THE Government yesterday conceded there were failings with the multi-billion pound mining health compensation schemes.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said ministers "would undoubtedly want to think long and hard about whether there are better alternatives" if similar cases arose in the future.

The comments came as a report into the administration of the packages, the world's biggest personal injury compensation scheme, was published.

The review, led by former Home Office official Stephen Boys Smith, was announced in July.

In the North-East, 122,790 lung claims have been received, with more than £411m paid out. For vibration white finger, 45,677 claims have been lodged and £345m paid.

Mr Wicks said: ''The report concludes that the arrangements put in place in the late 1990s were not the best way to administer compensation for so many people and it goes on to recommend that, were a similar case to arise in future, the Government should very carefully examine alternative ways of proceeding. I agree with this recommendation."

He said officials did not expect "anything like as many as 700,000 claims".

Mr Wicks said some changes had already been introduced to the lung disease scheme to speed the processing of claims.

He said: ''Given that we are in the last few years of the current schemes, now is not the time for further redesign."

The report also addresses the issue of solicitors' costs.

It says the greater-than- expected number of cases brings the possibility of cheaper batch processing and that not every claim would now require lawyers.

It recommends further action be considered in this area to cut costs.

Mr Wicks said his department has been to the High Court over this issue and was now taking it to the Court of Appeal, adding that up to £200m of taxpayers' money was at stake.

More than £2.8bn has been paid out so far, and the total cost could be £5bn.

Read more about the Justice for the Miners campaign here.