HC Deb 02 April 2001 vol 366 cc11-2
7. Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles)

What progress is being made with the implementation of changes to the vaccine damage payment scheme. [154864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

In July 2000, we increased the amount of the vaccine damage payment to £100,000, which is a very considerable increase on the £30,000 that we inherited in 1997. Subsequently, we have made 804 top-up payments to past recipients, to a value of more than £53 million. We intend to make the remaining outstanding changes to the disability threshold and time limits for claiming a payment in a regulatory reform order that will be provided for by the Regulatory Reform Bill, which is currently before the House.

Mr. Stewart

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is good to hear that the Government are keeping their promise to legislate by regulation on the threshold and the time limit. Will the Government tag that regulation on to either of the two social security Bills that the House is currently considering?

Mr. Bayley

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who led a magnificent campaign on behalf of the families of those very unfortunate people. Nothing, of course, can make up for their suffering, but we are determined to improve the payment scheme. We will get that legislation through the House using a regulatory reform order as soon as we can—subject, of course, to the House agreeing the Regulatory Reform Bill. I am confident, however, that the House will agree that measure. The official Opposition have already made statements confirming that they will help us to pass those improvements to the scheme as quickly as possible, and I am sure that they will honour those commitments.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Minister accept that some of those people have been waiting some time to receive that assistance, that time is of the essence, and that it is important that payments are made as quickly as possible after the orders have been passed? Will he also give an undertaking that, despite any changes, there will be no question of compensation clawback being allowed to reduce the money that is paid?

Mr. Bayley

On the latter point, provided that the victim of vaccine damage is still alive, it is possible to put the money into trust. If the money is put into trust, there would be no question of a consequential abatement of social security benefits. The vast majority of the higher-rate claims that we have received have been paid. There has been a delay only in cases in which we are going through the process of establishing trusts to achieve precisely the outcome that the right hon. Gentleman wants—to ensure that income support or other income-related benefits will not be abated because of capital being taken into account.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I welcome the Government's commitment—which was, and is supported by the Conservative party—to ensure that there is compensation for those who are suffering from vaccine damage. However, what action will the Government take to ensure that people are aware of the availability of compensation schemes? Will they use Thora Hird and Nerys Hughes to do that? What will the Government do to ensure that the families and individuals who have been so blighted by vaccine damage can apply for compensation?

Mr. Bayley

The hon. Gentleman rather undermines his argument that there is a bipartisan approach to the issue. The current Government, not the previous one, have made a very substantial improvement to the vaccine damage scheme that has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Claims are made because people are aware of the vaccine damage payment scheme. Fortunately and thankfully, however, not many claims are made because very few people are damaged. However, when there is damage, payments can be made. Only recently, I announced to the House another extension to the scheme, in relation to vaccinations for meningitis C.

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