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Single Farm Payments

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I announced in my written statement of 16 March 2006, Official Report, col. 104WS, that in light of the unacceptable progress in implementing the Single Payment Scheme, steps were being taken to strengthen the leadership of the Rural Payments Agency. The House has subsequently been kept informed,—27 March 2006, Official Report, col. 543, and 29 March 2006, Official Report, col. 305WH,— of the measures introduced by the new acting chief executive to speed up payments without losing sight of the need to manage properly the disbursement of a large sum of public money.

The measures already in place have begun to bear fruit with 47,033 claims representing 39 per cent. of the customer population having being paid a total of £362.23 million as at 18 April. Given, in particular, the unavailability of the SPS system over the Easter period for a planned essential upgrade for the 2006 scheme, this represents useful progress. The upgraded system is now fully operational and further payment runs are planned over the rest of the week.

The acting chief executive has, however, now told me he does not feel confident that he can say with complete assurance that the RPA will be able to make all of the full payments by the end of June. Given that advice, I have authorised that work on a system to make substantial partial payments to the remaining claimants should now be given priority and I further decided that the system should be deployed as soon as it is operationally possible to do so. The RPA will in the meantime continue to make full payments when claims have been fully validated, with historic claimants having priority.



The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy): On 16 March I informed the House of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) suspension on 14 March 2006 of the phase 1 clinical trial for a drug in development known as TGN1412. As well as suspending the trial and alerting international regulatory authorities, the MHRA initiated an immediate investigation into the incident.
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On 5 April the MHRA announced its interim findings. This, and associated documents, are available on the MHRA website.

To date, the MHRA has found no evidence to suggest that there was any problem with the manufacture of the product. It does not appear to have been contaminated, or to have contained anything other than the correct ingredients. Neither did the MHRA find any problems with the administration of the clinical trial which is likely to have contributed to the incident. It was run according to the agreed protocol and the correct dose of the product was given to the patients.

There are still further tests which the MHRA is carrying out to confirm these findings. However, if those findings are confirmed, it would indicate that there was something particular about this product and its mode of operation in humans which led to the adverse reactions in this case, and which was not predicted in the pre-clinical research carried out on the drug, including animal tests.

The product in question is a very specific kind of human monoclonal antibody, and it is essential now to understand what this incident reveals about the underlying science, and how clinical trials involving these types of products should be managed and authorised in the future. The Secretary of State has therefore agreed to the establishment of an expert working group to address these questions. The Secretary of State has appointed Professor Gordon Duff to chair the expert group. It will start work as soon as possible and provide advice to Ministers. We have asked for an interim report in three months.

It is important to stress that clinical trials in general have an extremely high safety record. It is the unprecedented nature of this incident that makes it all the more important to learn the lessons from this incident and prevent a recurrence. At the same time, the progress of clinical trials for other types of product which are vital to patient care must not be impeded.

This clinical trial was conducted by a contract research organisation and not by, or within, the NHS. I would, however, like to pay special tribute to the staff of the Northwick Park Hospital, and particularly those in the Intensive Care Unit, for their exceptional work in dealing with the aftermath of the trial and saving all the participants lives.

I will provide a further report to the House when the expert group provides its interim report. In the meantime, until the expert group provides advice, the MHRA is adopting a precautionary approach to the authorisation of trials involving products of this kind, and will not authorise trials without having received expert advice on whether the effects seen in the TGN1412 case may be repeated in relation to those substances.


Miscarriages of Justice (Compensation)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I have decided reform is needed to the arrangements under which state compensation is paid for miscarriages of justice.
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The purpose of the reforms which include some important changes being made by the assessor, with my full support, is to modernise and simplify the system, and to bring about a better balance with the treatment of victims of crime. In summary with, immediate effect:

I shall when suitable legislative opportunity arises, bring forward legislation to:

A Single Scheme

Currently I pay compensation under two schemes: a statutory scheme under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and a discretionary scheme which operates on the basis of the statement made by the then Home Secretary to the House of Commons on 29 November 1985.

The existence of the second, discretionary scheme is confusing and anomalous. The scheme predates the introduction of international standards and agreements in this area and addresses cases beyond the UK's international obligations. The scheme currently costs over £2 million a year to operate but benefits only between five and ten applicants. I do not believe that the discretionary scheme can continue to be justified.

