I beg to move,
That this House recalls that the catastrophic problems of infected blood supplied by the NHS date back to the 1970s and 1980s, infecting 4,670 patients and causing what Lord Winston described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS; notes that successive administrations only very partially responded to this catastrophe by setting up and funding the MacFarlane Trust, the Skipton Fund and the Eileen Trust; regrets the past refusal to accept the principal recommendation of the Independent Public Inquiry into the supply of contaminated NHS blood to haemophilia patients, chaired by Lord Archer and established and financed by private initiative and funds, relating to compensation for the victims and set out in paragraph 6(h) of chapter 12 of the Archer Report; further notes that earlier this year the reasons for rejecting this recommendation were challenged successfully in the High Court, which quashed the decision; believes that this ruling constitutes an appropriate moment for the present Government, which bears no responsibility for the inadequate and misjudged policies of successive previous administrations, to extend an apology to the surviving 2,700 sufferers, their families and the bereaved; and calls on the Government to alleviate their intense hardship and suffering by accepting and implementing the recommendations of the Archer Report despite the intense financial pressure on the public purse at this time.
I would like to say a few things by way of preliminary background to this debate, some of which may reflect on the interchanges we have just had on the amendment. Opposition Back-Bench Members, and many Government Members, are pleased that the whole idea behind the initiative on Back-Bench business and the excellent Committee established to promote it is that Back-Bench Members should have the ability to move substantive motions on the Floor of the House on which they can vote. That is what, in effect, we have secured today. Not only would the amendment, had it been chosen, have wrecked the whole substance and heart of the motion, but it would have wrecked the intention behind the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), both of whom were good enough, in their wisdom, to select the bid made initially by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who, of course, is now a member of the shadow Government, and is therefore unable to move the motion today. He has kindly asked me to pick up the baton, which I am honoured to do, and we therefore have the opportunity today to debate a substantive motion on the Floor of the House.
The Government have missed a huge opportunity. In drafting the motion, I placed great emphasis on making it an all-party motion reflecting the views of every Member of the House in a balanced way, and it has commanded the support of the victims of what was the “worst treatment disaster”—as it was described by Lord Winston, whose mother was, I think, terribly hurt in this way—in the history of the NHS. As the motion makes clear, the coalition Government bear no responsibility for the maladministration, the misjudgment and the inadequate judgments of previous Administrations.
Does that not make it more significant that the Government, who had no responsibility for this situation, tried to move a wrecking amendment that would have totally sabotaged what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve on behalf of the people concerned?
My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. I am very pleased to welcome the Secretary of State to the debate, because it gives it prominence and substance. The Backbench Business Committee has a real role to play—we have had a good debate on Afghanistan too. However, I saw the Secretary of State shake his head to say that the amendment is not a wrecking amendment. None the less, those of us who attended a meeting yesterday with the victims of blood contamination were hoping for an amendment that we could support, and he could have done something about that.
The Secretary of State bears no responsibility for what has happened. The NHS supplied contaminated blood. I will not go into individual cases, except for one in my own constituency, which I have been following ever since the victim first approached me many years ago. This goes back to the mid-1970s, to the Callaghan and Wilson Labour Governments and to the Thatcher Government, and, of course, to the subsequent response to those ill-advised, inadequate judgments, made mostly by officials or under their strong advice—clearly that is the case in these cases—from the last Government principally, although it even pre-dates them to some extent. We are not trying to blame the present coalition Government, but there are things that they could have done, the cost of which would have fallen well short of the £3 billion that will allegedly be the cost of implementing the Archer report.
As hon. Members will recall, the Archer report was set up under the Blair Government—in 1997-98, I think—at which time I was at the Treasury. People put it to me, “You were at the Treasury at the time. Why didn’t you do something?” We did not have the report then. We had made papers available. It was a privately funded and excellent report, which I commend to all Members, but we did not know what it was going to recommend. Unfortunately, I left the Treasury before I was confronted with the implications of the report. However, under the last two Labour Administrations, there were ample opportunities for us to respond more fully, generously and comprehensively, in human terms, to the suffering of the victims.
This was an unparalleled disaster in NHS treatment history involving thoroughly blameless individuals. I met one yesterday—a gentleman from Doncaster—who had been knifed, rushed to the accident and emergency department at Rotherham and given two pints of blood, from which he subsequently contracted HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. He is now totally incapacitated, and has been asked to live, after capital payments of £25,000—of great value, of course, but not enormous—on £107 a week.
The Government could have said, “Well, we know there is a problem with, for example, the Skipton Fund, so we will take some steps to move that up towards the level of what the previous Administration made available—inadequate though it was—in respect of HIV/AIDS.”
In a moment, yes.
The Government could have done that, but they did not. All we now have is their sad, tragic adoption of what previous Government’s did. That is a great pity, a great sadness, and does not reflect well on them. When they reflect on the matter, they will come to think that they should have handled the matter very differently.
Had the Government proposed what I have suggested, which would have cost a minimum amount—nothing like the sums talked about now—we could have voted for it and then, at 4.30 pm, when this debate ends, gone back to meet the victims in Committee Room 14 and told them that this Government have finally broken with the previous, inadequate and ill-judged consensus and reaction. We have never asked them to take responsibility. However, they could also have extended a gesture of an apology, which the victims are also looking for. Sadly, however, the Government have, in effect, done nothing but take on the same old weary mantle that we have seen for the last 20 years. They are already getting tired: they have lost their verve and the ability to respond energetically and imaginatively to situations. It is very sad.
I appreciate the tone, spirit and intended outcome of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. As a newcomer to the House, however, may I ask what, over the past 13 years, he did to encourage the previous Government to deliver payments I believe should have been made? At that time, the public finances were not in such a diabolical state and compensation would have been much easier to give.
Unfortunately, the hon. Lady is trying to inject a party position into this debate, which those of us who have been involved in it have tried to exclude from it. We have said that past responses were inadequate and ill-judged—it says that in the motion. I regret that we did not deal with the matter, and I like to think that had I remained at the Treasury, I could have done something. I am open about that too; we all ought to be open here. However, those who say that I, as a former Treasury Minister, should appreciate our legacy are missing the central point: there will never be a good time to do something like this. There will always be bureaucratic arguments, and precedent arguments, and arguments we cannot foresee now but which will one day be made, for why we should do nothing, and the Government have caved into them. That is the reality.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that this is a horrendously tragic occurrence. Many haemophiliacs have been affected by this as well, both mentally and physically, and we need to work together and all recognise the dreadful situation that these people find themselves in.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has joined the debate and agrees with us. Of course, haemophiliacs have also been affected. The ironic tragedy there is that the treatments given were meant to deal with the basic underlying condition of the haemophilia. I will mention the name of one victim, given that he is a constituent of mine—I am sure that many other Members will mention constituents of theirs too. Given that 4,670 initial cases were affected, and given that there are 650 constituencies, nearly every constituency must have had at least one tragic occurrence. I will therefore mention Joseph Peaty. He is a haemophiliac who went for treatment to correct his underlying condition, but because of the contaminated blood products, he acquired both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. He is watching this debate and looking for us to offer victims something more. There is no way we could accept the amendment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the real tragedy, especially for haemophiliacs, is that it is not just individuals who are affected, but whole families? The condition runs in the family, so two or three family members could be affected. The fact that people are living with such stress as a result of failure of successive Governments to tackle the issue is something that this House should totally condemn. We must take a decision today, and not allow the issue to slip further down the agenda.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who makes a most poignant and correct intervention, if I may say so. We had a unique opportunity. The issue had moved right up in the public’s awareness. The sort of thing that we get in these debates is everybody saying how terrible it is, but then heaving a sigh of relief that they have not been affected, and on we go. The months and years drag by, and so the number comes down, from 4,600 to 2,700. Perhaps not many will be affected, but as my hon. Friend said, the nature of the diseases is that they spread, and the suffering will continue long after most of us have left this House.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. At the end of the 1980s, I worked with someone called Colin, who had been injured abroad, had a blood transfusion and got haemophilia. He then returned to the UK for ongoing treatment, but ended up getting contaminated blood and dying from HIV at the beginning of the 1990s. It is for people such as Colin that we are here today. This is not a partisan issue; it is an issue that we should have dealt with in the past 13 years—it should have been dealt with before that—but let us deal with it now.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) has been very persistent, so I will give way to him and then to my right hon. Friend, but if the House will forgive me, thereafter I want to get on, because we have limited time and I have agreed to keep my opening remarks to the minimum
This is an important issue for so many families and people affected. I am not sure whether the motion will be agreed to today—that depends on the vote a little later—but the important thing is to make progress. The Government have said in their statement that they will undertake a review of the Archer report, which is good. However, we ought to be pressing them a little further, so that hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman and I can be part of that review, lobbying Ministers and having meetings with them. Should he not be suggesting to those on the Treasury Bench that some of us ought to be in the Department of Health discussing the matter further?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and congratulate him on the measured way in which he is conducting this debate. Does he agree that in every generation there are two or three major injustices that have to be addressed? They cannot always be pinned on to a given Government, but this issue is one of those injustices, and we have to put it right now.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend—this is indeed a good moment to do that—but sadly I disagree with the hon. Member for Poole, because we have had reviews.
In passing, let me make a positive reference to a former colleague in the Government at the time. As I understand it, the previous Secretary of State for Health—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—opened up one aspect of the issue, through the Skipton Fund in particular, although if I am wrong and the Minister wants to correct me, I should be only too happy to take an interjection from her. He did that last year to see whether there was any way of increasing Skipton to the levels of HIV/AIDS compensation—that proposal was put to me forcefully at meetings with the victims yesterday, and I am sure. that it will be again when we meet them at 4.30 pm If we could do that, it would be a step forward and we would feel that we were going in the right direction. If the Minister wants to tell me that that is the case, I would be very pleased to hear that.
I have to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has read the written ministerial statement, because at the end it points out that we will be reviewing certain aspects.
That is my whole point: “We will be reviewing.” This has been going on for a year already. Who can put his hand on his heart and honestly say that anything more will come out of the review than we have already had? Nobody with any experience of this House or how Government works can say that. Today is the moment.
I have to ask again whether the hon. Gentleman has read the written ministerial statement. I have said that I will look at certain aspects and I will report by Christmas, because I am acutely aware that campaigners on the issue have been left hanging for far too long.
Very good, but let me say this to the Minister, who is obviously genuinely concerned about the issue, as all Ministers have been. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley said, there are always two or three big issues, and this is certainly one of them, so we wait to hear. [Interruption.] The Minister should not tell us that we have not read the statement; we spent all yesterday trying to get a copy of the amendment, which seemed to be in the ether somewhere. Indeed, I asked her to e-mail me a copy yesterday at about 6 pm, but we could not see it even then. I have referred to the statement, which I think is useless, but why is it not referred to in the wording that is before the House? She did not want it there because it would carry more weight.
I am not terribly interested in a statement in the Commons Library; I am interested in what is said—[Interruption.] I will tell hon. Members why: we have been through that already. It was clear what was said at questions—[Interruption.] I am amazed that hon. Members can behave like that. Do they not realise that it is what is said at the Dispatch Box that counts, and that what counts is what the Government are prepared to do? We have had umpteen statements about reviews, and so have the victims. I invite the hon. Gentleman and the Minister to join me immediately after this debate, at 4.30 pm, in Committee Room 14 to meet the victims and see what reaction they get. Let us just see. Let him wave his hands at them and say, “We’re going to review this.” The victims want closure. They are fed up: they have been sentenced to long, lingering and wretched death sentences by successive Administrations.
This Government had an opportunity to make a new start and bring closure to this great human tragedy, but they have refused to do so. For that reason, we are very pleased indeed—I am particularly pleased, as the mover of the motion—that Mr Speaker has called the motion and that we can vote on it. I urge Government Members to vote with us, in an attempt to shame all those, in all parts of the House, who have had sufferers in their constituencies, yet will not stand with us in this important Division. We will therefore press the motion to a vote in due course, and I hope that all Members present will vote for it.
Order. May I remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker has set a time limit on speeches of five minutes? That does not mean that every Member has to take all their five minutes. Some 24 or more Members wish to participate in this important debate, so I ask you all to help your colleagues out by making your points succinctly, so that we can get in as many speakers as possible.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that if Members take interventions during those five minutes, they will be given penalty time?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on bringing this important, sensitive and emotive issue before the House. I congratulate him also on the tone—until perhaps the last couple of minutes of his speech—in which he moved the motion. He was absolutely right that this is not a question of the coalition defending its record; it is a question of the hon. Gentleman bringing a substantive proposition before the House for it to decide on.
In those circumstances,I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman and the House that it is more than usually important that Members who vote on the motion understand precisely what its implications are. He had a lot to say—all of which I agree with—about the human tragedy, the system failure and the slow response of successive Governments over 25 years. That is not in dispute. Sadly, however, I shall not be supporting the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby, because of the part of the motion that says that this House
“regrets the past refusal to accept the principal recommendation of the Independent Public Inquiry…relating to compensation for the victims and set out in paragraph 6(h)…of the”
What the hon. Gentleman describes as the “principal recommendation” of the report is at the heart of the motion. The House must therefore understand precisely what that recommendation says, which is:
“We suggest that payments should be at least the equivalent of those payable under the Scheme which applies at any time in Ireland.”
