HC Deb 19 July 1977 vol 935 cc1361-3
7. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to be able to advise parents of vaccine-damaged children how they are to submit claims for compensation; and if he will announce some guidelines at an early date.

Mr. Ennals

As I made clear in my statement to the House on 14th June, the detailed provisions of the scheme of payments for vaccine damage cannot be determined until we have received the report of the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury. As soon as the report is received. we shall examine its recommendations in detail so that a scheme of payments can be decided without delay. The provisions of the scheme and arrangements for the submission of claims will then be publicised. In the meantime, advance work is in hand by my Department on possible arrangements.

Mr. Adley

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Would he agree that it would be tragic if, in the case of some parents, hope were to turn to disappointment and even bitterness because they had thought that they would qualify for compensation on behalf of their children and subsequently found that they did not? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider establishing immediately some form of preliminary inquiry, even one as basic as for the purpose of establishing that a child received a vaccination at a given time from a certain doctor and subsequently suffered symp- toms similar to brain damage? Would not that avoid some of the potential misery that might occur?

Mr. Ennals

To start setting up some form of inquiry in advance of an agreed system would lead to precisely what the hon. Gentleman is concerned about—that is, hope turning to bitterness. We must accept that there will be people—and this applies in other situations—who may apply for benefit without the adjudication necessarily being that they are entitled to it. The assumption that every brain-damaged child is brain damaged as a result of vaccination is not accurate. One of the most difficult aspects of the matter is the determination of a method by which it can be seen whether the damage was due to vaccination. It would be unwise to start anything other than preliminary work in advance.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members recognise his anxiety to help in the matter and the genuine difficulties that he faces? However, will he consider recommending to the independent medical assessment board that in cases where there is a margin of doubt the board should be generous and give the benefit of the doubt to the children concerned, as happens in other countries?

Mr. Ennals

Such considerations must be taken into account when the Commission's recommendations have been received and we have established a system. It would be unwise for me to comment now.

Miss John Lestor

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Commission and its recommendations will deal with the point about whether payment of compensation, or even application for compensation, will undermine the rights of parents to sue manufacturers if at a later stage they decide to do so?

Mr. Ennals

I revealed to the House the broad principles upon which the Royal Commission would be working in connection with vaccine damage. I did not, and should not, reveal to the House any other aspects of the consideration of the Commission. We shall have to await the report of the Commission, when I shall be better able to answer such questions.

Dr. Vaughan

Is there any evidence yet of an increased uptake in vaccination generally as a result of all the discussions that have taken place recently and the pleas that have been made to the community not to be put off vaccination?

Mr. Ennals

I cannot give any statistics, but the review of the joint committee was well received by the medical profession which found it helpful and reassuring. That has gone a long way towards re-establishing confidence within the medical profession. I expect that even without further efforts it will lead to an increased take-up. However, no statistics are yet available. I shall follow this up carefully.