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Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister warmly for that reply. However, does she take the point that childcare may in general be adequate but not adequate for a particular child? Will the parent remain the judge of whether it is adequate for the particular child?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wonder whether we are at cross-purposes. The New Deal is a

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voluntary activity. If the lone parent believes that the child has special needs, has a disability, a learning impairment or whatever or is perhaps vulnerable because of the recent break-up of a relationship, that lone parent will make the judgment as to whether it is appropriate for her to go to work. If she seeks to go to work, she will decide the appropriate quality of childcare. I am sure that if a responsible lone parent did not believe that the available childcare was suitable, of sufficient quality and appropriate for her child, she would decide to delay going to work. That would be a judgment for her; no one makes her do any of it.

As a result of the childcare strategy, we expect to see a strengthening of both the quality and the quantity of childcare available which will give lone parents a real choice as to how they think it most appropriate for their children to be looked after. It is not just an under-fives problem; it is a before and after-school problem for children from the age of five to 12 or 13. As the noble Earl knows, much of the activity of the childcare strategy has been directed at after-school clubs as well as direct nursery care and the like.

I emphasise that we seek to work with the grain of what lone parents themselves want to do. That is clear from the research reports which the noble Earl and I have swapped and bantered over through many a happy evening in this Chamber, as we went through the DLA legislation. The research consistently shows that lone parents want the opportunity to work when they feel their child is of sufficient age and if the childcare is in place and they think the work is suitable to them--that is, as regards access and so on.

The Government are saying: "We are on your side, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with you on this. We will try to help you overcome the hurdles which in the past stopped you exercising the choice that married women have". As part of a couple, they have the childcare help, they have the work knowledge at hand that they get from their marriage. That is our strategy. I am confident that no one in this Chamber will disagree with it.

Finally, although I promised myself that I would not make too obvious a party point, I cannot let the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, go by when he said that this was directly opposed to what we said in opposition. Rubbish, my Lords. We made it very clear--I have now said it three times. If the noble Lord reads a copy of The Guardian four times, on the fourth time he may believe that what it says is true. So I shall try again. In opposition we said that it was unreasonable to change lone parent benefits in isolation. However, we now have in place a new deal for lone parents: a childcare strategy, the proposed new tax credit and the minimum wage. Shortly, I hope we shall have a reform of maintenance arrangements. In that system, lone parents have all the opportunities that we seek to offer them which they were denied under the previous administration. Had the noble Lord offered those opportunities then, he would have had our wholehearted support.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene before the noble Baroness sits down. I very much hope

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never to mention the matter again and look forward to the noble Baroness never again mentioning anything that the previous government did.

Be that as it may, perhaps I may clarify the point about start-up costs. Was she referring to the start-up costs of the scheme for the entire country or only for the pilot areas? Do we know what she expects the costs per job to be at the end of the day?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord, but my understanding is that the start-up cost is for the pilot schemes. It works out at £6,000 or £7,000 per job. We do not think that that is an appropriate way to do it because start-up costs are, by definition, front-end loaded. What really matters is the average recurrent revenue costs, once the scheme is unrolled. I cannot give figures for the country as a whole and I shall write to the noble Lord if we have the information to hand.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 1998

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th June be approved [37th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 Statutory Sum Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 8th June, be approved.

The draft order before your Lordships increases the amount of payment under Section 1 of the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 to £40,000 for claims made on or after it has been cleared by both Houses. The intention to make this increase was announced on 19th May by John Denham, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security in answer to a parliamentary Question. It is a matter of considerable interest to many honourable Members of Parliament, and I know to many noble Lords, who have pressed us on the scheme since our return to office. The proposed increase does not represent a changed judgment about the safety of vaccination, but simply our view that it is appropriate and decent to increase the payment.

I should also like to draw your Lordships' attention to the other part of the announcement about the vaccine damage payment scheme being considered as part of the welfare review which includes disability benefits. This will be in consultation with the Department of Health. I am now very happy to bring forward the necessary order to give effect to that announcement. Noble Lords may find it helpful if I first say something about the history of the payment and its purpose.

The Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 is, as the draft order makes clear in its heading, a public health measure. It covers not only England and Wales but also Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

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The separation of health from social security in 1988 put the administration of the scheme clearly into the custody of the Department of Social Security.

The scheme was introduced in 1979 and aims to provide a payment of a lump sum in respect of those severely damaged as a result of a vaccination under a routine public vaccination programme. The scheme was introduced by the then Secretary of State for Social Services, the late Lord Ennals, who reminded the House that it is not concerned with compensation but with payments. It was designed to provide, reasonably quickly, a lump sum payment of £10,000 to ease the present and future burdens of those suffering from severe vaccine damage.

Fixing the extent of disablement at 80 per cent. or more was based on well-established social security principles assessed as for the purposes of Section 57 of the Social Security Act 1975. In fact, it is the same basis as the industrial injuries benefits scheme and the 80 per cent. threshold reads across into the severe disablement allowance. So it is a fairly standard measurement of severe disability.

On initial claims under the scheme where the Secretary of State's medical advisers are satisfied for the purposes of the scheme that severe disability is the result of vaccination, awards are made within three to six months. A claim can be made at any time within six years of the relevant vaccination or the child's second birthday, whichever is later.

The department's medical advisers consider all aspects of each individual claim, including the nature of the damage, the time relationship between its onset and vaccination, before advising, on balance of probabilities, whether brain damage in that individual case is due to vaccination.

The diseases currently covered in the scheme are diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, measles, rubella, tuberculosis, mumps and Haemophilus influenza type b. Those diseases can lead to serious illness and can be life threatening. For example, between 1951 and 1955 there were 1,103 deaths from whooping cough in England and Wales. Between 1991 and 1995, there were only five.

Vaccines save lives. Each year nearly 2 million children are immunised and approximately 6 million doses of vaccine are given as part of the childhood programme. The continued success of the immunisation programme is of enormous importance to individuals, their families and the country as a whole in reducing the incidence and the effect of serious communicable diseases. Where, rarely, on the balance of probability it does sadly result in severe damage the vaccine damage payments scheme provides a measure of financial help.

I apologise for so much detail but I think your Lordships will agree that it all points to the fact that the scheme does permit a payment to be made quickly in the trying circumstances of a family coping with a severely disabled young child. Even if a payment is not made at the outset the door is not closed. There is a comprehensive review system which allows time, if necessary, for the full extent of disability to become

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apparent. All that is available outside the process of the courts where proceedings are very often protracted and costly.

The vaccine damage payment scheme provides a substantial measure of preference for those severely disabled as a result of vaccination over those equally severely disabled from some other source. For example, in addition to the payment a wide range of benefits and services may be available. The main benefits specifically for disabled people include DLA, DWA, JDA, and invalid care allowance for those who provide a substantial amount of care for the disabled person.

I should also point out that the value of a vaccine damage payment held in a trust fund is ignored for the purposes of income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, family credit, disability working allowance, council tax benefit and housing benefit. In addition, local authorities may be able to provide a variety of services as well as help from the independent living fund. Services may include practical help in the home; adaptations to the home, such as a ramp, lift or special equipment; and holidays and recreational facilities outside the home.

The amount we are proposing more than restores the value of the original payment. Based on the retail prices index, the original £30,000 awarded in 1991 would have given us £38,000 rather than the £40,000 that we are proposing. We expect to review that figure periodically though the £40,000 figure gives a degree of head space which will alow us to keep it in force for some time.

The second part of our commitment relates to the future of the scheme which, as I said, will be part of the welfare review. We set up and I chair a Disability Benefits Forum which is limited to some 20 members to discuss complex issues, including all areas of disability, with representatives from local government, medical professionals and other academics. We are looking at possible options for changes in the gateways to benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and carers and how to ensure that help is directed to those who need it.

The vaccine damage scheme will therefore come within the purview of the Disability Benefits Forum for it to make recommendations to us as part of our general review.

With those remarks, trying to set the vaccine damage payment scheme in context and emphasising both the value of the uprating and the fact that it is incorporated in the wider review of disability benefits, I hope your Lordships will approve the order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th June be approved [37th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

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