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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Eric Martlew
Alexander, Danny (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
Byers, Mr. Stephen (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
George, Mr. Bruce (Walsall, South) (Lab)
Heppell, Mr. John (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
Mackinlay, Andrew (Thurrock) (Lab)
McGuire, Mrs. Anne (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Selous, Andrew (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)
Skinner, Mr. Dennis (Bolsover) (Lab)
Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 19 June 2007

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 2007

10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 2007.
I am satisfied that the provisions of this order are compatible with the European convention on human rights. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew. I am sure that you will keep us all in order.
The order makes a modest but significant change, which will affect a small number of children and their families. Immunisation with vaccines is one of the most important methods for protecting individuals and the community from serious diseases. Where, rarely, the programme results in severe disability to an immunised person, the vaccine damage payments scheme provides a measure of financial help. When the scheme was introduced in 1979 it provided a tax-free, lump-sum payment of £10,000 in respect of those who were severely disabled as a result of a vaccination against certain specified diseases. It was designed to ease the present and future burdens of those suffering from severe vaccine damage and their families.
The diseases specified in the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 are those that are vaccinated against under the Department of Health’s routine childhood immunisation programme. A payment is also available if someone is thought to be severely disabled because their mother was vaccinated against any of the specified diseases while she was pregnant or if someone is thought to be severely disabled because they have been in close personal contact with a person who has been vaccinated against polio.
Unlike social security benefits, there is no statutory obligation to increase vaccine damage payments in line with inflation. However, successive Governments have given an undertaking to Parliament regularly to review the rates of payment in order to maintain their value broadly in line with inflation. The amount has been progressively raised on four occasions over the past28 years. These increases took place in 1985, 1991, 1998 and 2000.
Following a meeting with members of the all-party group on vaccine damaged children, which is chaired by my honourable Friend the Member for Eccles(Ian Stewart), to discuss a range of issues in relation to the vaccine damage payments scheme, I decided that it is now time for a further increase. The relevant statutory sum for the purposes of the Act is the statutory sum at the time when a claim for payment is first made. The order therefore raises the statutory sum of a vaccine damage payment to £120,000 from 12 July 2007 for all successful claims made on or after that date. This means that the buying power of the payment is more than restored to its value in 2000. People who claimed previously will receive the statutory sum in force at the time the claim was first made.
Out of an average of 177 claims made each year about five claims are successful. Therefore, an increase in the statutory sum from £100,000 to £120,000 would result in associated costs of approximately £100,000a year. This improvement for the few children andtheir families who may in future suffer as a resultof vaccination shows that the Government remain committed to recognising that those who are severely disabled as a result of the vaccination programme for the protection of the whole community should receive the increased payment. We have consulted the devolved Administrations and the Isle of Man and they have consented to the making of this order.
A consultation exercise was not undertaken for the order as no substantive changes have been made tothe Vaccine Damage Payments Regulations 1979. The order simply increases the statutory sum that is payable under the Act. For applicants whose successful claims are made on or after 12 July 2007, the statutory vaccine damage payment will increase to £120,000. I commend the order to the Committee.
10.35 am
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew.
The official Opposition welcome the order. We will support it, and we make a commitment that any future Conservative Government will pay the increasedsum. It is important to recognise that vaccination is overwhelmingly a good thing. Every year, millions of children are prevented from contracting diseases that would seriously impinge on their life chances. It is also important to record our tribute to the families and carers of vaccine-damaged children. None of us can fully imagine what that involves unless we have been in similar circumstances.
Having welcomed the order, I have one or two questions. Can the Minister give the Committee anidea as to whether the problem is declining? The explanatory notes tell us that there are four to five successful claims per year. That is not a huge number. How many unsuccessful claims are there? Is the figure likely to decrease to nil over time, or is it expected to stay broadly static or, heaven help us, increase? Can the Minister shed any light on that, or can her officials leaf through their papers and provide the Committee with some illumination? That would be helpful.
I am curious about the history. Why was there notan annual retail prices index increase? The Ministerhas helpfully outlined the series of fairly substantial increases in the lump sum over the history of the scheme. There were obviously times when one was out of luck if one made a claim, because the value of what one received had gone down, and other times whenone might have been more fortunate and received a payment equivalent to the real value of the scheme when it was put in place. If there were an RPI increase, we would not need to be here this morning because the figure would go up automatically every year.
Let us move to the larger, conceptual issue behind the measure. I did a bit of reading before today’s debate. The report of the royal commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, which was chaired by Lord Pearson, stated:
“Vaccination is recommended by the State for the benefit of the community, and where it causes injury, the State ought to provide compensation as part of the cost of providing protection for the community as a whole.”