Let us be clear what has actually happened in the evolution of policy on this subject. The previous Government accepted many of the other recommendations in the Archer report, but they explicitly refused to accept the recommendation that the compensation payments should be aligned with at least the level payable in Ireland. We are advised by the Government that payments at such a level would cost the Treasury about £3 billion. There is no controversy around the history of these matters or the emotion involved, or about how we got to where we are, but the House is being asked to accept that we should commit the Government to spending £3 billion on aligning our compensation payments with those currently payable in Ireland.
We set out the motion in those terms because that was very much what the victims wanted. However, the Government had the opportunity to respond with a constructive amendment, rather than a wrecking amendment that has no substance and takes not a single step towards our aims, even in relation to the Skipton Fund. We cannot accept that. We wanted a good amendment that we could vote for and unite around, so that the motion could have stood, as amended, in a progressive way that would have allowed us to step forward. Because the Government did not give us such an amendment, however, we are back where we were. We could not, in all honesty, let the victims down, which is why I was forced to move the motion as it stands.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is not for me to comment on the way in which the negotiations between him and the Government proceeded, but unfortunately, that is not the question on which the House is being asked to decide. I return to the proposition that today is different from normal political days in the House, because the House is being asked to make a decision. It is being asked to decide whether the Government should be committed to align compensation payments with those currently payable in Ireland, and I do not agree with that proposition. I shall vote against it—albeit with a heavy heart, because I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the context and the history of these matters. The motion is not about the context and the history, however; it is about what happens next. In the week before the comprehensive spending review, it would not be sensible to agree to the commitment of £3 billion to align our arrangements with those in Ireland.
Does the right hon. Gentleman, with all his ministerial experience, accept that the House—individual Back Benchers and Ministers—is being asked to consider the human impact and the ways in which that can be alleviated? Individuals and families have been devastated by the impact of contaminated blood—not only the medical impact but the social impact and the undermining of family confidence. Can we focus on that in coming to a decision in the debate?
I absolutely agree with a huge amount of what the right hon. Gentleman says. That is why I believe that the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Minister offers a sensible way forward. I said earlier that I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Coventry North West said, until he got to the last couple of minutes of his speech, when the Minister asked him whether he was prepared to sign up to the terms of reference of what the Government propose to do if, as I hope, the House rejects his motion. The Government are proposing to set up not a committee to think about this matter in the abstract, but a specific inquiry to report before the end of the year. The inquiry will review
“the level of ex gratia payments made to those affected by hepatitis C”
and—this will answer the point raised earlier—take into account the comparison with ex-gratia payments made in the UK to those infected with HIV. It will also review
“the mechanisms by which all ex-gratia payments are made”,
which was a specific recommendation in the Archer report. It will consider the provision for insurance—which has also been widely discussed in this context—and the issue of prescription charging, which Archer also recommended. It will also review the provision of and access to
“nursing and other care services in the community”
for those affected.
I assume that Government are not asking the House to reject the motion and simply carry on as though nothing had happened; I certainly will not do so. We all accept the context, but I would ask the House to consider carefully whether, instead of committing £3 billion to aligning our payments with those of Ireland, a better proposal would be to set up the review that the Minister recommends in her written statement, with the terms of reference that I have just outlined, in order better to meet the pressures that the hon. Member for Coventry North West rightly says are a human tragedy to which the House should respond.
I have a great regard for the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), but if there had been an alternative to the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), that would have been helpful to us in the debate.
On that point, if the Government intend to do what they have outlined in their written statement, why did they not table an amendment to that effect? Why did they squirrel the information away in a statement in the Library? The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) is long enough in the tooth to know that they have not deliberately done it like this, but had they tabled such an amendment, incorporating their statement, we would have been very inclined to vote for it—
I feel that there ought to be more humility on both sides of the House as we debate this matter, and I hope that I shall be able to exercise some myself. This issue has not been properly dealt with by Governments of all shades for a quarter of a century. It is amazing, but this is our first debate on the subject in a quarter of a century. I welcome the debate, and as the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West is the only practical proposal before the House, I shall take pride in voting for it. I have held a number of responsibilities myself, including that of shadow spokesperson on disability. The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) asked earlier what had been done so far, and the answer is: not enough.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this Government came into office only about five months ago, and that they are trying to get a lot of things sorted out? I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, but I am trying to explain what is happening. To wait for two or three months longer for this important decision is a small price to pay, and I do not understand why he and the hon. Member for Coventry North West are worried about waiting for three months, because that is the difference between the proposal in the motion and what the Government are proposing.
Indeed, a lot of people in the Haemophilia Society and other supporters of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West are genuinely looking forward to what the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) is going to offer them before Christmas.
That said, I want to go on to talk about one of my constituents, with whom I had a discussion yesterday. The House has to accept its responsibilities on these matters, including its responsibilities for delay after delay, even though evidence has been available. We have not given a response to the people who are suffering very gravely. We are talking about a number of people dying, families bereft of their members and the impact of not having acted previously. There is the issue of not having proper regard to the blood we are using. Then there is the use of American blood from we know not where, and now the decision taken not to use UK blood because we think there might be an element leading to new variant CJD. Frankly, a degree of incompetence is evident, which people interested in our debate will find hugely unacceptable.
My right hon. Friend talked about American blood from we know not where. The tragedy is that we do know where much of it came from. It was from paid donors, many of whom were prisoners and drug addicts, leading to consequences about which we all now know.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention.
The kind of information that we have—and we have had interventions year after year—in terms of giving us the facts and the evidence, quite apart from what our constituents are drawing to our attention, was embraced in Lord Archer’s report, to which the motion refers. That report, which I very much welcome, led to Lord Morris of Manchester—both our noble Friends have done a commendable job in bringing these issues to our attention—attempting to deal with the problem through legislation. A Bill came to this House at the beginning of this year, but where did it go? Nowhere.
That brings me to what this issue means for our constituents. I spoke yesterday to a man in my constituency—I will not name him—who is now 36. He described the bizarre experiences of his case. He talked about the secrecy surrounding these matters. The excellent Yorkhill hospital in Glasgow has a very good reputation, but a large number of papers pertaining to it have simply gone missing. My constituent talked about the stigma of having hepatitis C; he had been told for many years that he did not have hepatitis A or B, and was lucky not to have AIDS. His doctor withheld information on his particular case for more than a year. He told me only yesterday what the real problems were—for example, the difficulty of getting life insurance and a mortgage for himself and his partner.
I am sorry, I do not have time.
My constituent also talked about the increased premium he faced in getting travel insurance. People are clearly being penalised again and again because they had the misfortune to find themselves with this condition of haemophilia and then found, as they approached the national health service, that their condition was made unacceptably worse.
I want to thank the organisations that have helped. With particular reference to Scotland, I want to thank Mr Philip Nolan, who spent several hours with my constituent and me, and who, it seems to me, has been in London almost every week for years, preaching to us the necessity to act.
My constituent referred yesterday to the position in Northern Ireland. I do not want to open up yet another party political debate, but the truth of the matter is that even with its economic difficulties, Ireland—if I said Northern Ireland yesterday, I should have said Ireland—has not abandoned its scheme.
I am sorry, but I do not have enough time to give way.
If the scheme means getting earlier acceptance on to the waiting list and getting problems recognised, and if our constituents should not be doubly penalised for something that is not their fault, I am with my constituent in saying that justice delayed is justice denied—and we have denied justice for far too long. Today provides us with an opportunity to put that right.
It is good to have this debate today on an issue that I worked on throughout the last Parliament. Last year we managed to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject in Westminster Hall, but we have sought a debate in this Chamber for a very long time. I believe that the last debate on this issue was in 1990, and much has changed since then. A great deal has already been said about the figures. The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) talked about how many people have been affected: 1,200 infected with HIV, 4,670 infected with hepatitis C, and so far more than 1,800 people have died.
I got involved because of the human side to the issue, and I would like to pay tribute to my constituent, Haydn Lewis, an absolute stalwart of the campaign. He was one those infected, and he had hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, and was lately told that he was potentially exposed to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as a result of the contaminated blood products that he had been given. He finally developed liver cancer because of the hepatitis C, and tragically, he died this summer, after spending 20-odd years campaigning on behalf of the people who had been infected. He was a superb campaigner. He galvanised people across the country. He came to the most recent lobby earlier this year, even though he was extremely ill. He also did a huge amount of research into what happened in the ’70s and the ’80s. He came to see me almost as soon as I was elected to try to get me involved in the campaign.
As has already been said, it should be made clear that this is not a party political issue. This has happened under Governments of all colours and all Governments did something, but in my opinion we still have a long way to go. I am really glad that the Government have announced their intention to review some of Archer’s recommendations. That is good news.
My constituent Sarah Vergopoulos came to see me when her brother died because of infected blood just last year. She was most concerned to ensure that something would actually happen as a result of this debate. It seems to me that this debate—I commend the Backbench Business Committee on it—has already been a success, because something has already happened. The review has been announced and a timeline has been given to ensure that something will come forward this side of Christmas. I can thus report back to my constituent that just by holding this debate, something has already moved, which might not have moved without it.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. This debate on the Floor of the House is something for which many of those affected have called for a number of years. For them, it is important that that has been recognised and that Ministers are now listening to Members of all parties expressing their views.
Like the hon. Lady, I would have liked the debate to be less partisan than it has been so far. Her example highlights what a tragedy this has been and what an injustice has been committed. Although we are in the midst of a massive financial crisis, we should all recognise that tragedies and injustices like this deserve priority in spending terms over everything else.
Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact—I hope that the Minister will expand on it—that the issue of compensation for the hepatitis C victims will be addressed, as that seems to be a very important part of the case?
Indeed, and I was just coming to that point. As Members will be aware, the previous Government lost a judicial review in April when Lord Archer’s recommendations for increasing compensation in line with payments in Ireland seemed to be rejected out of hand. My concern is that today’s statement appears to do something similar, so I am somewhat disappointed at the wording of it.
I commend the hon. Lady for the excellent work she has done, including the Adjournment debate that she mentioned, which I too attended. I also commend her for lobbying Ministers. Does she agree that what she really wants is some firm commitment from the Government Front-Bench team—something concrete that she can go home with, rather than having to push things back again and again, as has happened in the past?
The fact that we have a deadline of Christmas for the report is very helpful. That is not too far away, and a concrete date has been specified. I hope that the Minister will ensure that we get the response by that time, and that if given the chance later, she will speak further on that subject.
The time that this process is taking is clearly a major issue. Given that it has taken more than 20 years even to hold an inquiry, the least the victims deserve is for the recommendations to be considered seriously, even those that would be expensive to implement. Lord Archer made a number of sensible and important recommendations, and although many have been implemented, a number still need to be acted on. Some would be expensive to implement, but others would not. Improved compensation is clearly the most controversial, and I appreciate that in the current financial climate the Government will find it hard to deal with, but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), other issues, too, have not been considered properly so far. For instance, patients with hepatitis C are treated differently from, and worse than, those with HIV. That simply is not fair. The widows of those who died before August 2003 receive nothing, and that is not fair either. Those who are infected cannot obtain insurance, which has massive implications for their lives.
The hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way. I do not wish to be partisan, but do not some elements of the statement give us pause? It refers to access to insurance. “Access” is a very vague word. It is not just a question of access; as constituents have pointed out to me, it is a question of provision as well. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government need to be much clearer about that in the terms of reference?
I hope that they are clear about it both in the terms of reference and in the final review and announcement. Although the issue is not particularly glamorous, and is fairly complicated and difficult for people to understand, it has massive implications for day-to-day life, and it really does need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
The victims of the tragedy were infected more than 20 years ago. This has gone on for a very long time. Year by year we are losing those victims: people such as Haydn are, tragically, passing away each year. We cannot let this drag on any longer. Being a politician is about standing up and representing people who cannot represent themselves. Haydn can no longer represent himself, and many other people who are affected by this are no longer able to speak for themselves. It is our job to stand up and do the right thing, and I hope very much that we can do that today.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), both for her work and for her speech, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) in paying tribute to Lord Archer for his report—and also to Lord Morris of Manchester, who was my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Wythenshawe, and has done so much work on this and many other issues.
Much of my understanding of this issue comes from the experience of three of my constituents: Peter Mossman, Fred Bates and Fred’s wife Eleanor. I pay tribute to their resilience and determination. Peter discovered that he was a mild haemophiliac in 1976. One day in 1985 he came home from work with bruising on his leg. He went to hospital, where he was treated with contaminated blood and infected with hepatitis C. What resulted immediately was a desperate illness followed by, in the longer term, worsening bleeds and severe liver damage.
Fred was also a mild haemophiliac, although his condition is now severe. He has never been able to identify precisely when he became infected with hepatitis C, although it is certain that, although tests were carried out throughout the 1980s that would have confirmed his condition, he was never told. Only after the chance reading of a leaflet in 1993 did he ask whether he was infected, and he was finally told the truth. He was then told to go home, and that there was nothing to worry about. Life for Fred means often feeling extremely cold. He suffers from severe bleeding, and now has cirrhosis of the liver. For Eleanor, life means not only supporting Fred and enduring severe financial hardship, but having to live for years unaware of the risks that she faced to her own health because Fred had never been told the truth about his condition.
