelioma research voluntarily, “I hope that the industry will respond, and if not I will support the bill”, he says.

Furthermore, Baroness Murphy says the survival rate for mesothelioma has only gone up by 2% in thirty years, which makes clear the need for more research.

She says that what is “really required” is not just money but a political focus on tackling on the disease.

At a vote, peers decide to give the bill a second reading, meaning it will now pass to committee stage.

If you or a family member have been affected by mesothelioma, please contact us on 0800 294 3065 where we will be able to answer any questions that you may have.