Members of the Committee who listened carefully to the Minister will have noted that she did not use the word compensation, because this is not a compensation scheme; it is a payment in acknowledgement of the financial costs of caring for vaccine-damaged children. However, I am curious about why there is a legal-political settlement with the pharmaceutical industry. When the then Secretary of State for Social Security made a statement to the House on 27 June 2000, he was asked whether the pharmaceutical industry had been approached to part-fund a trust that could pay out money for the care of vaccine-damaged children. He said:
“We did approach the pharmaceutical industry to see whether it would co-operate in part-funding a trust to be set up to make payments to the children affected by vaccine damage. The response from the industry was not enthusiastic and it struck me that it would take several years to resolve the matter”.—[Official Report, 27 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 721.]
It will be no great surprise that the pharmaceutical industry was not enthusiastic—what industry is enthusiastic about putting its hand in its pocket when it does not legally have to do so? But that statement by the then Secretary of State was made in 2000, and it is now seven years later. In other parts of the world—America, for example—there is a tax or levy on every bottle of vaccine that helps to pay significant sums, from $75,000 up to $4.7 million. I would not advocate that scheme because under an NHS, which is free, it would be a cost to Government, so I am not asking the Minister to take that route; I merely point out that there are much more significant payments in America, and possibly in other countries, too.
I ask the Minister why the pharmaceutical industry is not being asked to help. Why does the burden of the payments fall purely on the budget of the Department and on the British taxpayer? It is right that those payments are made, but it would be helpful if the Minister could explain why the pharmaceutical industry is not making a contribution.
10.41 am
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenochand Strathspey) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve on the Committee for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew.
I welcome the regulations, which must be seen inthe context of a broader appreciation of the wider social benefits of vaccination. As the Minister said, the proposal applies only to a very small number of cases every year, albeit that the families affected are in tragic and difficult circumstances. The scheme helps to alleviate some of the suffering and extra costs that they face as a consequence of having a child disabled as a result of vaccine damage.
As the explanatory notes make clear, the paymentis being uprated in line with inflation. But will the Minister tell the Committee how the amount of £100,000, which was set in 2000 and is going up to £120,000, was determined? There was a much more substantial increase in 2000—from £40,000 in 1998 to £100,000. Were the extra costs that a family will face in raising a vaccine-damaged child taken into account in assessing the amount to which the regulations refer? Perhaps the Minister will argue that that was taken into account in the decision made in 2000.
The Committee will be aware that the costs of raising a disabled child are substantially greater than the costs of raising a non-disabled child—the Disability Rights Commission estimated that they are three times as much. Research also suggests that the income of families with a disabled child is about 17 per cent. less than that of families with non-disabled children.
It is important that the scheme is designed to offer, if not compensation, at least some financial benefit to help to meet the additional costs faced by the small number of families who are in the unfortunate position of having a child who is severely disabled as a result of vaccination. I therefore hope that a wider assessment has been made of the extra costs involved. How much extra does it cost such families to bring up their children, with all their additional support needs? That must be very much in our minds in determining the amount of this and future upratings.
My second question relates to the criteria for determining a claim. The percentage disablement of the child that is necessary for a successful claim is now 60 per cent. Previously, it was 80 per cent. disablement. How does that process work? Will alternative ways to assess eligibility for such payments be considered? The Minister said that there were on average 177 claims each year, of which about five were successful. Therefore, 170-odd families who consider that they might be entitled to such payments are ruled ineligible because of the way that the claims process works. Clearly, there have to be criteria by which these schemes are administered. Has a sliding scale been considered? Could the Minister at least commenton the administration of the eligibility process for payments to the small number of families whose children are damaged in this way?
10.47 am
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister will know that my constituent Olivia Price has been one of the prime movers behind the vaccine victims support group over many years. Her work and that of other families of vaccine-damaged children was powerful in persuading me in my early years in Parliament to take a number of parliamentary initiatives to try to do something about the level of vaccine damage payments. One of the great things about Olivia’s work over those years—to which today’s order is a tribute—was that, to echo the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, she did not say that vaccination is wrong or that vaccines do not play a crucial public health role, but she acknowledged that there can be casualties and victims and that we as a society have a responsibility to look after them. I want to pay tribute to all of Olivia’s work.
This is the third increase in 10 years to vaccine damage payments and that is welcome. I was interested that the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire raised the issue of annual increases, particularly considering that this is the third increase in 10 years and the Conservative Government managed to increase the payments twice in 18 years. There have been major improvements to the system: not only the three increases but the relaxation of the qualifying criteria from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. disability, and the top-up payments in 2000 to those who originally received the first awards under the scheme.