What Peter, Fred and Eleanor find hardest to bear is covered in chapter 7 of Lord Archer’s report—namely that doctors knew about the risks involved in treating patients with blood products, but failed to inform them. There is no doubt that Fred and Peter, who were both mild haemophiliacs, would never have consented to treatment with contaminated blood products which carried a high risk of infection with HIV and hepatitis C. However, it is not only the doctors who failed to explain the dangers. It seems to me, and indeed to all of us, that the whole health system was caught up in what amounts to a conspiracy of silence.
I have a copy of a letter dated 31 July 1981 from a member of staff in the Department of Health and Social Security to an official in the Treasury. The letter is headed “Blood products laboratory—redevelopment”. It states, among other things, that
“health authorities are obliged to supplement supplies from BPL with expensive and, because of the hepatitis risk, less safe imported commercial blood products at a cost of up to £10m annually.”
People at the top of the DHSS knew the risks, but patients were not informed, and four years after that letter was written, my constituent Peter Mossman was infected with hepatitis C.
I am aware of that. What I am trying to emphasise is that if my constituents, and indeed many others, had been given proper information, they would have been able to make a balanced decision about the risks that they faced.
We all have constituents who will have their own stories, and as a result of the Archer report we now have a definite analysis of what went wrong. The great thing about the report, however, is that it points the way forward. It is now a case of what we can do to support those who survive in the circumstances in which they find themselves, and I believe that we need to do at least four things.
First, there needs to be an apology. I know that some people feel that an apology is just words and is therefore meaningless, but in June this year the Prime Minister proved from the Dispatch Box that that is not the case when he gave an unequivocal apology to the families of Derry for what had occurred on 30 January 1972. That apology means a lot to those families, and it is enabling them to move forward. I believe that haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C and HIV deserve no less.
Secondly, there must be proper financial recompense. There is a debate about that. Archer recommends equivalence with the Irish scheme, but the Government ruled that out today, and are to institute a review instead. Whatever the outcome of that review, it must be demonstrably fair to those who have been affected. There must be a level playing field between those infected with, respectively, hepatitis C and HIV. Thirdly, there must be no impact on benefit entitlement: any recompense must be over and above the benefit payments that people receive.
I want to pay tribute to my constituent Bob Purnell, who died, his son Edward, and his wife Gill. I also want to dispel any misunderstanding that there may have been about the debate’s being partisan. I welcome it very much.
I think we all appreciate that the Government are in a difficult position because of the financial situation. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we cannot make the payments that I think we would all like to make to victims who have suffered greatly, it might be possible to increase payments in future as the economic situation becomes more viable?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has had an opportunity to mention and pay tribute to her constituent. There may be an argument for staging payments over time, but the Government must be clear about the award and the level of compensation at the outset.
Finally, the whole social care and health system must become much more sensitive to the needs of those who were caught up in this tragedy. There must be more sympathetic treatment for those who have been infected and their carers.
I regret the fact that we were not able to do more over the past 13 years to support and assist this particular group. I want to compliment the Minister, because I know from conversations that I have had and from things that I have read that she has gained a fair amount of confidence from those who were caught up in the tragedy, and from members of the haemophiliac community. My guess is that her experience of the health service, along with her own personal qualities, has led her to want to deal with the situation and, in her own words, to get closure before the end of the year. Let me say to her that having come so far so quickly, she now carries a huge burden of responsibility to ensure that the solution that she comes up with retains that confidence, and does not further dash the hopes of a community who have been so badly let down in the past.
I thank the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for opening this debate and all the Members who have spoken in it thus far. Many of them mentioned by name constituents who have suffered as a result of receiving contaminated blood products, but on Monday I received a visit from a constituent who specifically did not wish to be named because she still feels that she suffers a stigma as a result of having hepatitis C. She does not want it talked about and she is embarrassed, but it is not just she who suffers; so, too, does her son.
There is never a good time to get a Government to commit to significant spending, but this is a new Parliament with a bright, shiny new Government and we should celebrate the fact that we finally have the opportunity to hold this debate on the Floor of the House of Commons some 20 years after the subject under discussion became an issue.
Not many people in Romsey and Southampton North have been infected as a result of having received contaminated blood products, but a handful have, and it is tragic to hear some of them say that although they would like to be present today they do not feel they can afford the train fare to come to London. Indeed, even those who have travelled have welcomed the fact that the debate is being held in the afternoon so they do not have to pay peak-time train fares to attend it.
I wish to make a specific point to the Minister, but let me first say that I welcome parts of the written statement, because elements of it represent progress, and the people in the Public Gallery who have travelled here today want to see progress on this issue. They do not want a partisan row to develop on the Floor of the House; they want us to make moves in the right direction.
One constituent who came to see me made some points about insurance. She and her family find it difficult to enjoy a family holiday because it is hard for them to get travel insurance. There are similar difficulties with life insurance and mortgages, and therefore it can be hard for people to buy their own property and have the security that that provides. I therefore welcome the parts of the statement that make reference to insurance because it is important.
The specific point I wish to make is about dentistry. It may not be particularly widely known that hepatitis C sufferers frequently have significant problems with gum disease. A constituent of mine therefore wanted to have easier access to NHS dentistry. I hope the Minister will take that point on board, and be prepared to make some sort of dentistry provision in future.
My constituents are not greedy people. Both those who have travelled here today and those who have not have stressed to me that they wish there to be fair compensation, and that they wish to have help from this Government. They do not wish to apportion blame because there has not been any progress over the past 20 years. What they want is progress now.
Appropriately, I am wearing a black tie today both to acknowledge the fact that many people have died because of contaminated blood products before they had the opportunity to see a full debate on the subject in this Chamber, and to pay respects to a constituent of mine, James McVey, who died tragically at the weekend at the age of just 18. His death is not related to this issue, but I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House would want to join me in sending our condolences to his family and friends.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this long-neglected issue firmly back on to the political agenda. It is to our great shame that it is necessary to have a debate on it so long after the original events, and it is an indictment of previous Administrations that many of the issues surrounding the contaminated blood disaster remain unresolved to this day.
The case for making adequate reparations to the victims and their families has been eloquently made both today and on previous occasions in this House and in the other place. However, I have never heard a more stirring description of the tragedy and its effects on individual lives than the emotional personal account of one young gentleman in Committee Room 7 yesterday. His words will stay with me for a very long time.
In common with many other speakers, the hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for compensation, and I think all Members have sympathy with that. However, given the pain being caused by the £1 billion saved by getting rid of child benefit for higher rate taxpayers, where does he think that £3 billion will come from? Does he have the courage to tell the House which budget we should cut to pay that compensation?
I am being encouraged to make a party political point, but as my mum used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” and, believe me, if I were sitting on the Government Benches now I would be saying exactly the same thing. On this issue, it does not matter what political party we are in.
The NHS failed almost 5,000 people. Through using contaminated blood and blood products, it made ill people more ill, sometimes fatally so. It made perfectly healthy individuals—accident victims requiring blood transfusions, for example—unwell for life. Indeed, as many have said this fiasco was, in Lord Winston’s words,
“the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”.
The state should have gone out of its way decades ago to compensate victims financially and in kind, not only to accept responsibility, but proactively to alleviate the adverse impact of its mistakes. Instead, successive Governments have prevaricated; they have been reluctant to acknowledge fault and loth to carry the can financially.
Constituents of mine, such as a gentleman, whom I will not name, who contracted both HIV and hepatitis C at the age of five, have made it clear that they do not want Members to consider the issue on a party political basis, and I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman is reflecting that wish in his tone. It is incumbent on every Member to put party politics aside and to do all we can to ensure that this matter is treated as a top priority, while also taking into account the constraints on the state.
I absolutely agree, and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) agrees with our view as well. He said:
“It really is time that as a Country, as a government (and forget whatever Party it is), we should now take responsibility for this. It’s a completely shocking scandal.”
Let me tell Members about what happened to a constituent of mine, Mr Christopher Munn. In 1981, he was mugged and stabbed. He received a blood transfusion and contracted hepatitis C. For years, Mr Munn fought for recognition, support and compensation but, unable to afford legal representation, he found himself led a merry dance, and was swatted away like some bothersome pest. An initial application to the Skipton Fund was rejected but, thankfully, on appeal, some 25 years after being infected he was awarded a few thousand pounds. Now, £25,000 or £45,000 is no small sum, but if we do the maths it quickly becomes apparent how risible that amount actually is when spread over 25 years and more.
This issue is largely about the money of course. Many victims, severely debilitated by conditions developed as a direct result of contaminated blood, have been struggling to meet their medical needs, let alone achieve a comfortable standard of living. However, the issue is also about the need for acknowledgement. Victims need the state to accept unreservedly and unconditionally its responsibility for their plight, and to meet its moral obligations. For the NHS and, by extension, the current Government to retain their integrity, they must make amends. To those who have challenged Labour Members with comments such as, “But what did your Government do about it?”, my answer is very simple: not enough.
No, as I am conscious of time.
The bottom line is that successive Governments irrespective of their political persuasion hesitated over investing resources and setting precedents. They were all equally culpable in failing the victims, but rather than bang on about who did or did not do what and when, let us finally seize the opportunity to right a terrible wrong.
I fully appreciate that money is tight, but morality is absolute, not some relative concept that expands and contracts to suit circumstances. We cannot as a society be more moral in good times than in bad. The Government have spoken about compassion and fairness and “the caring society”. They have no option but to put their money where their mouth is in order to put right a decade-old wrong.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for tabling this motion, because it is vital that such important, tragic and sensitive issues get debated on the Floor of the House. I welcome the statement by the Minister, because over a number of years those affected by this problem have gone on a rollercoaster journey. That is because in recent years the Archer report has been published, the Government have taken a position and a judicial review has been undertaken, and now we have reached a point where a Government are saying, “Within five months a review will take place and within three months we will come back with a position.” If that review can be carried out earlier than the end of the year, I ask the Minister to ensure that it is, because time is running out for some of the victims of this tragedy.
I wish to discuss the case of the father of one of my constituents, who suffered from a rare form of haemophilia. In 1984, he cut his finger while working, was given factor VIII to clot the blood and, as a result, has suffered from HIV and hepatitis C. It was not until four years later, when different blood samples were taken away and different analysis was done, that he was told that he had hepatitis and HIV. He then had to tell his wife, but at that point he was not given any specific counselling—not only between 1984 and 1989, but to this very day, no specific counselling has been given to him, and that must urgently be reviewed.
On the funding comparison with Ireland, from 1989 until today, this individual has received £78,000 in total compensation over a number of years, with £6,400 per rota. At one stage, after the Archer report, he was given £12,800. For the same period, someone in Ireland would have received a lump sum of £200,000. It is not the case that people simply want compensation; this is about the family. He feels that a lump sum gives security; if something happens he can leave some money for his family. He feels that if we cannot have comparability, he would very much appreciate having some measures that go towards it.
The hon. Gentleman mentions compensation and the difference between the situation in this country and that in Ireland—reference has been made to that several times. However, there is another huge difference: no UK Government have acknowledged negligence liability yet.
The previous Government retold the fiction several times that the compensation scheme in Ireland rested on the finding of liability, but that scheme existed in Ireland before the finding of liability, be it by either the Finlay or Lindsay tribunals.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. The point that I was making about the Government and clarification related to the judicial review, which examined that very matter.
The other point I wish to make has been touched on eloquently by other Members. Since 1989, this individual has not been able to go on holiday, because of problems with travel and life insurance. Those matters must be dealt with swiftly, given the length of time left for him to live, so that he can enjoy that time with his family. I welcome the fact that he can be here to sit in the Public Gallery in this House to hear this debate.
Finally, I urge the Minister to provide specific counselling for those people who have suffered from this tragedy. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak and the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this motion to the Floor of the House.
I wish to say a few words about my constituent, Andrew March, who is a victim of contaminated blood. He is not only a remarkable man and campaigner; he is the reason we are talking about this today, because he was the claimant in the judicial review that led to the written ministerial statement. That statement was correctly attacked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) today.
I am new to Mr March, in the sense that he has been a constituent of mine since May, as he lives in the Hammersmith and Fulham part of the constituency that I inherited. However, I have caught up quickly with what he has been doing over many years and decades. The easiest way for me to summarise his predicament and what he has done is to read from a letter that he sent to me on 23 July. He said:
“I was one of the young children at the time of the AIDS outbreak, and I had to cope with being told that I had HIV at the age of 9. It was extremely difficult to deal with back then—and the devastation was compounded by the stigma. Before that, I had already been ill from Hepatitis B, again, from blood products because of my haemophilia condition. By 1992, whilst I was studying at the Royal College of Music on a 4-year degree, I was informed that I had also been exposed to hepatitis C, and only 5 years later, I was given another blow when I was informed that I had been exposed to two batches of Factor VIII blood products taken from a donor who later went on to develop vCJD. I had been treated with over 110 bottles of this vCJD-implicated material being injected directly into my bloodstream.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this very debate helps to raise awareness of those people suffering from hepatitis C contracted from contaminated blood products and helps to remove the stigma attached to hepatitis C? I am thinking of people such as a constituent of mine, who wishes not to be named but is suffering from hepatitis C1a, which is the severest form of hepatitis.
