HL Deb 13 June 2002 vol 636 cc443-5

7.32 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 29th April be approved [21st Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall try to be extremely brief. It gives me great pleasure to move the draft Regulatory Reform (Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979) Order 2002 which was laid before the House on 29th April and to ask your Lordships to approve it.

Approval of this order will mark the final stages of the improvements to the vaccine damage payments scheme announced at the end of the review of the scheme. We have increased the payment for new cases to £100,000 and we have made around 900 top-up payments of between £58,000 to £68,000 to past recipients at a cost of over £60 million.

If the order is approved, it will amend the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 in two ways. It will extend the time limit for claiming a vaccine damage payment and reduce the degree of disability required to qualify for a payment so that more people will be eligible for it. It also makes arrangements for transitional claims.

I could extend my description of what these proposals do if your Lordships wish, but that may he enough. It is an entirely benign matter. As I say, it extends the time limit and it reduces the degree of disability down from 80 per cent to 60 per cent and makes appropriate transitional arrangements. If your Lordships are content with that information, I am happy to ask the House to approve the regulatory reform order.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 29th April be approved [21st Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, it welcome the order. I wish to make a few points. It is interesting to note that two years have passed since we debated the contents of the order. Indeed, I believe that the Secretary of State made the original announcement on 27th June 2000. That announcement concerned the outcome of the review of the vaccine damage payments scheme which reported three years after the general election which brought in this Government. Therefore, five years after this Government came into power, these changes are finally being made. That does not diminish the importance of these amendments but it shows the time-scale involved which, I believe, is a regrettable one.

However, that said, I very much welcome the content of the order. I should like to ask the Minister about the retrospective nature of the order. Can those who fell outside the previous levels of disability now apply retrospectively? Will she explain the somewhat difficult terms in which the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee of another place talked about applying the measure retrospectively in terms of whether or not people were 21 at the time of the original claim on the basis that that was outside the six-year time limit? I am sure that the Minister will be able to elucidate that point. Obviously, it is of great importance that people are able to claim retrospectively as far as possible. As I say, I welcome the order.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, the order before us has been studied by the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee. I understand that that committee recommended various amendments to the drafting. Those amendments have been made. Therefore, from a technical point of view, I understand that the order is in good shape.

The order effectively does two things. It alters the time limit for claiming a vaccine damage payment and it reduces the degree of disability that is required. For those people who are unfortunate enough to be in a situation where they may need to claim, both those relaxations are clearly to be very much welcomed. We certainly welcome them.

I understand that the order allows for transitional claims to be considered from persons who had previously claimed unsuccessfully or who, in various specified circumstances, did not claim. It will put past claimants, or persons who might have claimed but were told that they would not succeed, in the same position as those who claim after the coming into force of the amendments to the Act made by the order. It seems to me that this is an entirely wise and benevolent measure. We on this side of the House certainly support it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am grateful for the response of both noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has, indeed, answered the first of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones; namely, that transitional claims will be entertained from people who have previously claimed unsuccessfully, possibly due to their degree of disability, or who have perhaps received wrongful advice that they should not claim.

As regards dates and ages, the Act will provide that a claim must be made before whichever is the later of, first, the date on which the disabled person attains the age of 21, or, where he or she has died, the date on which he would have attained the age of 21, or, secondly, the end of the period of six years beginning with the date of the vaccination to which the claim relates. That is a more generous provision than the six-year period that currently exists.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is content that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and I have between us answered his questions. I hope that the House is content to approve the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.