This is a substantial increase. That is welcome and it is needs to be acknowledged. It is an increase above the rate of inflation. That is also a good thing. However, if an increase above the rate of inflation is needed now, could there be case for saying that, substantial though the increases were back in 2000, those top-up amounts need to be revisited? The vaccine victims support group wanted me to raise that issue with the Minister today. I hope that she can address it when she winds up.
10.50 am
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew. It is also a pleasure toadd my comments to those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, whose constituent Olivia Price has assisted me greatly in a constituency case. One of the things that I was warned of on entering the House was that, over the first few weeks, I would get lots of constituency cases that had not been solved by my predecessor. In fact, the case of my constituent Nicholas Harvey had not only been unresolved by my predecessor, but unresolved by his predecessor 25 years before. There was regular correspondence throughout those intervening years. Not only was Olivia Price very helpful with that case but the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart), who does a fabulous job as chairman of the all-party group.
In relation to this measure, I, too, am concerned that we are missing an opportunity to peg the increases to inflation. However, I welcome a periodic opportunity to raise the issue of vaccine damage payments and vaccine-damaged constituents. In particular, I would welcome the Minister’s comments on the announcement from June 2000 that the percentage disability would be reduced from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. Is she minded to consider that again in the near future?
Other hon. Members have talked of the numbers of people claiming, given that there are only four to five successful claims a year. I am a little concerned about the levels of bureaucracy in the system, given that it is a large amount of money for the constituents involved, but a small amount of money in terms of government bureaucracy. Considering the size of my file, a number of people appear to be working in the vaccine damage payments unit in Preston, for example. I wonder whether the Minister is engaged in a balancing act. Perhaps she is saying that it would be better to pay off some of the old cases that persist, where there is genuine need, with a larger amount or a reduced amount, and effectively negotiate a settlement. The problem is historical, and questions have been raised about whether there will be new claims in future. Presumably, those claims will peter out and eventually the vaccine damage payments unit will close.
The Chairman: Order. That is a little wide of the order.
James Duddridge: I apologise, Mr. Martlew. I will wind up and ask the Minister if she will look again at the case of Nicholas Harvey to allow me to be more successful than my two predecessors in that regard.
10.52 am
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I do not have an individual case, but I would like the Minister, either this morning or by some statement at a convenient moment, to list the kinds of payments that have to come up for review—not just vaccine damage payments but, if you will allow me to mention this, Mr. Martlew, those relating to asbestos and some of the mining diseases. When such cases come forward, there are payments to be made if people qualify.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going too wide.
Peter Bottomley: We should not ask the Government necessarily to accept the pleas for automatic uprating, but it would be helpful to Members of the Houseto know what the system is within which that is considered.
10.53 am
Mrs. McGuire: I thank members of the Committee for their supportive comments on the order. May I pick up on some of the issues that have been raised? I am delighted that the order will not be opposed, but it is important to address some of the issues.
The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire asked about the pharmaceutical industry. As he indicated in the extract that he quoted from Hansard, the then Secretary of State for Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling)—his constituency was Edinburgh, Central then—had some discussions with the pharmaceutical industry. A judgment then had to be made because, as my right hon. Friend indicated in 2000, there was not a particularly positive response. A decision had to be made as to whether we should continue to pursue what could have been lengthy discussions with the industry, given its reluctance to engage in those discussions, or deal with the individual needs of the families who were affected by the vaccination programme. The judgment, which I think is still valid, was that it was more important to get the finance and support to the families, rather than continue with long, protracted and perhaps fruitless discussions with the pharmaceutical industry.
However, I would like to confirm that it is open to people who are injured to seek compensation through the courts, and I know that the all-party group and some of the affected families have considered that. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire raised the issue of compensation in America, and then said that that was not relevant because of the different health structure in the UK. I will let that one stick to the wall, because he answered his own question. Obviously, in the American system, health care is not free, so the compensation context is completely different from that in the United Kingdom. As I have said, it is still open to people to pursue their issues through the courts.
I would like to pick up on issues raised by thehon. Members for Worthing, West and for South-West Bedfordshire, and a comment made by the other two hon. Members who spoke, concerning annual uprating. The payment under discussion is not the same as a social security benefit, which has an annual uprating. It was established through primary legislation, and hon. Members who know about the way in which annual uprating operates will know that it is not an easy option. The big uprating came in 2000, to which hon. Members have alluded. That was a recognition of the fact that when the scheme was established in 1979, the financial support offered to parents was £10,000.