I think that this debate does do that, and I am grateful for this opportunity to increase my own knowledge. However, I think that we need to move on to some very specific recommendations because, as the mover of the motion eloquently said, this is a time for action more than contemplation. That is exactly what Mr March did when he brought the judicial review in April, and the matter has been just been clarified, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) described, in relation to the mistake that the previous Government made on the situation in Ireland. That was the error made by that Government. That was the finding of the judicial review, and it is what the Government are responding to today.
I shall not read from the judicial review, other than to quote its final paragraphs, because they again relate to Mr March. The learned judge, Mr Justice Holman, said that counsel for the claimant
“paid a warm but measured tribute to…Andrew March, ‘for his tenacity and balance in the asking of questions and soliciting of information, and not taking no for an answer when the reasons are not good ones.’ My impression is that that tribute is justified and well judged, and that the many other people interested in this cause owe gratitude to Mr March for his tenacity or persistence.”
I say again that Mr March has done that for many years, suffering as he did not only from his original medical condition but from the effects of the contamination.
Taintedblood, an organisation that has done a lot of excellent work in briefing us all and preparing us for this debate, states:
“The Under-Secretary of State for Health”—
the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton)—
“recently held a series of meetings with campaigners, the Haemophilia Society, the Macfarlane and Eileen Trusts, the Skipton Fund and others. In those meetings she demonstrated a new willingness by Government to face up to and deal with what has happened to the Haemophilia Community.”
Those organisations must be very disappointed today by the amendment that the Government attempted to move and by the written ministerial statement.
I welcome what is said in the terms of reference about hepatitis C, as has been mentioned. I want to clarify whether the Minister is offering full parity for hepatitis C sufferers with what AIDS sufferers experience, including the £12,800 per annum payments, and that that will be susceptible to the review.
The constituent whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned is the son of one of my constituents in Nuneaton. I want to mention the families of those affected by this disaster, because they have also had to bear a real burden in supporting people such as Mr March over the years. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the terms of reference that the Minister announced in her statement about supporting the families who have had to bear that burden?
No, I definitely do not. I ask the Minister to clarify—if not now, when she makes her speech—whether the terms of reference will allow hepatitis C sufferers to be treated at least as HIV/AIDS sufferers are under the current scheme. I hope that she will do that. However, all that could have been done today. The limited amount that is offered in the review could quite easily have been announced today. If there had to be a review, I should have liked it to have been along the terms of Lord Morris’s Bill, which considered all the remaining provisions of the Archer inquiry and said specifically—this is the contentious part:
“When making the regulations the Secretary of State shall have regard to any comparable compensation schemes offered in other countries.”
The noble Lord’s Bill was a good Bill, but I would say—this is the only criticism that I would make of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West—that I think today’s motion goes a little too far. It calls specifically for parity with the scheme in Ireland. I do not think that it gives the Government sufficient room. I would ask the Government—this is the commitment that I would look for today—to widen the terms of the review and to reconsider all the matters that Lord Archer raised, including compensation. Even if the conclusion is that parity is unlikely with Ireland, where the situation is different even given the judicial review—that was suggested in the opening speeches—in the current financial climate we need to look at the levels of compensation that are paid.
I also think that the motion, while criticising previous Governments, could at least have acknowledged that the previous Government responded to the Archer review by making regular annual payments at a higher level, although I understand that my constituent and many others regard that as inadequate. I regard it as inadequate. We are looking, I think, for something between the two. The unfortunate thing about the Government response today is that it cuts off that option. The amendment and the ministerial statement do not allow the option of considering more generous compensation in the light of Lord Archer’s proposals. That is why I would have voted against the amendment and that is why I think it is wrong for the Government to have given false hope to sufferers and to have dashed that hope with their announcement today.
I am the only regular practising medical doctor in this House and it is somewhat surprising that no one contacted me to lobby on behalf of any of the issues to do with this debate. I stand here as someone who has no idea whether I have any constituents affected by this dreadful scandal, but I do understand what it is like to have hepatitis C and to have HIV. On a personal level, I was once married to somebody who carried the gene for haemophilia, so I have considered the idea of bringing a haemophiliac into this world and the implications thereof. More importantly, I have spent weekends away with the Haemophilia Society in the past. I have been privy to the annoyance, upset, anger and frustration with this whole affair since it started to rear its ugly head in the late ’70s.
It is important when we are discussing this issue to try to separate emotion from fact. The fact of the matter is that before we could administer cryoprecipitate factor VIII, the life expectancy of haemophiliacs in this country was in the 20s. When we discuss compensation—perhaps this is a way of decoupling us from the compensation scheme in the Republic of Ireland—we need to discuss compensating people for loss of earnings and widows’ pensions, instead of compensating people for loss of life. It is important that we distinguish between the two issues, instead of getting emotional. It is easy to stand up and discuss distressing cases, which is an approach that can be applied to an array of conditions. Let us concentrate on fact, because there may be an appropriate solution.
I could speak all day on this issue, but I am conscious of time. Questions of morality and of cost arise in deciding appropriate compensation. To my mind, the present economic difficulties that our Government are dealing with are not a consideration. A big wrong occurred, and we need to deal with it irrespective of the timing. The former Member for Plymouth, Devonport, David Owen, who was a medically qualified person, was involved at the outset under a Labour Government. The subsequent Conservative Government continued to miss the signs and failed to implement necessary procedures to make sure that the blood was not contaminated.
I want to draw attention to the figures. I have read only the first four chapters of the Archer report, because I realised only at 12.30 pm that the matter was going to be debated. I have noticed mistakes in the first four chapters, so I am not encouraged by the report in general. The report cites a figure of £3 billion, which I think the Department of Health provided to Ministers, but the figure is actually £1 billion. There is a typo—if one divides the two figures, one does not get £850,000; one gets £350,000. Let us talk about facts first, because we may be discussing £1 billion, not £3 billion. If one relates those calculations to the price of life, we can arrive at a compensation scheme that I can support.
Yes. If one does the division, one realises that one figure must be wrong—off the top of my head, the figure is 853 as opposed to 353. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at that point.
If the figure is £1 billion, we spend £1 billion on the NHS every three and a half days. We can find that money. I do not know how one prices a liver, and I do not know how one prices a liver transplant that does not happen. I cannot put a price on that, and I challenge anyone else to do so. We are talking about 4,670 people, so we can behave appropriately at last and provide the appropriate compensation.
On the financial implications, HIV widows are forced through the Benefits Agency to seek work within weeks of their partner’s death, and hepatitis C widows whose partners died before 2004 receive no financial help at all. The implications for the haemophilia community are stark. I cannot say that we should trim this and that because of the comprehensive spending review; I would rather we borrowed the £500 million and did the right thing.
I believe that it is, but, with respect, that is missing the point. As far as I am concerned, the Department of Health is culpable. This is not a party political matter; it is a departmental matter. It had a series of opportunities over a number of years to deal with the issue, but it missed them, and surprisingly it lost a few documents in the process. That is shocking. If the Department is worried about precedent, that makes me concerned about other conditions and treatments. Is there something else that we should know about? If this is about precedent, I should like to set one: this was wrong and we should pay out appropriately.
First, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in thanking the Backbench Business Committee for recognising the importance of the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and I put to it. The volume and the quality of the contributions we have heard today bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Business Committee was absolutely right to note that this is a critical issue—one that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel has received too little attention in recent years from successive Governments. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West for picking up the baton and moving the motion, which he did with great aplomb and verve, as ever.
Most of all, I should like to thank the victims and their families who have been in contact with me since we first learned that we had succeeded in securing this debate. Their kind words and support have been hugely welcome. I am delighted that so many of them managed to come here today—and, indeed, yesterday—to witness the debate. That bears extraordinarily powerful testament to the wrong that has been done to them and their families. I hope that we are doing some justice to their cases today by debating this issue so fully.
I am extremely pleased that the debate has prompted the Government to put before the House today’s statement, which is somewhat misaligned with the wrecking amendment, as my hon. Friend described it.
I wonder, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you could put the point to the Minister that we are conducting the debate on the basis of the ministerial statement that has been placed in the Library rather than one made to the House. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the basis of compensation would be if we were to implement the Archer recommendations. Is the figure £3 billion, £300 million or £1.2 billion? I have heard different figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot continue the debate without more clarity about what we are considering? The Government have stated that we are inviting them to spend £3 billion, but the figure might in fact be far less.
I, too, would very much like that point to be addressed. I was going to ask the Minister how the £3 billion figure was calculated. The Haemophilia Society has today suggested that the figure has been calculated erroneously on the basis of a typographical error in the Archer report and that the number has been extrapolated from a false figure that Archer published regarding the volumes that were given in Ireland. So, I, too, would welcome the Minister’s clarification on that hugely important point.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that the number of pounds we are talking about is, to put it mildly, salient. However, is it not also relevant that the House is being asked to sign up not to a specific sum but to the principle that the compensation payable in this country should be at least aligned with that payable in the Republic of Ireland? Whatever the number, the House should not sign up to the dubious principle that whatever is paid in Ireland we will pay here.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, which is a good one intellectually, but the rationale for the recommendation’s inclusion in the motion was, essentially, that the victims of this tragedy wanted the House to debate it. The Archer report is the only substantive inquiry that we have had. It came to that conclusion on compensation, so we felt it appropriate to ask that question of the House. However, I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point about tying ourselves to recommendations that are made in another jurisdiction.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for pressing for the motion today. I am obviously keen to support him. On the debate about parity with the Republic of Ireland, the Minister in her statement talked about working with the UK’s devolved Administrations and with their Health Ministers. Does the hon. Gentleman also support the need for parity within the UK? Will he urge the Minister before us and the Minister in Wales, because we are both Welsh Members, to work on the review with the Department of Health in order to come up with at least some parity within the UK?
Order. It is up to Members to decide on the number of times that they give way to interventions, but I am concerned that that is going to stop other Members getting in. If we are going to have interventions, Mr Cairns, we need to make them very brief.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s excellent point. One thing that I was slightly disappointed about in the ministerial statement was the fact that those discussions clearly have not taken place. Some of the statement’s specifics are very welcome, particularly its point about the terms of reference and, notably, the fact that the level of payment to people with hepatitis C might be equalised.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that “Mr Secretary Lansley” and “Anne Milton” tabled an amendment that is on the Order Paper and includes the figure “£3 billion”. Some Opposition Members feel that this debate cannot go forward until we have some clarification of its accuracy.
A point of order takes up valuable time, too. I recognise that you wanted to make it, but you will have the opportunity to put the case a little later. What we ought to try to do is respect all Members. I want to try to get in all those Members who are here; I do not want disappoint them.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I now have very little time left, so I shall speak a little faster, if I may.
It is absolutely critical that the Minister makes it very clear in her response that she is talking about equalising the payment to people with hepatitis C with the previous payments to victims of HIV. It is also important that she consider the specificity of the recommendations, including the terms of reference. Victims’ access to nursing care and to the NHS ought to be looked at differentially. They were infected by the NHS, in effect, and therefore they ought to be treated differently when looked after by the NHS.
In the last minute of my speech, I want to pay tribute to some people in the Public Gallery today. The reason I am so interested in today’s debate is that a very brave constituent of mine, Leigh Sugar, died earlier this year. His family came to see me just days after his death to express their desire for him to be the last person who suffers in their dying days, having not been looked after properly by the NHS, and having been infected through NHS treatment.
Leigh is a classic example of a person who, as a mild haemophiliac, went to hospital—he, in his teens—to be treated for the condition and came out with a devastating disease. That disease ultimately led to his death from liver cancer. Far too many people have died before we have seen this House deliver justice, and it is absolutely critical that justice be seen to be done today. This is a moral issue, it is a matter of conscience and of justice, and we owe it to the victims, whatever the difficulties of the CSR, to see justice served so that they might be properly recognised and properly recompensed.
I welcome the Government’s intention to review the Archer report, for this simple reason: its last recommendation, which to many sufferers was the most important, was to review the nursing, caring and other services that are available. This debate has been very much focused on money, but regardless of whether the figures are correct, the problems that many sufferers have had to experience throughout their lives, from the moment of infection, have been compounded by the years in which they have had to deal with these problems alone.
I would like to give the House a couple of examples, because I do not think that any of us, although we speak here on behalf of our constituents, can fully understand some of the problems that these people have had to deal with. I would like to speak on behalf of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and a constituent of my own, and cite some of the things that they have told us. What they said to us is powerful, and we must recognise the bravery that it takes for people to go and sit in front of their MP and talk about the problems that they experience, which is not an easy thing to do. Some of those constituents are here today.
My constituent was infected with HIV from contaminated blood at the age of 12, when he was told: “This is what you now have. You must never tell anybody at all, ever. You must never tell friends in school, because if you do you will be bullied and hounded out of your school, and we will be hounded out of our home and have to move away.” It is enough to have suffered with haemophilia, but then, at the age of 12, they are told not only that they have a socially unacceptable disease, as it was at that time, but, at an age when they fully understand, that they are soon going to die from it.
