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Lord Razzall: My Lords, as noble Lords may anticipate, I shall inevitably take a slightly different approach to that adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Clearly the Minister will share my view that consumer protection is a natural field of authority for the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. While the Minister is answering the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as to whether this order gold plates the directive, and bearing in mind the importance of this issue for consumers, could he confirm that he is satisfied that the order fully implements Directive 1999/34/EC?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by answering the easy questions. There is no gold plating. The order strictly reflects the requirements of the directive. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, acknowledged, the order is so short that it would be rather difficult to employ any gold plating.
On the issue of shot in game, I should remind the noble Lord that it has always been reasonable to expect that shot game will contain fragments of shot. Therefore, it is unlikely that such products would be deemed to be defective on that account. In any case, when one is buying from butchers--I buy from a registered game dealer in my suburb of London--it is always declared that there is a risk that game may include lead shot. That would remove, or discharge, any difficulty as regards a defect.
I said at the beginning of my introduction that nothing before 4th December, the implementation date, would be included under these provisions. However, I should like to reconsider the position because I believe the situation to be slightly more complicated. I know that I was not asked about it, but I should like to think about it and write to both noble Lords on that point. I commend the order to the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 5th July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, when we discussed vaccine damage payments on 28th June, I said that we hoped that the new £100,000 payments would be in place before the Summer Recess. We have acted quickly in bringing this order before your Lordships' House tonight, and it will be debated in another place tomorrow. There will, therefore, be the minimum of delay before the new rate becomes effective.
The draft order increases the amount of payment under Section 1 of the Vaccine Damage Payments Act to £100,000 for claims made on or after the date that it comes into force. The intention to make this increase was announced on 27th June by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Social Security in a Statement made in another place.
The change introduced by the order, and the other proposed changes that were announced, do not represent any change of judgment about the safety of vaccination. They simply reflect our view that it is right and proper that a more generous regime be introduced in this area. The Government will have effectively increased the rate of payment that we inherited by £70,000. This is a significant increase and is far removed from the previous increases made to the payment which broadly only reflected changes in the retail prices index.
We have also listened to the concerns of those parents who received £10,000 in the early 1980s. They have struggled daily under difficult circumstances, devoting their lives to the care and support of their often grievously disabled children. Were we to do nothing, they would have been treated far less generously than anyone claiming after this order comes into force. That would be not only unfair, but also unjust. We have therefore decided that it would be only right in this unusual circumstance to make top-up payments to bring past recipients up to a real terms equivalent of the new £100,000 rate.
The coming into force of this order is a necessary prerequisite to the making of these payments. The order does not directly provide for the top-up payments which will be made under the Appropriation Act, but clearly until a new higher rate is in force there is no benchmark against which revalued previous payments can be topped-up. Parents are eagerly anticipating these additional payments and we want to start making them as soon as possible. We aim to make the first payments in August.
In our debate on 28th June my noble friend Lord Brennan asked if a nominated office would have the task of dealing with queries that parents might have. The vaccine damage payments unit of the Benefits Agency in Preston will deal with all these cases. It is a small unit, although we are providing it with additional resources for the efficient discharge of this exercise, and it can be contacted by phone, fax or e-mail. The numbers are known to the various parents' groups and we shall be making them generally known. I shall be happy to provide them to noble Lords.
We have also thought about those families whose vaccine damaged children have sadly died since the original payment was made. They, too, devoted time and effort to the care of their children prior to the child's death, and they too have made sacrifices, financial and otherwise, along the way. We believe that it would be unfair to exclude them from these arrangements, and therefore top-up payments will also be made to those families.
We also intend to amend the Vaccine Damage Payments Act to bring about changes to the time limits for claiming and to the disability threshold. However, as I explained on 28th June, this requires primary legislation and will necessarily be on a longer time-scale. But it is not an issue that we are prepared to let lie and we shall take action to bring about these changes at the earliest available opportunity.
The main provisions of new legislation would be to introduce new, more generous time limits for claiming which will allow affected children to submit a claim at any time up to their 21st birthday; to reduce the disability threshold from 80 per cent to 60 per cent; and to introduce an element of retrospection so that those people who previously claimed and were rejected under the old provisions--for example, they had between 60 and 80 per cent disability--but would have succeeded had the new rules then been in force are given the opportunity to reclaim and have that claim considered afresh.
The latter point applies to both the time limits and the disability threshold. In response to questions following his Statement in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said that he wanted to avoid the situation in which someone who would qualify now is barred because of the old rules. I believe that this is a welcome proposal and equitable to those who have been previously disallowed. I am sure that it will also be welcomed by noble Lords who will appreciate how unusual it is for retrospection to be introduced in such matters.
Government have also been looking at improving provision for all people with severe disabilities. We have had regard to the range of benefits and support available to severely disabled people however their condition was caused, and from 2001 we shall introduce a disability income guarantee and make changes to the mobility component of disability living allowance and to incapacity benefit. These changes can equally benefit vaccine damaged children and adults.
I am sure your Lordships would wish to join with me in paying tribute to the campaigning groups which have been active in keeping the issue of vaccine damage in the public eye. These include the British Polio Fellowship and JABS. In particular I pay tribute to Rosemary Fox, of the Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children, and to Olivier Price, of the Vaccine Victims Support Group. They, with the help of their members, have been rightly tireless in their determination to seek enhancements to the scheme. As parents of children in difficult circumstances, they have none the less campaigned selflessly on behalf of others. As I say, I hope and expect that we shall return as soon as we can with appropriate legislation to complete the package. In the meantime, I commend the order to the House.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 5th July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)
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