Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the need for an independent public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal.
May I first thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this emergency debate? This is the first such debate on the contaminated blood scandal, and it arises, as you know, after further evidence of criminal actions was produced by the right hon. Andy Burnham and after a joint letter calling for a Hillsborough-style inquiry from all six non-Government Westminster party leaders. After the announcement this lunchtime from Downing Street of a full inquiry into the scandal, emergency debates may become an even more popular route to get the Government to listen and act.
In the light of the announcement, I want to acknowledge all the people who have been involved in getting us to this point. I will start by thanking my constituent Glenn Wilkinson for his persistence and dogged determination when he came to see me in 2010 to tell me his story. I have kept him at the centre of whatever I have attempted to do on this issue. I also thank the many individuals and campaign groups who have fought for years to get to this point: the Manor House group, the Contaminated Blood Campaign, and Tainted Blood. I thank the Haemophilia Society, in particular Liz Carroll, its chief executive, and Jefferson Courtney, the policy and public affairs manager. Over 2,400 individuals have tragically lost their lives. They are not here to see this announcement, but their voices live on through their family members, who have never given up fighting for them. The campaign, which has run for many years, has at times had the great benefit of brilliant investigative journalists, including Caroline Wheeler of The Sunday Times, who was formerly a correspondent on the Hull Daily Mail, and the many researchers and journalists who worked on the BBC “Panorama” documentary on the disaster from just a few months ago. I know that the Daily Mail is not a favourite of yours, Mr Speaker, but it also ran a good story on its front page last week.
I thank the 111 parliamentarians who are members of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, particularly my co-chair the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), the previous chair Jason McCartney, who is no longer a Member, Margaret Ritchie and Mark Durkan, who are also no longer Members but were vocal in the campaign, and of course the right hon. Andy Burnham, who set out clearly in his valedictory speech why this was unfinished business and why we needed a public inquiry. Finally, I thank the late right hon. Paul Goggins, who was a huge inspiration in this cause.
My hon. Friend is completely right to thank all those people, but there is one person missing from that list: herself. The whole House should thank her for her tireless work over the past seven years on this absolutely brilliant campaign. This shows how Parliament should work: a constituent raised the issue with her; she campaigned on it non-stop; she was not fobbed off; she pursued it doggedly; and she has played a huge role in bringing us to this point. Last night, I had a load of emails from constituents who have been affected by this scandal, and I want to say how grateful they are to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments, but this is down to the combined effort of so many people over so many years.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been dogged in her determination and in not giving up. My constituent David Thomas came to see me in similar circumstances, as many constituents have done with Members on both sides of the House, but if he had not done so I would not even have been aware of the scandal, let alone of the need to deal with it so fully. Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the national and regional groups, such as Haemophilia Wales, who have done so much to stand up for those affected in particular locations? Their work has highlighted that this was a legacy issue from the UK Department of Health and that complications relating to the devolved status of health services across the UK need to be addressed in the inquiry.
My hon. Friend makes that point well.
I want to comment on how we handle disasters and on the best way forward for a Hillsborough-style inquiry established by the Government.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Lady on her brilliant leadership on this issue. While the announcement is incredibly welcome news, does she agree that there is an urgency here, because the people who continue to suffer need help now? There is a danger of the process going on for years and leaving them still waiting for support.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The timetabling of any inquiry needs to be set out clearly, and I hope that the Minister may be able to help us with that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point, and I congratulate her and Andy Burnham, because this issue has been going on for a very long time. Has she had any indication from No. 10 Downing Street about the form of the inquiry? Some of my constituents have similar problems to her constituents, so can she give us any clarification?
Just like every other Member, I have only seen what is out in the media, and I understand that there will be a consultation on the form of the inquiry. I am sure that the Minister will be able to help us in his contribution.
I join in the tributes to the hon. Lady and the all-party group, of which I have been a member, because this is an example of how Parliament can work well. There is a family in Letchworth who said to me:
“As a family, we have suffered years of misery because of this scandal.”