He got that message more powerfully than by words alone. As a haemophiliac before his diagnosis of HIV, he was never allowed to have a bike of his own, so he was always asking to hitch a ride on somebody else’s. The Christmas after his diagnosis, his Christmas present was a bike of his own. He knew, from the statements by his parents and the look in his father’s eyes, that it did not matter any more—that he may as well have his own bike, because at that point in the ’80s nobody knew whether he had a month, a year or years to live. For a child to have had to live with being a social pariah, and to have had to keep a secret that they know they will die from, brings with it psychological problems that we cannot even begin to imagine. Their childhood is taken away and they have to live with that secret all their life.
I welcome the report, because these people need counselling. They need to be able to know that they can speak about the vitally important conditions that they suffer from, and how to deal with them. To use the words of one of our constituents, he felt that he had been born to bleed but did not realise he would have to pay the death penalty for it, and every day he feels ungrateful to be alive. The figures may be wrong or right, but other issues are just as important as the financial compensation that some of the people who have been infected are looking for.
There was a huge stigma surrounding HIV in the ’80s. We know in this place, and many other people know now, that there are only two ways to catch HIV—via sexual intercourse or contaminated blood. Perhaps it is time for us to start doing our bit to let people know that that stigma should not be there any more and that these people should not be afraid to talk about what they have suffered.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are conducting a Back-Bench debate that is being coloured by a figure in an amendment that the Government have tabled, which has not been selected. It suggests that £3 billion would be the cost of what my motion proposes. If the exact figure is in the order of 1% of that, or £300 million, as I think the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), a medical doctor, suggested—[Hon. Members: “No, £1 billion.”] Does it come to £1 billion? I think that ought to be clarified before we go further in the debate.
In fairness, the Minister is going to speak and there will be an opportunity to intervene on her. I am sure she will want to point out the figure at that stage. What I want to do is get on with the debate until she comes to speak, and then I am sure Members in all parts of the House will be able to intervene.
I have been sitting here waiting to speak for an hour or two. Those affected by the tragedy of contaminated blood and blood products have been waiting for justice for more than 25 years.
I do not have to tell anyone that living with haemophilia is hard. My own cousin was affected by the condition, and when I think of him now I always think of him with a smile on his face. He was always cheerful. As a child, I was always aware that he had haemophilia, although I did not understand what the condition meant. Having done some background reading and spoken to people, I can say this about him now: my admiration for him, my aunt and my uncle has only grown.
Like many Members, I was motivated to speak in the debate by a number of constituents who have haemophilia and have contacted me with their stories, which I found both moving and inspiring. One e-mail particularly struck a chord with me, and I spoke to the man who wrote it on the phone this morning. Wayne Gambin is 35 years old and has a young family, and he has haemophilia. He was given hepatitis C through a bad blood transfusion. I read about how he gets depressed a lot of the time just thinking about death, which is in the forefront of his mind most of the time. He wonders whether the disease could kick in, causing liver failure and eventually death.
Over the years, Wayne has tried two different experimental drug combinations, but they have had no effect on the disease. While on the trials he suffered a lot of side effects, such as depression and anger. During one trial three years ago, he lost his job and his house. He has a young family and cannot get life insurance because of the excessive charges, even though he contracted the disease through no fault of his own. He worries about dying and leaving his family destitute. To me, that is a scandal in itself.
Another constituent who also wrote to me is in his mid-40s and has three children, and was infected with hepatitis C in the ’80s following an accident that required surgery. He discovered he had the disease shortly before his 40th birthday and his health deteriorated dramatically, culminating in a liver transplant a year ago. His children now face the prospect of not having their father around in future. He has lost everything, even though he has worked his entire life.
I know that when we read stories such as that, it is easy to be carried away with the emotion of it all, but we can deal only in fact. Throughout the ’70s and the first half the ’80s, many in the UK who suffered from haemophilia were treated with blood and blood products that carried what came to be known as hepatitis C. As has been said, some 4,670 patients became infected. Between 1983 and the early 1990s, some 1,200 patients were infected with HIV through blood products. We know that because Lord Archer held an independent public inquiry.
The Macfarlane Trust was established in 1987 to provide emergency funding for haemophilia patients infected with HIV, most of whom were not expected to live more than five years. Victims, many of whom had a good standard of living beforehand, were required to go cap in hand for discretionary relief. Monthly payments are now dispensed. The Skipton Fund was founded in 2003 following the publication of the Ross report. Those infected with hepatitis C can claim a lump sum of £20,000, and a further £25,000 is paid to those who can establish that their hepatitis C led to severe liver disease.
I have no doubt that those were welcome developments, but like many other Members I believe that more needs to be done. As many have mentioned, Lord Archer’s conclusion, which has caused some controversy, was that payments should be at least equivalent to those payable under the Irish scheme, which is far more generous than ours. I hope that the Irish made that settlement because caring for the victims of the disaster was morally the right thing to do.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) that the annual payments awarded to all patients infected with hepatitis C and HIV through contaminated blood are too low. Considering the damage done to the lives of those infected and their families, they should be increased. Yes, there needs to be some reconciliation, and I welcome the Government’s move to review the recommendations of the Archer report, but I hope that they will go further and offer an apology, which costs absolutely nothing.
One of my constituents wrote to me to say that it is time to bring about an end to this fight and to allow those who remain to live out the rest of their lives with some peace of mind. I wholeheartedly agree with him.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), I do not profess to have any high degree of expertise. I was approached by a couple of my constituents, who hit me with what can be described only as a moral sledgehammer. They movingly recounted profound stories of their youth and their lost childhoods, which others have mentioned, and of their inability to form full relationships with loved ones. Some victims have had to keep their condition secret owing to a fear of being shunned by people who have a naive attitude towards HIV. The heartbreaking accounts are seemingly endless. Very often, sufferers get into the habit of not telling friends and even relatives, and now find it impossible to divulge the truth. Many victims were children. Some never made it to adulthood.
We fight and argue in this Chamber over a range of issues, but we would struggle to find a more poignant debate than this. The contracting of HIV through blood transfusions is one of the most profound, disturbing and dreadful episodes in 20th century health treatment. According to my calculations, on average, one person a week has died as a result of being infected with HIV. Those who survive do so only because of a cocktail of drugs that keeps them hanging on to life. That treatment has been described as being on low-dose chemotherapy for the rest of one’s life.
An additional difficulty is that victims must cope with their inability to obtain life insurance—Opposition Members have mentioned that—and they also have difficulty with travel insurance and medicals. I therefore welcome the terms of reference for the review. Surely some help can be offered to the remaining survivors. I use the term “survivor” deliberately, because that is exactly what the remaining sufferers are.
A further tragedy is the fact that some sufferers were not told of their condition even when it was known by others, leading to the infection of partners. On other occasions, it was felt unnecessary to engage with sufferers as they were not expected to live very long anyway. The treatment that is available today for HIV sufferers was not envisaged in the 1980s, so it was believed that victims had a life expectancy of about five years. Thankfully, that has not been the case in many instances. Understandably, some who were told that they had only five years to live went out and spent their financial award pretty quickly, and enjoyed life to the full without considering investing for the future. Many such victims have consequently been left financially short.
We are familiar with the root cause of the infection: blood was imported for transfusion when the UK was not self-sufficient. Perhaps we need to look further into that. Safeguards that should have been implemented in both the UK and the US were not. Indeed, it appears that the UK was slow to act on minimising the chances of haemophiliacs contracting HIV. Clearly, mistakes were made, and they must be recognised.
More important than embarking on a witch hunt is deciding where we go from here. How can we achieve insurance for sufferers and support those who need it most? Infection from tainted blood was indiscriminate. Young and old, haemophiliacs and those who underwent operations were not spared. Nobody was spared.
The situation affects not only male haemophiliacs; some female cases have been reported. It is very much a matter of regret that the issue of adequate compensation was not tackled some time ago. I suspect that the sheer sums of money are part of the reason why the cause was not picked up by the previous Government. I look to this Government to do what they can to make the situation for sufferers and their families easier.
Like me, my hon. Friend has constituents who are affected by this issue. Does he agree that although it is important to get the numbers and the money right, there is an important principle at stake too? From this debate, it would appear that the House wholeheartedly supports that principle.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. A range of principles is at issue and we need to ensure that people who are affected by this tragedy are properly looked after as best the Government can achieve. We live in times of austerity, and there is a limit on what the Government can do, but it is incumbent on them to do all that they reasonably and practically can to help sufferers.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson).
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) paid tribute to the campaigners by wearing a black tie. I am in rather a bright outfit for this occasion because of my own tribute to the breast cancer care campaign.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on initiating this debate and I support his motion. In the words of Lord Winston, this is the “worst treatment disaster” in the history of the UK. Not only is it a human tragedy, but it is grossly unjust. My constituent Valerie Moule is widowed because, through no fault of her own or of her husband, the blood that he was given as a haemophiliac was contaminated by HIV. Ivan Moule was one of the first people to die from contaminated blood, in 1989. This is an unimaginable injustice. Ivan Moule innocently received blood as a treatment without knowing that it was killing him.
Injustice in any part of life has to be corrected and someone has to take responsibility when things go wrong—
I agree with my right hon. Friend, and when I was contacted by Mrs Moule she very calmly and quietly encouraged me to take part in this debate.
When things go wrong, someone has to take responsibility, and that is the cornerstone of a civilised society. Despite their bereavement and illnesses, the determined campaigners, who are sitting in the Public Gallery wearing their armbands, established an independent inquiry paid for by private means. Not only do they have truth on their side, but—since April 2010—they have had the law on their side. In the Republic of Ireland, a full financial scheme is in place, with a compensation scheme based on civil law principles, but that is not mirrored in this country.
Haemophiliacs began dying of AIDS in the early 1980s. Some 2,000 people have already died having been infected by HIV. In my view, the Archer inquiry made significant recommendations that should all be implemented. It was cost-effective at the time to buy blood from other countries that was unscreened and, if we are not careful, that could happen again if commercial, cost-cutting considerations are brought into an area where they do not belong. As the Archer report says, commercial priorities should never override the interests of public health. This is a matter of public importance and public interest.
Proper financial relief should be paid to those who were infected. As a nation, we should apologise to those families who have suffered. We also need a commitment that blood will be screened and that blood from imported or unknown sources will not be used. We owe that to those who have died, like Ivan Moule, and to the living who cared for them, like Valerie Moule. I urge hon. Members to do the right thing and support the motion.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz).
I feel moved to speak today because this is an issue that shows how we as a society can show compassion for our fellow citizens and take responsibility for past mistakes. I have been well aware of the general topic of people suffering from contaminated blood transfusions for some time, but I did not become aware of either the full scale or the injustices of the problem until I met Ros Cooper, a constituent of mine, to whom I am incredibly grateful. She speaks with passion about this subject, and is an incredibly strong advocate for her fellow sufferers. She is relentless in her efforts to get her point across.
Ros’s story is not untypical. Diagnosed with a severe bleeding disorder at just six months, she has received blood products all her life. She receives them from as infrequently as three times a week to as often as twice a day. By the age of 14 she was able to inject herself with blood products. This is a woman who has had to grow up under the permanent threat of severe bleeding. Of course she has received treatment from the NHS, but as a direct result of that treatment she contracted hepatitis C—something she discovered only by hearsay, which seems to be a recurrent theme in this debate. Not only was she not given counselling to help her cope with that traumatic news, but she found out by hearsay that she might have been exposed to CJD.
Ros has received two rounds of treatment for her hepatitis C, but those, of course, are also traumatic. Six to 12 months of antiviral therapy can leave a patient unable to work: Ros was unable to earn a living for up to two years after both rounds of treatment. In the future she faces a liver transplant, cirrhosis or, worse still, cancer of the liver, as all sufferers of hepatitis C do. She is a vibrant young woman and would otherwise have faced a life that was admittedly severely inconvenienced—but still only inconvenienced—by her bleeding disorder. However, because she received contaminated blood products, arguably at a time when those providing them knew there was a risk of infection, she is severely disadvantaged.
Modern medicine has resulted in new types of manufactured blood products, reducing the risk to most patients. However, for Ros this salvation is not available. She suffers from a very rare disorder—type 3 von Willebrands—which means that she must receive real blood products that still come from America and overseas. So from between three times a week to up to twice a day, Ros injects herself with blood products that may carry an as yet undiscovered infection. Every time she feels exhausted or unwell, she will ask herself if she has infected herself with another illness. What is truly remarkable about Ros’s story is that she is clear of HIV, which is very welcome news.
The fact that we are having this debate is a significant leap forward, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) on his efforts to move this incredibly important issue forward, and the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on taking up the banner. That it has taken so long for us to debate the matter, however, is a cause for concern, especially given the 4,670 people infected by hepatitis C and the 1,200 or so infected by HIV—infections that have resulted in nearly 1,800 deaths.
At the core of this debate are the findings and recommendations of the Archer review. To my mind, the eight recommendations are broadly reasonable, and I am amazed that some, such as free prescriptions, were not introduced a long time ago. However, I am grateful to the Minister for making a statement saying that that will be reviewed. Of course, there is always a sticking point—in this case, the level of compensation, which has now been even more confused by the amount of money that we are now discussing.
