Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels?
Like many native English speakers, I struggle with foreign languages. This handicap extends, it seems, to legalese and bureaucratic double-speak because where I would label insurance fat cats as dirty rotten scoundrels for attempting to stitch up dying asbestos victims, an official report just out (House of Commons Justice Committee Mesothelioma Claims Report) is much more circumspect. Although, the conclusions of the Parliamentary enquiry published today (August 1, 2014) did indeed find fault with the timing and nature of the [Government] review of proposals affecting mesothelioma victims and categorized the shoehorning of part of the review into a wider consultation as a maladroit way of proceeding, it stopped far short of pointing the finger. Or so I thought.
Upon further reading of the Justice Select Committee Report, I observed that it expressed:
concern that the Government has not been transparent or open [dishonest?] about the fact that its policy on mesothelioma has been shaped by an agreement [deal?], however informal and elastic, with insurers [Tory donors?].
In the Justice Committee press announcement accompanying the Report, Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Committee, called the Governments pre-emptive actions unsatisfactory and speculated about the motivation behind them:
It was a surprise to us that the Government concluded a heads of agreement, however informal its status, with parties on one side or the argument about mesothelioma. The provisions of this document, which remained undisclosed to other interested parties, have shaped the Governments approach to this issue, and we are concerned that the Government appears to have had no intention of supplying us with this document as part of our inquiry.1
Doug Jewell from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, who gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee in May 2014, welcomed the Report and its call for a proper review as opposed to the discredited sham orchestrated by the Government and UK insurers behind closed doors in 2013-2014 (see: Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum Press Release). Echoing his comments, the General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress Frances OGrady was categorical that The Committee was right to criticize the shoddy deal done between the insurance industry and the government 2 while Daniel Shears, the GMB unions National Health and Safety Officer highlighted the behind the scenes deal done between the ABI [Association of British Insurers] and the Government in his statement.3
Attempting, no doubt, to misdirect attention away from their own actions, a spokesman for the ABI went on the attack demanding answers from claimant lawyers who, he said, do not support lower legal costs thereby increasing insurance premiums for all employers.4 Far from being shamefaced or even contrite, the ABIs James Dalton said We make no apologies for negotiating with Government a scheme, paid for by insurers, that will compensate an extra 3,000 sufferers over the next 10 years, who would otherwise go uncompensated. This beneficent gesture is too little too late for thousands of asbestos victims who died uncompensated through the misplacing or deliberate destruction of insurance policies, the premiums for which remained in insurance industry coffers.
In an age when conspiracy theories are ten a penny, in this instance there is hard evidence of how vested interests called the shots to the detriment of dying citizens. The Coalition Government had no compunction about selling the innocent down the river. Despite the civil service speak in which the Justice Select Committee Report is couched, it is crystal clear that the members of this body were shocked by what they witnessed. While welcoming their findings, we must remain ever vigilant. There is, I feel sure, more to come.
August 1, 2014
1 Commons Select Committee. Mesothelioma compensation: Government must consult again following "maladroit" review. August 1, 2014.
2 Mesothelioma victims deserve fair recompense, says TUC. August 1, 2014.
3 GMB Press Release. Justice Committee Report On Mesothelioma Claims. August 1, 2014.
4 Dugan E. Secret deal meant mesothelioma compensation scheme favoured insurers. August 1, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-deal-meant-mesothelioma-compensation-scheme-favoured-insurers-9641233.html