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British Coal Compensation

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 24 April 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the total amount of costs repaid by solicitors in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation; which solicitors have yet to repay in full the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; and how much is currently owed by each such firm. [HL3022]

With respect to the vibration white finger (VWF) scheme the Government had no costs to recover from the claimants' representatives.

All claimants' representatives costs were agreed before the judge in advance of payments.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which 10 firms of solicitors have been paid most in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation; and how much has been paid to date to each such firm. [HL3023]

The 10 firms of claimants' representatives who have been paid the most for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claims under the coal health compensation schemes are shown in the table below:

Claimant's Representatives

Solicitors Costs (£m)

Beresfords Solicitors

133.1

Thompsons Solicitors

114.3

Hugh James

92.8

Raleys Solicitors

73.0

Mark Gilbert Morse

55.2

Browell Smith & Co

50.6

Avalon Solicitors

38.2

Watson Burton LLP

25.7

Union of Democratic Mineworkers

24.9

Graysons Solicitors

24.2

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which 10 firms of solicitors have been paid most in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation; and how much has been paid to date to each such firm. [HL3024]

The 10 firms of claimants' representatives who have been paid the most for vibration white finger claims under the coal health compensation schemes are shown in the table below:

Claimants' Representatives

Solicitors Costs (£m)

Thompsons Solicitors

27.5

Browell Smith & Co

13.3

Raleys Solicitors

12.8

Graysons Solicitors

11.9

Hugh James

11.8

Union of Democratic Mineworkers

10.2

Watson Burton LLP

7.6

Beresfords Solicitors

7.6

Towells Solicitors

5.7

Moss Solicitors

5.5

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the average cost of processing each successful claim, including legal, administrative, logistical and contractual costs, in (a) the British Coal respiratory disease litigation; and (b) the British Coal vibration white finger litigation; and what is the average amount of compensation paid under each scheme to claimants. [HL3025]

The Government's administrative costs cannot be broken down by scheme. However, the total administrative cost for the coal health compensation schemes as at 31 March 2008 is £570.2 million. This covers the costs of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform's contractors and external legal advice. This figure is interim and subject to change.

The additional costs with respect to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and vibration white finger (VWF) claims as at 30 March 2008 is shown below:

Cost

COPD (in billion)

VWF (in billion)

Compensation to Claimants + CRU

£2.3

£1.8

Claimants' Representatives

£0.976

£0.173

Medical

£0.398

£0.34

All the above figures are interim and subject to change.

The average damages paid to claimants and the average solicitors cost for claims settled by payment for COPD and VWF are shown in the table below as at 31 March 2008:

Average Damages Paid on Claims Settled by Payment

Average Solicitors Cost Paid on Claims Settled by Payment

COPD

£5,230

£2,257

VWF

£12,489

£1,321

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will instigate a judicial public inquiry to examine the operation and funding of the British Coal respiratory disease litigation and British Coal vibration white finger litigation and to investigate the conduct of solicitors and the performance of the Legal Complaints Service and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. [HL3060]

The Government are not planning any such public inquiry into the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger scheme in respect of the Coal Health Compensation Schemes. However, the Government welcome the report by the National Audit Office published in July 2007 and the recent Public Accounts Committee report examining the coal health compensation schemes.

The legal profession is independent and as such complaints about solicitors are a matter for the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) and Solicitors Regulatory Authority rather than government. However the Government believe that it is important that miners who complain to the LCS about their claims under the coal health compensation schemes get the level of service and compensation that they deserve. The Government therefore seek regular updates from the LCS to ensure that progress is being made in continually improving the service.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that solicitors do not receive excessive remuneration from publicly funded schemes; and what lessons they have learnt from the two highest-earning solicitors in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation and the British Coal vibration white finger litigation receiving £14 million and £15 million per annum respectively. [HL3061]

The Government continue to challenge the fees paid to solicitors where it is right to do so and is consistent with our contractual obligations with respect to coal health compensation schemes. However, it was not the Government's role to choose a solicitor for a claimant—claimants appoint their own representatives. Under the schemes solicitors were paid for their work under an agreed tariff.

The Government have pursued reductions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease “fast track” tariff paid to solicitors for handling claims and achieved savings of around £100 million. Savings of approximately a further £20 million have been achieved for the fees paid to solicitors for handling vibration white finger services claims.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Ministry of Justice are working closely to support the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) and Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) in their pursuit of those firms that have unfairly deducted sums from compensation. In particular the LCS is working on a plan to roll out nationally elements of their successful Rother Valley pilot which provided assistance and advice to claimants in seeking to recover deductions made from compensation unfairly.