Some payments have already been made. In 2004 payments of £20,000, rising to £25,000 for more advanced stages of illnesses through hepatitis C, were made through the Skipton Fund. Other payments of a similar initial sum, rising to £60,000 on a needs assessment basis, plus ongoing payments, have been made through the MacFarlane Trust. However, those two systems illustrate that some form of uniformity needs to be established. If an individual’s life is blighted, irrespective of what is causing the blight, it is important to have uniformity of payout. I am very supportive of the Hepatitis C Trust’s recommendations that the Skipton Fund’s payout should be increased to the levels paid by the MacFarlane Trust.
I support the motion in full, but—I say this with a heavy heart—with one exception. When we talk about implementing the Archer report despite the intense financial pressure on the public purse, I am mindful that in just six days’ time my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver a statement that could make life-changing cuts to public expenditure. I cast an eye towards my many, many constituents, all of whom are extremely anxious about the comprehensive spending review, and I must act in the interests of all of them. It is vital that the victims of this tragedy should be allowed to live their lives as best they can—
My hon. Friend has mentioned the comprehensive spending review, but we should not forget that the health budget is ring-fenced and will be increased. We have also heard mention of the insurance industry and the companies that supplied blood products. I hope that he will join me in urging all Members to come forward with ideas to ensure the maximum compensation pot, whether that comes from public funds or, for example, from the £1 billion that exists in the insurance industry in orphan accounts. All Members should be contributing to that debate.
I welcome that intervention. It is incumbent on us all to work with Health Ministers to ensure that we find as much money as we can to help the victims. However, we have to be careful to ensure that compensation is not paid at the potential expense of many other special interest groups that need and deserve compensation and funding.
I am pleased that the Minister has said that the issue will be resolved, in one way or another, by the end of this year. I look forward to working with Members who have been affected by the contaminated blood scandal to ensure that the Minister comes up with a satisfactory response.
Unlike some other hon. Members, I do not have permission to name any constituent who suffers from this predicament. However, I do hear from people who are affected, as well as from those in other constituencies in Northern Ireland, about exactly the same problems, tensions and sad experiences that other hon. Members have so articulately reflected on.
Many hon. Members in this debate have emphasised the importance of ensuring parity between sufferers from hepatitis C and sufferers from HIV, and the principle seems to be shared universally across the House. My problem, in a border constituency in Northern Ireland, is that I want to see parity between my constituents in Foyle and those in the next-door constituency of Donegal North East, who benefit from the Irish Government’s compensation scheme. That scheme had its roots in the recognition in 1995, by the then Irish Government—the rainbow coalition of John Bruton and Dick Spring—that led to a tribunal being set up in 1996, which was making significant payments long before the subsequent findings of liability by the Lindsay or Finlay tribunals, or by the hepatitis C tribunal in 2002.
Not only have we had the scandal of the health mistreatment disaster, which created this plight for so many people; there has also been the scandal of the failure of the political process to deal with it. There is no point in our talking about this or that Government; the fact is that, collectively, the political process has failed to discharge its responsibilities properly, as compared with what a nearby political process has been able to deliver. The word “scandal” is much overworked in this society, in the media and in politics, but what we are talking about is a true scandal, and we have to call a halt to it now.
In the past, we had Governments giving false excuses and making false comparisons with the Irish scheme, with false references to the issue of liability and so on. Now that has been nailed. However, after the false contrasts of the past, we cannot now have false comparisons to describe the relative or comparative costs of the schemes. Clearly we need proper differentiation between the wider package that was available in the south of Ireland, to take account of the fact that not everybody had health cover, prescription cover, medical card cover or whatever. I accept that that has to be done properly if we are to achieve true parity. However, we cannot turn round and offer the victims stone for bread, and say that now that we have finally recognised the problem and are addressing it, our excuse for not giving them what justice demands is the financial exigencies of the Exchequer.
If justice says that people are due compensation, and if we all say that this is our democratic will, then that is what should happen. If that puts a strain on the Exchequer and the rest of us, it is a strain that we have to bear, because we owe it to those who have suffered as they should not have suffered, and who have endured and struggled for so long, with so many people dying in the effort.
Order. We have nine speakers to fit in, and I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at 3.40 pm, which gives us 30 minutes. I ask for as much discipline as possible, as I want to ensure that everyone who wants to speak can be called.
I should like to add my congratulations to the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate, and to thank the hon. Members for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for their contributions. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who has just left the Chamber, for his thoughtful, insightful and revealing speech. I also want to thank all the victims of this scandal and their loved ones who are up in the Public Gallery. Many of you have been here since 10.30 this morning, as I have. Thank you for your patience, and I hope that in about an hour’s time, you will feel that your time here has been worth while.
Debates such as these are what I was elected for. I am passionate about this issue, and I am determined that we should stop dragging our heels and begin the process of closure in this shocking scandal. As most of us here know, the scandal was caused by the importing of factor VIII from the United States, where blood was extracted from prisoners for money by commercial companies, and not properly sterilised or treated before being used in British hospitals for the treatment of haemophiliacs.
Over the years Governments of the day had several chances to act, but they missed every time. Again and again the victims of this scandal have been betrayed. Already 1,800 of the 4,800 British haemophiliacs affected have died. Of the 1,243 people who contracted HIV, only 345 are still alive today. It is the human tragedies that are the feature of this shocking scandal.
I have had a general awareness of the scandal for only a few years. It was only when I met an amazing man from Lindley in the north of my constituency that it really hit me, and I have to admit that I have been emotionally drawn into the issue. Mr C—he wishes to remain anonymous—was dignified and polite. He told me that as a 12-year-old haemophiliac, he was injected with dirty blood products. He was injected with HIV and hepatitis C. He is still alive, thanks to his positive outlook and with the help of a cocktail of drugs. He has no anger or bitterness, just a desire to get some fairness, mainly for his family. It is also worth remembering that many of the victims were already suffering from other illnesses, or had suffered an accident, before they were infected by the contaminated blood products.
For too many decades this issue has been swept under the carpet. I came into Parliament to do the right thing, and to stand up for those who have been wronged. Many of those people are up in the Gallery now. I am not going to get bogged down by the intricacies of the Archer report, or by the financial commitments involved. I know, as many of us do, that there is little money left, which just adds to my indignation that this matter was not cleared up in better times. I shall, however, praise my Government for their action over the previous 13 days, in which they have done a lot more than was done in the previous 13 years. I am immensely proud of what has happened in the past 24 hours, including the movement by the Minister. I also welcome a number of the recommendations in the ministerial statement, which I saw this morning.
I am now going to put down my notes. I said that I had been emotionally drawn into this issue, and I now want to address the many people up in the Gallery and look them in the eye. I came into this Chamber as a Member of Parliament to do the right thing. For too long, you and your families have suffered. You have been the victims of this scandal, and I hope that I, and other Members, can do the right thing. I shall therefore support the motion later.
I am conscious that there are many hon. Members still wishing to speak, so I shall be brief. As the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said, it is almost inevitable, given the number of people involved in this scandal, that there will be someone in every constituency who has been affected. The issue has especial significance in my constituency, because it is home to the outstanding Lord Mayor Treloar college, where many of the victims were students in the 1970s and 1980s. There were many haemophiliacs at the college because it had an excellent in-house haemophilia centre. My constituent Mr Adrian Goodyear was one of those who was infected by contaminated blood and blood products. He wrote to me to say:
“We’ve now lost so many of our friends from the Treloar days—in fact, we stopped counting at 40—many of whom were children, teenagers or young adults at the time.”
Those words will stay with me.
I would like to pay tribute to all the tireless campaigners from the affected community for their perseverance and tenacity over many years. I congratulate them, and everyone involved on securing this historic debate on the Floor of the House. Hon. Members across the political spectrum have also been instrumental in keeping up the fight. Among them was my predecessor as East Hampshire’s MP, Michael Mates, for whom this was a special cause.
Like most others, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and fury of the thousands of patients infected by contaminated blood. Whether we call it accident, negligence or anything else, these people came to receive treatment through our national health service—and were poisoned. For some it has been a death sentence; for others a long lingering life sentence.
There are some things in this morning’s written statement that are to be welcomed, including the Minister’s commitment to look afresh at insurance, prescription charges, and access to care services and nursing. Many hon. Members have spoken about compensation, which is, of course, fundamental. It has become clear through this debate—for the reasons expounded by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell)—that today’s motion, as currently worded, is not the best basis on which to move forward. We all look to the Minister to move forward towards a just settlement that will allow those people and their families, who have suffered so much, to reach some sort of closure.
For about the next 30 seconds I want to focus on a different aspect—apology. One of the worst aspects of this whole sad affair is that so many, including those children from Treloar, died without anybody saying, “We’re sorry.” That makes me very uncomfortable. It is not about assigning blame. There could be—indeed, there has been—long debate over the technicalities of liability or otherwise, who knew what and when, how quickly things could have changed and so forth. Regardless of those specifics, surely the victims of this disaster are owed the dignity of a proper apology. I have read the expressions of sympathy, but I do not think they quite go far enough. The events predate most current Members of the House, and I am not suggesting that a Minister should come to the Dispatch Box to take, or indeed assign, blame. I do think, however, that it is not too much to ask to give the victims the dignity of hearing a Minister of the Crown come to the Floor of this House and say, “Yes, we are truly sorry.”
I echo others this afternoon in saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate—a debate should that have happened many years ago. I also reiterate the tributes to the victims and their families, some of whom are watching our debate. The tragedy of contaminated blood is undoubtedly one of the biggest medical disasters in the history of the NHS. It is important to establish how this medical catastrophe was allowed to happen, and to protect those whose lives were devastated as a result.
I recently met a delegation of people who had suffered through the Equitable Life disaster. Although I have every sympathy with their plight, today’s debate puts that matter into perspective because we are talking not about the loss of life savings, but about the loss of life itself, loss of livelihood and of the chance to grow old, and losing the chance to become a parent and see one’s children grow up.
It seems wholly appropriate that people whose lives have been devastated by this disaster should be fairly compensated. After today’s discussions about how much it will cost, I very much look forward to hearing the Minister speak later about whether this is affordable. I do not believe, however, that the relatives are purely after money. As George Santayana said:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
That explains why this debate is so important, as it ensures that the tragedy will not be forgotten and, with the help of Lord Archer’s recommendations, that it will not be repeated.
One of those affected was from my Gosport constituency—a haemophiliac who had just a 10-day window of NHS treatment for his condition, but those 10 days proved to be his death sentence, as he was infected with both HIV and hepatitis C. This man suffered in every way as a result of his infection. He lost the chance to father children and to further his career; he suffered pain, humiliation, poverty, prejudice and, ultimately, death. His family lived a lie to avoid the stigma of HIV, and were therefore cut off from the possibility of much-needed support from friends and neighbours. His stepdaughter talks of a “lost childhood”. Such was, and in many cases still is, the fear and prejudice in relation to HIV that sufferers whom I have met who were open about their illnesses had their homes daubed with red paint and their children hounded from their schools.
That man’s family suffered financial hardship. As he was unable to obtain life assurance, his widow was left not only a single mother but with a mortgage to pay. He died on Christmas Eve 1998 at the age of just 40. He died of a life-threatening condition and three terminal diseases. He died struggling not just against his illness but against huge financial worries and fear for the future of his family, and under the oppressive burden of injustice.
Now, 12 years later, his widow is still fighting against that injustice. She talks of her fight against the sense that somehow the life of this man, her husband, did not count, because no Government seemed to care. Her simple desire is not to wake up every morning of her life and think of that. She talks of the frustrating myths that prevail. One is that victims were compensated. The truth is that the Skipton Fund drew a line in the sand—an arbitrary date in 2003 after which relatives of people who died were given small ex gratia payments. My constituent died in 1998. His widow was told that her husband had died five years too early; to her mind he had died 45 years too early.
Today in the House we have a fantastic opportunity. The contaminated blood tragedy has finally been granted a platform, and we as elected Members have a responsibility in the coming months to ensure that we fight for a just outcome for the tainted blood community. That tiny community of sick, bereaved and dying people, many of whom are living in poverty, will go on fighting no matter what the outcome today. We as parliamentarians should feel humbled by their bravery and take up the fight on their behalf.
Martin Luther King once said:
“when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’— then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
That is how this little community goes on: waiting and dying, dying and waiting.
Whatever happens as a result of the vote today, we must ultimately put an end to this. No amount of money can bring back those who have suffered and died—their dead will remain dead, their losses will remain lost—but we can help them to shed the burden of injustice and regain financial security. My hope is that my constituent will one day again be able to wake up in the morning knowing that each day is a day to be loved, a day to be lived, and not a day to be fought.
One of the first principles of any health care is “first do no harm”. I think it was Florence Nightingale who said that. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have shown today how much we care about what has happened. I echo the words of the many who have said that we owe a huge apology, as parliamentarians, on behalf of the Department of Health, which, inadvertently or otherwise, has caused so much tragedy to so many people who have suffered.
I also pay tribute to my constituent Stuart, who I am very glad to see is well enough to be here. He first came to my surgery a couple of months ago with the heartbreaking story of his own situation as a haemophiliac infected with hepatitis C and HIV, and now suffering from advanced liver disease. He has become used to seeing friends and family dying; he has become used to the fact that he often cannot afford to go to their funerals; and he has become used to popping around to someone’s house for a drink only to find two weeks later that that person has died from, for instance, a brain tumour or liver cancer. It is hard to imagine.