Applications for compensation already received by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform will continue to be considered both under section 133 and the discretionary scheme. However, with immediate effect I will entertain new applications for compensation only under the statutory scheme.

Other Immediate Changes

Claims for compensation have increased in complexity in recent years and may drag on for several years. This reflects the absence of time limits on the process, as would be expected if the case had come to court, lack of clarity about the maximum amounts payable, and the absence of limits on legal fees, which are reimbursed at private work rates. Currently, applicants are invited simply to submit their claims for compensation and to detail their financial loss. Compensation payments for miscarriages of justice have increased sharply over the last few years and are now running at an average of well over £250,000, with more than 10 per cent. of that amount also paid in legal
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fees. In contrast, no legal costs are payable under the scheme for victims of crime, and the average amount received by each victim is less than one fiftieth of what is paid to those eligible under the miscarriages of justice scheme.

The level of compensation to be awarded to those eligible for compensation is determined by an independent assessor.

The assessor already takes some account of criminal convictions when deciding on the amount of compensation for non-pecuniary loss, and in assessing the amount of compensation he is able to take account of conduct by the applicant which contributed to the circumstances leading to the wrongful conviction. Typically, such deductions have been modest, ranging in most cases from around five to no more than 20 per cent. In contrast, reductions in payments to victims of crime are much higher, ranging up to 100 per cent. in serious cases.

The assessor has decided that, with immediate effect, he will take greater account of the criminal convictions of applicants when determining the level of non pecuniary compensation to be awarded. He will also, with immediate effect, take greater account of conduct by the applicant which contributed to the circumstances leading to the miscarriage of justice. These changes will apply to all existing cases (both under the statutory and discretionary scheme) which are currently awaiting a decision from the assessor on the amount of compensation, as well as to all existing cases (both under the statutory and discretionary scheme) where the question of eligibility for compensation is being considered by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, and to all new cases for compensation under the statutory scheme received by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform.

The assessor has also decided that legal costs in relation to applications for compensation will, with immediate effect, be paid by reference to the fees for publicly funded civil cases as provided for in the legal help contained in the Community Legal Service (Funding) Order 2000. This change will apply to all existing cases (both under the statutory and discretionary scheme) which are currently awaiting a decision from the assessor on the amount of compensation, as well as to all existing cases (both under the statutory and discretionary scheme) where the question of eligibility for compensation is being considered by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, and to all new cases for compensation under the statutory scheme received by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform. However, in the case of applications already received by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform or already under consideration by the Assessor, the change will apply only in relation to legal costs incurred after today and compensation in respect of legal costs before today will be paid on the same basis as before.

I am also asking all those dealing with applications for compensation, including my officials, to deal with them much more quickly than has been the case in the past. I propose that all supporting details of the amount of compensation being sought should be with the
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assessor within six months of notification of eligibility, and I welcome the assessor's decision to make final assessments within twelve months on the basis of the information to hand. I believe that the clarifications and simplifications introduced should enable that target to be met.

Legislative plans

Currently, section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 limits deductions from compensation awards in respect of convictions to the amount awarded to the applicant for non-pecuniary loss. I intend to bring forward legislation as soon as a suitable opportunity arises to empower the assessor in appropriate cases to make deductions because of convictions from the whole of the award—including pecuniary loss—and to provide that in exceptional cases the amount of compensation may be reduced to nil because of criminal convictions and/or contributory conduct by the applicant.

I also intend to bring forward legislation to provide that the maximum amount of compensation payable under the statutory scheme should be £500,000 and that the maximum compensation payable in respect of loss of earnings should be one and a half times the gross average industrial earnings.

Finally, I have embarked on an urgent review, with the Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General, of the statutory test the Court of Appeal must use in deciding whether to quash a conviction. I propose to examine whether and if so to what extent an error in the trial process necessarily means a miscarriage of justice. I will consult upon the results of this review as soon as possible. If a change in the law is needed, we will propose it.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has also decided, with immediate effect, not to consider any new applications under the discretionary compensation scheme in Northern Ireland. He also intends to have the legislation I will bring forward on compensation extended to Northern Ireland. He is now raising with assessors in Northern Ireland the other changes for the treatment of claims by Lord Brennan. In association with my own review, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will also consider the need for changes to the test for the quashing of convictions by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.

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