PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT VACCINE DAMAGE PAYMENTS ACT 1979 STATUTORY SUM ORDER 1991

Tuesday 26 March 1991

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR JAMES HILL

Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North)

Ashley, Mr. Jack (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Carttiss, Mr. Michael (Great Yarmouth)

Cox, Mr. Tom (Tooting)

Dunnachie, Mr. Jimmy (Glasgow, Pollok)

Fyfe, Mrs. Maria (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Gordon, Ms. Mildred (Bow and Poplar)

Gorman, Mrs. Teresa (Billericay)

Hughes, Mr. Robert G. (Harrow, West)

Kennedy, Mr. Charles (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Mates, Mr. Michael (East Hampshire)

Scott, Mr. Nicholas (Minister for Social Security and Disabled People)

Short, Mr. Clare (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Stewart, Mr. Ian (Hertfordshire, North)

Townend, Mr. John (Brmonton)

Twinn, Dr. Ian (Edmonton)

Vaughan, Sir Gerard (Reading, East)

Whitney, Mr. Ray (Wycombe)

Wood, Mr. Timothy (Stevenage)

Mr. R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk

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3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 26 March 1991

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

VACCINE DAMAGE PAYMENTS ACT 1979 STATUTORY SUM ORDER 1991

4.30 pm

Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 1991. The draft order will increase the amount of the payment under section 1 of the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 by 50 per cent. To£30,000 for claims made on or after 15 April 1991. The intention to make the increase was announced on 27 February by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security during the debate on the Social Security Benefits Uprating Orders. In doing so he said that it was a matter of considerable interest to many hon. Members—I am pleased to see that many of those who have pressed us on the issue are on the Committee. He went on to say that the proposed increase did not represent a changed judgment about the safety of vaccination, but simply our view that it was once again appropriate to increase the payment. I am happy to bring forward the necessary order to give effect to that announcement. I shall sketch briefly the background to the order. When whooping cough vaccine was first introduced on a large scale in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, the average annual notification of the incidence of the disease was 100,000 cases. By 1988, the number of notifications had been reduced to about 5,000. The number of deaths in the early 1950s was more than 400 per year and now it is fewer than 10. The immunisation programme has been a great success. A few children still suffer damage from vaccines. It is important that the families affected by that tragedy should be properly helped. Rather than uprating the payments year by year against the retail prices index, it is right to take a measured look at the amount of statutory payment from time to time. The payments will be increased by 50 per cent. That will more than restore the value of the payment to the 1985 level based on the RPI. The amount payable this year will be raised to about£27,500, which is the equivalent of£20,000 in 1985. The£30,000 payment will more than compensate for the increase in prices. It is a substantial sum. The availability of the payments for those damaged in such tragic circumstances reflects the concern of Parliament for their suffering.

4.33 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): I welcome the increase. However, the payments are not over-generous, especially compared to the amount that might be awarded 4 if such matters were taken to court on the basis of negligence. I accept that the payments are not a substitute for such actions. Only four or five individuals will be affected by the increase, as it will apply only to new claims. What, if anything, can be done to increase the numbers of vaccine damaged people who can benefit from this change from£20,000 to£30,000? He may wish to reconsider the winnertakes-all situation where a person must have an 80 per cent. disability. Perhaps there is some room for manoeuvre—perhaps a sliding scale—for those who suffer 70 per cent., 60 per cent., or some other percentage disability because of the problems brought about by vaccine damage. That would open the door to wider public expenditure, but I am sure that the Minister agrees that many in that group deserve some money to make their lives a little easier. I know from reading the debates on the matter that it is heartbreaking for individuals to have their disability assessed at 75 per cent. or 70 per cent. and then to receive nothing. Obviously, the Minister cannot give an undertaking now, but it would be helpful if he undertook to re-examine the idea of a sliding scale.

4.36 pm

Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East): Before the Minister replies, I should like to follow on from that point. I took part in the original debates on this matter. One of the things that worried us at the time—and since—was the procedure by which compensation is worked out. Many of us would like to see claimants given the benefit of the doubt a little more often in those cases where there is slight doubt whether it was vaccine damage. Some of us would like to see a compassionate view as, after all, many people and their families have suffered great handicap. We are worried about the length of time that compensation sometimes takes. During the Thalidomide disaster, I was horrified that many lawyers thought that they had to go through every detail to allocate the exact amount of money. That created great hardship for many families.

4.37 pm

Mr. Scott: I am anxious—as is every member of the Committee—to see the numbers who require payment under the scheme reduced to nil as a result of the increased efficiency of the vaccination scheme. We all agree with that. However, the capricious nature of life being what it is, I suppose that there may still be handful of people who will need payment under the scheme. The sliding scale argument will be considered. We are reviewing the disability criteria, and the Secretary of State has already committed himself to that. The 80 per cent. disability level was written in at the beginning of the scheme—which was introduced under a Labour Government—and, so far, we have maintained that. I should find it difficult to accept that the new rate ought to apply to claims in the pipeline. As the scheme operates at the moment, it is possible for a family—quite rightly—to postpone indefinitely the consideration of a claim under the scheme so that perhaps their child might reach the 80 per cent. benchmark over a number of years and then they could claim. There is the six-year mark, and a further extension is available beyond that. I believe that we have got the balance about right, but I shall consider carefully the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Sir G. Vaughan) and the hon. Member for 5 Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). We shall consider all those points as we reconsider the criteria for the scheme as a whole.

Question put and agreed to

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Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 1991.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Five o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)

Allen, Mr.

Carttiss, Mr.

Dunnachie, Mr.

Fyfe, Mrs.

Hughes, Mr. Robert G.

Kennedy, Mr.

Scott, Mr.

Twinn, Dr.

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Whitney, Mr.

Wood, Mr.