I warmly welcome the ministerial statement. I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister specifically about my constituents, and I can assure Members on both sides of the House that she is as genuinely sad and sorry about the situation as any of us here. I urged her, on behalf of my constituents, to do three things. First, I urged her to do whatever she could to ensure that they achieve closure. This has gone on for so long. We may not be able to give these people everything that they want, but let us at least put them in a position that will enable them to say, “We have got enough: we can take off our campaigning boots and start to enjoy what time is left to us and to our families.” Secondly, I urged her to try to give time to all who want to speak to her during the review period between now and Christmas, so that they can tell her their stories, put their side of case and ask her to help them. Thirdly, I urged her to try to ensure that every possible step was taken to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. This was not a deliberate action on anyone’s part. It was, however, caused by a lack of joined-up thinking and a failure to take opportunities as they arose.
Like all Members, my heart truly goes out to those affected, but I feel confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will take every opportunity to put right the wrongs of past generations. It is a great shame that the last Government did not do that when our economic situation was better and that it is therefore left to us to try to sort this problem out at a time of great economic hardship. I assure the Minister that she has my support in her efforts to put this right.
I will be as brief as possible. I have heard the stories of my own constituents and I have also listened to many other similarly tragic stories, and that shows the magnitude of this problem throughout the country. I welcome the fact that Opposition Members recognise that this has been an issue for successive Governments, and that they regret that it was not tackled in the previous 13 years and we are therefore now left in the position of needing to try to solve this enormous problem.
I also want to thank the Front-Bench team for having taken this matter so seriously. It has looked into it and, for the first time, has committed to taking action. We now have a timetable in place, and we will know the direction we are going in by Christmas. That is an enormous step forward. I am grateful that we now at least have a plan and a direction, and I hope we can achieve the right outcome.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) for being brief and thereby letting me contribute to the debate, and I shall be brief as well. Like many others, I welcome the movement from the Minister over the past couple of days.
I want to make three points. I would like the Minister to comment on them in her concluding remarks, and I would certainly welcome their being addressed in her review. The first is the difference between how this problem has been dealt with in this country and other countries. A lot has been said about Ireland, but Ireland is not the only country in question: there is also Japan, Canada and Italy. It has been said that past Governments have failed to address the problem and that is true, but it is only Governments of our country who have failed. I would like to know where our response to the problem will rank in comparison with that of other countries, and I hope we will finish at least halfway up the international league table.
Secondly, I want to draw attention to the distinction we have persistently drawn between hepatitis C sufferers and HIV sufferers. When I first looked into this issue, I simply did not understand that, time and again, whenever a compensation payment was made we drew that distinction. People with hepatitis C are unable to work in the same way as those with HIV, and people with hepatitis C are also dying prematurely in the same way. We really have to stop drawing that distinction. It has even been drawn latterly in respect of the Archer report. The annual payment now being made to HIV sufferers is, I think, £12,800, whereas hepatitis C sufferers, who have about the same amount of discomfort, have merely got a review in five years’ time. That is not right.
My third point is about money, about which a number of interesting comments have been made, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee). The cost of matching the sums we have given to the HIV folk in payments to the hepatitis C folk is 3,500 people multiplied by £12,800 a year. That comes to £40 million a year. That is the cost of implementing Archer in the same way for the hepatitis C people as for the HIV people. I would be extremely interested to hear what my Front-Bench colleague has to say about that, and I would like it to be addressed in the review. How can we reconcile that sum of £40 million a year that will not be for ever—unfortunately the number of these people is declining—with the sum of £3 billion?
Finally, let me say that this is not just about money. Had it been just about money, we would have fixed the problem 10 years ago when more money was going into the national health service than it was able to spend. This is about principle, and we have the chance to sort it out.
I also regret that the motion refers to a comparison with Ireland. That country does give eight to 10 times more money than we have been able to find, but other countries come in between ours and Ireland on that list. We should not be constrained to signing up to a one-country approach, but we have to get this fixed.
Thank you for allowing me to speak in this historic debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Like so many of my colleagues, this issue has been brought to my attention by the impact it has had on the life of a constituent—in my case, the constituent is Colette Wintle.
Colette was born in 1959 and was diagnosed with haemophilia in 1962. When she went to have her tonsils out in 1976, she was given American blood products which first caused her infection with hepatitis. In 1982, at a hospital in Kent, she was given factor VIII concentrate, which infected her with hepatitis C. In 1985, at a hospital in London, she was once again given treatment with blood products, which made her very ill with hepatitis C, although mercifully she did not contract HIV. Subsequently, she has been so weak with illness that she had to stop work at the age of 38. She has contracted cirrhosis of the liver and lives in fear of developing liver cancer in her damaged liver.
As we all know, it is not possible for doctors to undo the damage to Colette’s health and it is not possible for her ever to be adequately compensated for the harm that was done to her by the infected blood products. The question is what we should do now, as a society, to compensate people such as Colette and her family. We have heard about the Skipton Fund, and I think that everyone in this debate acknowledges that the payments of a maximum of £45,000 are not adequate to compensate someone for that treatment.
We have also talked a lot about different numbers, and I wish to help the House. As 4,672 people have been infected over the years, a payment of £1 million to each of them would involve £4.672 billion. A payment of £100,000 to every sufferer would involve £467.2 million—I believe I have those figures right. That puts the £3 billion cost into context; it would work out to be £642,000 per individual. Colette has not been able to work since she was 38 and has had to pay for her NHS prescriptions. She looks ahead to the future, but her general practitioner is unable to assure her that she will have access to specialist nursing at home if her condition worsens.
I welcome what the Minister said in her statement and the fact that she will look urgently at a number of issues. However, will she clarify whether the compensation that will be recommended by the review will reflect the length of time that individuals have had to suffer and been unable to work because of the illness? Will the review also examine something that is being debated a lot with the Department for Work and Pensions: what happens when an individual is being assessed for their ability to work? Can we agree in this House today that it would be good if we exempted all these individuals—the 2,700 surviving patients—from any further assessment of their capacity to work?
No money could ever compensate these victims for what has happened. Their health can never be repaired, but let us ensure that as a result of this debate and of this inquiry we ensure, once and for all, that the patients do not experience further financial disadvantage from this terrible situation.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for tabling this motion. It is vital to realise that when the noble Lord Owen first took action on this issue as a Minister the year was 1975—the year of my birth, which shows just how long this issue has been current and how long it has not been dealt with by Governments of all political persuasions.
I understand that when medical treatment does not go according to plan—when something goes wrong and disability or a chronic condition results from it—a wound is opened that is very difficult to heal. It cannot be healed by money alone, although compensation is important. Intense frustrations are released. We have heard talk of a lost childhood, for example, or of what might have been or never would be, and of early deaths. Such events affect lives totally in a way that many of us cannot really understand.
That is why I welcome unambiguously the written ministerial statement, not just for what it contains but for the fact that it deals with issues such as travel insurance and access to insurance. I am not going to get hung up on what the meaning of the word “access” might or might not be in the view of the Minister. The fact that we are covering those things is what matters. Many haemophiliacs want to lead as ordinary a life as possible. We need to understand the gap between the lives that ordinary people lead and the effect of haemophilia and other conditions on people’s ability to lead an ordinary life. That, to me, is crucial.
I made an effort to read the Minister’s statement before I came into the Chamber—many hon. Members might have found that a useful exercise. However, having read it carefully, I noted one omission—or, perhaps, one thing that I could not find. It was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), but I want to stress it a bit more: it is the Skipton Fund and the arbitrary cut-off date of 28 August 2003 for payments. I was not clear from the statement whether that would be readdressed in the Minister’s review.
I came into politics largely out of frustration at the poor quality of public policy making in this country under all parties—I just happened to pick the Conservative party as the vehicle from which to express my frustration. There is a useful quotation in the briefing documentation with which we were provided, which I want to read as quickly as I can, about the Skipton Fund. It is from the Department of Health and says:
“The announcement of a scheme on 29 August 2003 occurred after the Secretary of State had revisited this issue…The difficult decision not to extend the scheme to people who had died before this date meant that it became an unavoidable cut-off point. We realise that the circumstances are not ideal, but have attempted to provide a pragmatic solution.”
I have seen a fair amount of civil-service speak in my time, but that is as near as I have come to finding one that admits, “This is an awful decision. We know that it is an awful decision, but tough. You will have to live with it.”
I urge the Minister to try to include a review of this arbitrary cut-off date in the work that she is doing in the run-up to Christmas. I unambiguously welcome the progress that we are making, as everybody from all parties should. In particular, I ask for clarity on the figure of £3 billion. If there is a loose zero floating around this debate, it will make it very hard for hon. Members fully to understand the motion and the issues before us, so I ask for clarity.
Finally, the number of people who have wanted to speak has underlined the importance that Members attach to the subject. We will pay very close attention come Christmas to the outcome of the review. I am sure that all of us in the Chamber and in the Public Gallery will hope that we will finally get the closure that so many people want. It will be difficult to achieve, but we need it.
Thank you for allowing me to speak for a couple of minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker. The actions at the root of this debate take us back many years. For many of us—including me—they take us back to a period that stirs great emotions. It was a period when an illness was ignored, when people’s deaths and suffering were marked by stigma, when Governments were in disarray and, too often, in denial and when life-changing mistakes were being made.
Everyone in this House commends the campaigners on this issue for their vigilance and persistence over the years. The debate relates to a judgment between principle and practicality in the operation of our Government, but also to individual lives, such as that of a family that lives in Kempston in my constituency. The issue of principle appears to be accepted and clear to all sides: a group of our own citizens, who had already suffered greatly, have been denied justice for many—too many—years. It is the responsibility of all hon. Members to challenge the Government to bring that period of injustice to a close. If December it is, Minister, then December it must be.
The main practical argument concerns cost, which is wrapped in the real pressures of affordability given the current pressures on the public purse. The written ministerial statement contains welcome indications for those affected by hepatitis, but I urge the Minister to consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) in clearing up other anomalies.
My constituent, Lisa, wrote to me urging me to attend this debate. She stated:
“We must trust in the democratic process to enable us to bring about change”.
It is my honour to represent her today. She wrote movingly about how she lost her husband when he was just 32—her son was just two years old at the time; about the pain as his body struggled in his failing battle with HIV and hepatitis; about the consequential financial pressures of losing her home; and about the sadness of a family life denied but which lives on in her heart and that of her son.
Lord Winston described the issue of contaminated blood as “a disaster”, which is surely the right description. Yesterday, we witnessed on our television screens another country come together to overcome the consequences of another disaster and painstakingly rescue 33 heroes who had suffered entrapment below ground and return them to their loved ones. Too many of the heroes who have fought for justice cannot be here today and cannot be returned to their loved ones. However, many of them are here, and many of the loved ones of those affected by this disaster are present, too.
It is time for the Government to show their mettle and demonstrate their principles, if not their culpability. I wait with anticipation to hear the Minister’s reply and place my trust and that of my constituents in her resolve.
We can see from the attendance of this debate how seriously the entire House takes this historic injustice. There is no more significant subject for me to discuss in my first speech at the Dispatch Box.
We are all aware that the eyes of the haemophilia community are on us this afternoon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, this historic injustice represents a failure of the entire political class. This matter has been a long-standing concern of mine. It concerns a small community, which, as we have heard, consists of fewer than 5,000 people, of the sick, the bereaved and the dying. I have long thought that the role of a Back Bencher is to be a voice for the voiceless.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on moving the motion with such passion and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), whose brainchild it is. I note the fact, which is not sufficiently recognised, that without the important reforms that took place at the end of the previous Parliament, which enabled Back Benchers to set the agenda for this House, we would not be having this debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her leadership of the Backbench Business Committee. I agree, not for the first time, with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) in saying that these Back-Bench debates should not be treated as second-class Opposition days. Above all, I congratulate the campaigners on this issue, who over 25 years have made it possible for this historic debate to take place.
We have heard some excellent contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. One cannot touch on this subject without referring to the years of work by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott). Many hon. Members have spoken movingly about their constituents, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and the hon. Members for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and for Dartford (Gareth Johnson).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made the important point that the victims include not only the individuals struck down by those illnesses and tainted blood, but whole families. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said that our Government—the outgoing Government—should have dealt with the matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) called it one of the major injustices of our time. My right hon. and well-respected Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) said that there should be humility on both sides of the House.
I welcome the review announced by the Minister and the terms of reference. For the avoidance of doubt, I have read the terms of reference, and I shall leave it to her to speak about them in detail. The Opposition particularly welcome the focus on the problems of sufferers of hepatitis C, as well as the raising of issues of insurance and access to nursing care and care in the community. I urge her to conclude the report before the end of the year if possible and, as she will understand, I would be interested to see the costings behind the questioned £3 billion figure that the Government put in their amendment.
Finally, I should like to commit myself to working with Members across the House to get the best possible outcome for the people—some of whom many of us have met today—who have suffered so cruelly, so unfairly and for so long.
Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her new post. We have something in common, inasmuch as I worked in Hackney for most of my life before I entered politics.
