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Industrial Diseases: Compensation

Volume 502: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what hospitality officials in his Department and its predecessors with responsibility for the two miners’ compensation schemes have received from Capita Group plc since 1997; and if he will make a statement. (302087)

Capita became the Department’s claims handling contractor in 2004. Information held by the Department on hospitality received since 2004 related to officials in the Coal Liability Unit (CLU) is provided in the following table:

Hospitality received by officials responsible for the Coal Health Schemes

Date received

Section

Staff by grade

Hospitality received

Total value (£)

October 2005

CLU

SCS plus staff below SCS (x 3)

Dinner

120.00

23 June 2006

CLU

SCS

Lunch

10.00

26 July 2006

CLU

SCS plus staff below SCS (x 1)

Dinner

45.00

August 2006

CLU

SCS

Dinner

25.00

29 March 2007

CLU

SCS

Lunch

10.00

18 September 2007

CLU

SCS plus staff below SCS (x 1)

Lunch and dinner

50.00

13 December 2007

CLU

Staff below SCS (x 3)

Lunch

90.00

30 July 2008

CLU

Staff below SCS (x 3)

Lunch

90.00

22 September 2008

CLU

Staff below SCS

Meal

20.00

22 July 2009

CLU

Staff below SCS

Dinner

25.00

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change whether Capita Group plc receives a financial benefit from reducing (a) the total money paid out and (b) the amount of money paid to individual claimants under each of the two miners’ compensation schemes. (302089)

I can confirm that there is no financial benefit to Capita in respect to (a) or (b) under the Department’s contractual arrangements for claims handling for the vibration white finger and respiratory disease schemes.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what evaluation his Department has made of the effectiveness for claimants of the Coal Health Compensation Scheme. (304683)

The Coal Health Compensation Schemes have been closely scrutinised by a range of reviews including the Boys Smith Review conducted in 2005 for the then Minister for Energy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks); the Trade and Industry Select Committee Review in 2005; and the National Audit Office report in 2007 on the schemes and the subsequent Public Accounts Committee hearing in 2007 and Committee's Report in 2008.

I am proud that we are now moving towards the conclusion of these schemes under my ministerial ‘watch’. We believe these are the biggest personal injury schemes in British legal history. They are complex schemes that were set up in agreement between the Department and the miners' solicitors’ representatives following the original judgments in the 1990's and then endorsed by the High Court. This ensured that miners and their families received the level of compensation to which they might reasonably have been entitled had they pursed their claim in common law.

I believe that objective has been achieved as we now draw near to the completion of the vibration white finger (VWF) and respiratory disease schemes. In all almost 760,000 miners' claims have been processed and compensation now totalling £4.1 billion has been paid out.

The VWF litigation was wound up in the High Court on 1 May 2009 following the completion of processing nearly all the 170,000 claims. There are now fewer than 10 VWF general damages and 20 special damages scheme claims left to settle. There are also a small number of claims involving individual mediations or court actions to be concluded. For the respiratory scheme where we had nearly 590,000 claims there are now less than 2,000 active claims left to be settled and we are on track to achieving settlement of the majority of these by mid 2010.

However, it has not all been plain sailing. Clearly we have all learnt lessons from the operation of these schemes.

One of the key issues remains the conduct of solicitors in making deductions from compensation. I continue to hold regular meetings with the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) and Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and I know that this work remains an important focus for both organisations. I welcome recent developments both in terms of action taken against individual firms of solicitors and actions being taken by solicitors to offer repayment of deductions. I would urge firms that have not taken such actions to co-operate with the LCS.

I also recognise that despite the scale of these schemes it has taken too long for some claimants to receive the compensation they were entitled too. I apologise to those people who have had to wait so long. The key lesson here is about making sure information required to process claims is obtained at an early stage and the use of tight and binding timescales for all parties to manage the claims to be settlement. The successful fast track risk offer scheme has also demonstrated how claims can be settled more rapidly for some claimants.

In overall terms, I believe settling the claims has been a major achievement for this Government delivering over £4.1 billion in compensation to miners and their families. I would also like to pay tribute to those that have contributed to delivery of the schemes on behalf of the Department.