Given that big uprating from £40,000 to £100,000 in 2000, it was considered unfair and unjust not to back those parents and families who had previously received financial support under the scheme at the low level, and bring them up to the £100,000 rate under the new circumstances. The then Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), made clear the decision,
“in that unusual circumstance, to make top-up payments to bring past recipients up to a real-terms equivalent of the new £100,000 rate, thus putting them on the same footing as new claimants.—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 18 July 2000; c. 3-4.]
There is a significant difference between the situation in 2000 and the situation now.
A couple of colleagues have highlighted the 60 per cent. disability criteria. I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East who reduced the disability criteria from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. in 2002. The issue is not necessarily the level of disability, although a 60 per cent. level of disability is assessed. The issue is causation: whether that disability was provoked, prompted or caused by the vaccination programme. The issue is not as straightforward as the disability criteria; it is the causation. Although many families apply, causation is the important issue. I hope that hon. Members will accept that.
I appreciate the sincerity of the comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey about a sliding scale, but that would run counter to the whole principle of the scheme, which is to provide a straightforward single payment for those whom the Secretary of State is satisfied are severely disabled as a result of vaccination. Sliding scales would get us into all sorts of complications. I shall be clear: in the case of an intermediate figure being advised, the decision maker will round up or down to the nearest multiple of 10. An assessment of 55 per cent. will therefore be rounded up, and one of 64 per cent. rounded down, to 60 per cent. If it is within those acceptable parameters, people will be supported.
The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshirewas very fair in his recognition that I did not use the word “compensation”, because the vaccine damage payments scheme is not compensation as courts-awarded damages are. It does not require negligence to be established, but causation from the vaccination. The great struggle that parents had prior to 1999 was to establish negligence, which is how compensation is awarded through the legal system.
I hope that I have dealt with every question, apart from that of the hon. Member for Worthing, West, who asked why the scheme did not come forward on an annual basis. I will consider his comments, notwithstanding that some may have been outwith the Committee’s remit.
Peter Bottomley: For the sake of clarity, I was not suggesting that the payments should be changed annually, but that the framework within which consideration is given to this and other payments should come forward annually.
Mrs. McGuire: I thank the hon. Gentleman forhis comments. By way of explanation, the 1979 Actwas established through primary legislation and no Government have sought to alter the fundamental basis on which the vaccine damage payments will be considered by the House. That is why there are regular reconsiderations of the payments.
Although I completely accept the positive comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield about the commitments of Olivia Price, I hope that he will relay to her that the circumstances in 2000 were quite different from the current ones. The reason for the order is to bring payments after 12 July 2007 up to the value of the scheme in 2000, although I appreciate that parents may continue to press the matter.
Andrew Selous: The Minister has not answered my question about the estimation of whether the number of cases will be static or will increase, although she may need to contact the Department of Health for the information.
Mrs. McGuire: I was just coming to that question, so the hon. Gentleman can add mind reading to all his other talents.
Although the trend is fairly constant—we must go on the basis of the figures that we have—members of the Committee should recognise that the reaction to a vaccination is very individual. We cannot be any more definitive than that because of the individual nature of reactions to the vaccine.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey raised the issue, as I may have misinterpreted what he said, but for the record the payment is tax-free and is given on that basis.
Danny Alexander: I did not raise that matter but itis a useful point of clarification. My question was whether the costs of raising a disabled child are taken into account in establishing the amount of the payment.
Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman is expert in these issues and he will be aware that there are a range of other Government programmes that support disabled people and disabled children, such as the disability living allowance and the carer’s allowance. The receipt of a vaccine damage payment does not undermine the other benefits in any way.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East also raised the issue of the disability threshold and I hope that he is satisfied with my response. I am not sure about the amount of bureaucracy that he highlighted. We try very hard to deal sensitively and quickly with vaccine damage payments, recognising that the issue is the causation between the vaccination and the injury to the child. That can take some time to verify.
James Duddridge: I shall not hold up the Committee long. I should like to raise a specific case involving a dispute in which my constituent believes that causation was proved. Could I ask the Minister to look at the file and respond to me?
Mrs. McGuire: I should be delighted to do so.
Finally, I should like to reinforce the comments made by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire. Routine childhood immunisation has been a great success. We should do nothing that undermines the credibility of that programme. It still remains the safest way for parents to protect their children against diseases. Those of us who are older will remember the great damage caused by some of the childhood ailments and ailments that affected people in later life. However, we also must recognise that a small number of children and families suffer the effects of vaccine damage. It is seven years since we increased the statutory sum. I hope that hon. Members will recognise that the order maintains the Government’s commitment to those who are severely disabled as a result of vaccination by restoring the value of the sum to what it was in 2000. I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 2007.
Committee rose at seven minutes past Eleven o’clock.

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