This has been a moving debate and I, too, welcome this opportunity to discuss these issues and to air people’s situations openly in the House. The story of those who have been affected by contaminated blood and its products is a dreadful human tragedy. I wonder whether, but can only hope that, an expression of sympathy from me can go some way towards making a difference to those affected. I am deeply sorry about the events that led to the infection of people who were treated with blood products with HIV and hepatitis C.
We always welcome new knowledge, but with that knowledge often comes deep regret about events that happened in the past. If we only knew then what we know now. We should always make sure, individually and as Governments, that we have the humility to learn from our past. I thank hon. Members for raising so many issues—about the terrible loss of life, of course, and about stigma and the additional cost of things such as dentistry. Yes, I would happily meet a delegation of hon. Members and my door will be open during this period of review.
I shall do all I can, in the time and on the terms available, to make sure that people’s views on access to psychological support are heard. I shall not be able to deal with all the points that have been raised today, but officials will come back to hon. Members, who, if they have further questions, can always contact me.
Will the Minister address an issue that has not been raised—the medical assessments that people on benefits now have to go through under the new welfare reform programme? Will she consider making representations to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about passporting this group of claimants so that they do not have to go through medical assessments again?
The hon. Lady makes an important point that has crossed my mind already. I shall talk to colleagues and officials in the DWP to make sure that that issue is addressed.
It is important to put on record some relevant events. In the early 1960s, the life expectancy of someone with haemophilia was less than 40 years. In the early 1970s, the development of a revolutionary new treatment—clotting factor concentrates produced from large pools of human plasma—led to what was then considered an exciting new era of treatment. It offered the potential to extend significantly the length and quality of the lives of patients with haemophilia. The risk of viral transmission through blood and blood products was recognised at that time, particularly the risk of post-transfusion hepatitis. Generally though, the consensus within the scientific community was that the risk of using multiple donors was low and worth taking. Significantly, at that time, the Haemophilia Society said, in a bulletin published in September 1983, that
“the advantages of treatment far outweigh any possible risk”.
Sadly, we know how wrong that was. Tragically, the society was wrong and a devastating blow was dealt. The initial hope was ultimately replaced by the dreadful realisation that, although lives were extended, almost 5,000 patients with haemophilia in the UK and thousands more throughout the world had been infected with hepatitis C, HIV or indeed both.
Many of those people have since lost their lives to those conditions, and more continue to do so by the week, and we should pay tribute to the many campaigners who have died. I fully understand the sense of grievance and anger that people feel. I am not in that position, and it is impossible to know fully what it feels like, but I do understand some of it. I also know that for some time, whatever the Government do, sadly it will be far too little, far too late.
At the time, however, no other treatment was available. The UK blood supply and the only alternative, a product called cryoprecipitate, were both contaminated. The only real treatment, therefore, was no treatment at all, and that was the case not only in the UK, but in countries throughout the world. At the time, France, Germany, Japan and the United States all took a similar view, which was widely held by the scientific community throughout the world.
When those treatments were first introduced, we had a very different view also of the risks from hepatitis C. It was not until the mid-1980s that scientific and medical literature began to reflect increasing concern about the seriousness of disease associated with hepatitis C, and I, as somebody who was working as a nurse at the time, remember it well.
The Minister will be aware that in the Government’s response to the Archer report, certain documents are described as “misplaced”—they no longer exist or can be found. Do they have any bearing whatever on the analysis, and if they were discovered would they correct it in any way?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are talking about a long time ago; that is the trouble. I know that campaigners have been concerned about cover-ups, and that not all the documents have been released. I assure him that officials have told me that all documents have been released, but somewhere in the back of a cupboard, somebody at some point might discover more. It is a mistake to think that there is any conspiracy, however. I do believe, in all honesty, that previous Governments and the current Government have done, and continue to do, all that they can to ensure that all information is in the public domain.
As the consensus on the virus developed and technological advances occurred, the Government and the NHS moved quite quickly to address the risks. Heat treatment was introduced in 1985, and that effectively killed the hepatitis and HIV viruses. Validated tests for screening blood donations were also introduced. Since then, Governments have introduced a number of important safeguards to protect the blood supply, not least, as we heard today, from newer risks such as new variant CJD. We carefully assess, and shall continue to assess, all new evidence as it comes to light, and we now have EU directives that set standards of quality and safety.
I fully understand again the financial difficulties that many of those affected by contaminated blood products face. I have met some of them, and they have told me in some detail of their extraordinary experiences of living with the aftermath of infection. Not only were many of them infected, but they went on to infect their partners. They are, understandably, very concerned about their own and their family’s financial security, and they look to the Government to provide a degree of certainty in the years ahead.
Going—what may feel like—cap in hand to the state is demeaning, I know, but it is worth laying out the financial settlements that are currently available. Those infected with HIV receive a flat-rate payment of £12,800 per year, and they may also be eligible for additional discretionary payments. In the year ending April 2010, the average total payment to an individual infected with HIV was £17,400, although of course some received less and some received more. Those infected with hepatitis C are eligible to receive an initial one-off lump sum payment of £20,000 when they develop chronic infection. Despite contracting the virus, some people will make a full recovery, but many do not and go on to develop serious liver disease. For that group, there is a second one-off payment of £25,000. All those payments are tax-free and not used when calculating an individual’s eligibility for state benefits. Therefore, if they were unable to work for health reasons they would receive those benefits, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson).
The independent public inquiry on NHS-supplied contaminated blood and blood products, chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell, investigated the circumstances surrounding the supply of blood products. It made several recommendations, the majority of which are in place in one way or another. However, a small number of recommendations have not been implemented. These primarily relate to aspects of the ex gratia payments, free prescriptions in England, and access to insurance.
I have instigated a review of those recommendations to see what more can be done. I know that hon. Members would love me to finish that review before Christmas. I will do what I can in the time available; I know that time is of the essence. The review will be conducted by Department of Health officials, but with the support of relevant clinical experts and external groups. The terms of reference should be in the Library. At this stage, let me put on record that I will place in the Library how the costs of implementing the Irish scheme in the UK were arrived at. I know that that has caused some concern, but I will come back to it, because time is very short.
I do not have time to go into detail on what happened in Ireland, but it is important to place on the record that in an article in The Irish Times—I will ensure that this is also in the Library—Brian Cowen, then Minister for Health and Children in the Republic of Ireland, and currently Taoiseach, confirmed that the Irish Government knew in 1995 that the Blood Transfusion Service Board had been negligent and had attempted to conceal that fact.
Will the Minister deal with the two points that I raised in my remarks? First, do the terms of reference permit the inquiry body to consider the issue of hepatitis C in it widest sense—that is, to give it full parity, including in relation to the ex gratia payments of £12,800 a year for HIV? Secondly, given that she says that there are only a small number of recommendations to be addressed, why does not the new inquiry consider all those remaining issues, including the level of ex gratia payments?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will admit to a certain amount of ignorance. I do not know what I can do, but I will do everything I can within what I am allowed to do. It is important to say that I am very keen to get on with this. The danger with an inquiry that extends its remit is that it drags on and on, and this issue has dragged on for more than 25 years.
No fault has ever been found here in the UK—a fact that has been tested in the courts. In 1988, a group of haemophilia patients and their families sued the Government of the day. They settled their case outside court, midway through the proceedings, as their solicitors had advised that they had very limited chance of success.
Whatever happened all those years ago does not change the facts of today. In the United Kingdom, decisions over tax and spend are made here in this Parliament. The decisions of the Irish Parliament, like those of any other national Parliament, have no authority here in the UK. The debate on contaminated blood products has continued for many years, and I would like to close my remarks by again offering my sympathy and expressing my deep regret at the events, and by saying how sorry I am that this ever happened.
Does the Minister accept that the nervousness that follows her logic of not looking at other countries means that on a whole range of compensation issues the Government are now simply saying, “We are washing our hands of our responsibilities”?
I am not washing my hands of any responsibility—I am taking full responsibility. I am determined to see this review completed by Christmas within the terms that I have laid out.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) summed up the implications of voting for the motion more eloquently than I ever can. We cannot commit to aligning our compensation payments to those made in Ireland, and we cannot support the motion.
This debate has been useful in two ways. It has given hon. Members a chance finally to let the depths of this tragedy be heard. It is absolutely dreadful that no time has been found to debate this issue on the Floor of the House before. Secondly, it has enabled us to discuss how we can move forward. I want everyone, including hon. Members and campaigners, to be able to make their views known and know that they will be taken into account. I want the review to be dealt with openly and honestly, with clarity, without party politics, with humility and with empathy.
I cannot turn the clock back and change events, but I will do what I can in the time I am in office to bring some closure to those affected.
I think the whole House would agree that this has been an outstanding debate and has very much justified the new process for nominating Back-Bench business. I hope that in future we will have many such debates on important issues, debated in the same spirit as Members in all parts of the House have shown today in discussing a non-party political issue.
In essence, the heart of the motion, which I will press, is that an apology is due to the victims. I know that it is very difficult for Governments to give apologies, and the Minister came very close to giving one in saying that she much regretted what had happened. If it had been given in the same spirit as the Prime Minister’s statement on the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, it would have been different, but it needed something a little more.
The second important element at the heart of the motion is the question of compensation. Some Members have said that they cannot vote for the motion because of the reference to Ireland, which is a foreign jurisdiction, and concerns about where we might go from there. However, whatever we had put in the motion, we would have had the same approach from the Government. Members can try to salve their consciences in that way if they want, but the stark fact remains that the victims feel that they need an appropriate minimum level of compensation. They have asked us strongly to stick with the motion and put it to Members. We are going to put a marker down on how we think the Minister’s review should come out.
I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity, and she has a long and distinguished history in the medical profession, but it is hardly an auspicious beginning for the Government to table an amendment intended to void the Back-Bench motion of its substance, then get their Whips up complaining to Mr Speaker about it, especially when it contains a figure that is out by a factor of three. The costs involved would not be more than £3 billion, as we learned from the distinguished hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is a medical practitioner. He said that they would be more like £1 billion. I cannot imagine how the Government have allowed that figure, which is not just salient but material to the debate, to continue to be discussed without correction.
I have said that I will place in the Library details of how those figures were arrived at. They came about not through a typo in Lord Archer’s report but through careful consideration. The comparison with Ireland is difficult to make because the circumstances of those receiving compensation there are different, but that is not the salient point of the motion—it is whether we should align ourselves with a scheme set up by Ireland.
That is not the central point of the motion at all; it is utterly irrelevant to the debate. The debate is about justice for the victims of a terrible disaster, and whatever we had put in the motion we would have had the same attitude from the Government, which after all is the one that we have had from all previous Administrations. When I opened the debate I said that that we now had a golden opportunity for the Secretary of State to break with the past. He bears no responsibility for what went on, unlike some of us, including me when I was at the Treasury and the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) when he was at the Department of Health. The Secretary of State had a golden opportunity to put the past behind us and say, “A great injustice was done and a terrible misjudgment was made.” Several Members have made it clear that the suffering of the victims and their families goes on, and he should have said that the Government would now take steps to correct it. To say that it would cost £3 billion when it would actually be less than £1 billion is, as I said, hardly an auspicious start.
I want to be clear about the point I made earlier. I await some clarification on the figures, but I will not support the hon. Gentleman’s motion because it states that “a principal recommendation of the…Inquiry” is that compensation is based on the Irish compensation scheme. Am I right?
No motion of the House is ever wholly correct. I have never voted for a motion with which I totally agree—[Interruption.] I hate to say it, but we are reverting to party politics on an issue that has nothing to do with it. No motion is ever perfect. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are debating a principle. We should recognise that there should be much more compensation—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members think that this is a laughing matter, I will leave it to them and their consciences.
Did my hon. Friend note that the Minister said that as well as placing in the Library an explanation of how the figures were arrived at, she would place a copy of an article from The Irish Times, quoting Brian Cowen, who was then Minister of Health in the Republic? Brian Cowen became Minister of Health in 1997, but the compensation scheme in the south began in 1996 and issued significant payments then. There are misleading versions of what subsequent tribunals said and what was admitted by the Irish Government, but the Irish compensation scheme was not based on that admission of liability or that knowledge.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Perhaps the Minister would like to say whether that is correct. Perhaps she does not know. The debate is degenerating into the to and fro of Opposition against Government interchanges. Let me assure the Health Secretary and the Minister that no one who has taken part in the debate really wants that.
The simple fact of why we are proposing this motion and resisting the Government amendment is that we are pressing for a recognition that a gross injustice has taken place and that it must be put right. That will involve high levels of compensation. We beg the Government not to believe the figures that are automatically produced to exaggerate the situation.
Does my hon. Friend recall that when many of us were fighting for compensation for retired miners, we were given exactly the same arguments against—for 18 years? The question today is whether we are prepared to wait that long for a solution to this problem.
Again, my right hon. Friend makes the telling point that we have waited too long, but the problem will go on for longer. Why is the Minister defending further delay? Why is she defending £3 billion, and why is she giving out incorrect information? Let us not have a debate on that basis. We want Back Benchers in this Back-Bench debate to vote for the motion in my name because it does some justice to those who, for many years, have been condemned to a slow, lingering and very unpleasant death.