MPs on the justice select committee have demanded that the government carry out a second mesothelioma review, following a row over a “secret deal” between ministers and the insurance industry.
They said the review, into the impact of abolishing recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums for mesothelioma claims, had not been approached in a “thorough and even-handed way”.
The committee said the timing and nature of the review meant that respondents to the consultation did not have “much relevant information” and the “shoehorning of part of the review into a wider consultation on the claims process was a maladroit way of proceeding”.
MPs said the government had been “forced” to accept Section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which required it to carry out a review before ending recoverability for mesothelioma claims.
During justice committee hearings last month, evidence emerged of a secret agreement between the government and the Association of British Insurers.
Under the deal, contained in a “heads of agreement” document, the insurance industry agreed to pay for the special scheme outlined in the Mesothelioma Act 2014 for victims who cannot trace employers or insurers, in return for an end to recoverability.
The first payments under the Act are due this month. The government’s original aim was that this would coincide with abolition of recoverability, but Lord Faulks told the committee during oral evidence that nothing would happen until the autumn.
MPs said they were concerned that the government had not been “transparent or open” about the fact that its overall policy on mesothelioma had been “shaped in accordance with an ‘agreement’, however informal and elastic, which it had reached with employers’ liability insurers”.
The committee went on: “It is hard to see how a balanced and informed public debate can take place when a prior agreement has been reached between two of the principal parties to that debate, and that agreement is not known to others participating in the debate, including victims.”
Commenting that it could not recall any subject it had investigated where there was such a “pronounced binary division of opinion and approach”, the committee concluded: “The haste with which the government embarked on a review and consultation, and the way in which it presented them, left those who favoured retention of the LASPO exemption for mesothelioma potentially disadvantaged in terms of marshalling a persuasive case.
“We recommend that the government defer the introduction of the change it has announced until it has undertaken a further consultation, which should be framed unambiguously and centrally on the question of whether the LASPO provisions should be brought into effect for mesothelioma.
“This consultation should be informed by an updated cost-benefit analysis, on which respondents should be asked to comment.
“We consider that such a consultation should not be undertaken until sufficient time has elapsed for the effects of the LASPO changes in non-mesothelioma cases to be assessed.”