The fight for justice for asbestos victims in Yorkshire has been taken up by newly elected Labour MP for Leeds West, Rachel Reeves.

In a series of questions in parliament, Ms Reeves has demanded to know whether the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition will honour promises by the Labour government to compensate victims of asbestos diagnosed with pleural plaques and bring legislation into force making it easier to pursue claims against insurers.

She is also pressing the Government to back Labour commitments to establish an Employers Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) to pay compensation to asbestos victims who cannot trace their former employer’s insurer.

Ms Reeves fears the new coalition will use the financial deficit as an excuse to curb the important fight for justice for asbestos victims.

Devastating effects of exposure to asbestos

She said: “There is a real concern that the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition will use the country’s financial deficit as an excuse to unfairly target working people, particularly those who have been left dealing with the devastating effects of exposure to asbestos.

“With the backing of trade unions and support groups a huge amount of effort has gone into making sure that the voices of asbestos victims and their families are heard by Government and as a result a number of important assurances were made to them at the end of the last parliament.

“It’s vital those commitments are not reneged upon to the detriment of thousands of asbestos victims across the country.”

Hundreds of people in Leeds, particularly in Armley, are suffering the effects of exposure to asbestos. Many worked in factories in the area or were exposed while working in construction and other industries.

Fatal cancer mesothelioma

Asbestos can lead to diagnosis of conditions including pleural plaques, pleural thickening and the fatal cancer mesothelioma. The stories from the victims and their families are often heart-breaking.

Earlier this year the Labour Government announced plans to make lump sum payments of £5,000 to pleural plaques victims who had begun but not resolved a legal claim for compensation prior to a Law Lords ruling in October 2007.

The payments were announced in response to a government consultation on pleural plaques after the House of Lords withdrew the right to claim compensation. It was anticipated that around 6,000 people would receive the payments under a scheme.

The Labour government also promised a consultation on establishing an ELIB as an insurance fund of last resort to compensate injured workers where the employer has ceased trading and the insurer cannot be found.

The fund would particularly benefit victims of asbestos diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The consultation ended on 5 May 2010 and Ms Reeves wants the coalition to publish its findings quickly to help the many mesothelioma victims and their families whose financial situation hangs on the outcome.

She said: “Asbestos victims don’t have time to wait for answers on an ELIB and deserve to be told as soon as possible what they can expect under this new Government. Many of those waiting on the ELIB consultation have just months to live. For them an ELIB can give them real peace of mind in knowing their family will be provided financially for following their death.”