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is right to consult the victims and their families on the form of the inquiry?
Absolutely. The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point and I will come on to that.
I do not need to remind the House of the damage that public disasters do to all those who are affected, as we know from the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 and, more recently, the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower. Every public disaster of this kind is different: their causes differ; the victims suffer in different ways; and the measures necessary to support those affected, and their families, also differ. However, every victim has a fundamental right to one thing: answers. They deserve to be told what went wrong, why it went wrong, and who is responsible for what happened. The story of the injustice they have suffered needs to be set out and told to the wider public. Their voices need to be heard. Apologies, compensation and other forms of support are essential, but if their right to answers is not also satisfied, they will be denied true and meaningful justice.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, and I thank her for all her work. As she said at the beginning, many, many victims have died. Their families are still here and are still grieving, and they need answers as much as the victims.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This tragedy has taken the life of more than 2,400 people with haemophilia, infected mainly through blood factor concentrates. Many others, without bleeding disorders, infected through blood transfusions and other means have also lost their lives. Thousands more have been left devastated. The survivors have been left to live with a combination of HIV, hepatitis C and a range of other viruses.
My constituent Glen Wilkinson is one such individual. He has haemophilia and was infected with hepatitis C when he was just 19 during a routine tooth operation. Glen is one of thousands of people who have fallen victim to the worst treatment disaster in the history of our NHS, and one of the worst peacetime disasters ever to take place in this country. Indeed, each of the 15 or so non-terrorist related public disasters I have looked at—ranging from the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 to the Clapham Junction crash in 1988, the Marchioness disaster and, of course, Hillsborough—was a tragic event, and I do not wish to detract from the magnitude of those events, but the House should note that all those disasters led to a public inquiry.
Hon. Members and their affected constituents are entitled to ask why the same has not happened with contaminated blood. Had more than 2,400 people died over the course of one day or one year, it would be inconceivable for any Government to refuse calls for a public inquiry, yet the devastation caused by the contaminated blood scandal has been spread not over days or years but over several decades.
We must also bear in mind the profound effect this scandal has had on one community, those with bleeding disorders, many of whom were provided with contaminated blood factor concentrates sourced from profit-making American firms. Virtually everyone who had haemophilia at the time has been infected.
Hon. Members will appreciate that the impact can be devastating when friends and close-knit communities are hit by a collective tragedy. Consider, for example, the Treloar school for disabled children, a special school with a large number of pupils with haemophilia: 72 of its pupils have died because of this scandal. Many were forced to be silent to the suffering, either for fear of the stigma of having HIV, hepatitis C or other viruses, or because they were not even aware that they had those conditions. Important though that distinction is, it does not excuse the fact that successive Governments of all colours have sidestepped the issue for too long.
Internationally, an investigation saw the imprisonment of the former head of France’s blood transfusion service and his deputy, and a former French Health Minister was found guilty of manslaughter. In Japan, three company executives were imprisoned and an official was convicted on negligence charges. In the United States, the private companies involved in this tragedy paid out millions in out-of-court settlements across the world.
But nothing of that kind has happened in the UK. In 1991, in response to the threat of court cases, the Government set up an ex gratia payments scheme. There was no implication of liability, no use of the word “compensation” and waivers renouncing the individual’s right to the take further legal action had to be signed before they could obtain small sums of money.
A constituent, who does not wish to be named, wants us to include the remit of the Skipton Fund in this review. She, and many others, feel that the remit was wrongly drawn up, and that she and others have been denied the justice they should have had.
The hon. Lady makes an important point.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work on this issue. I welcome the fact that there will be a public inquiry, eventually and at last. Does she agree that that public inquiry should address why the UK was the last country in the western world to introduce a test for hepatitis C, why vital documents were destroyed by the Department of Health and why the UK took 13 years to be self-sufficient in blood products, when it took Ireland only five years?
Those are important questions for any inquiry to address.
On today’s announcement, the Westminster leaders’ joint letter of 7 July provided a blueprint for how such an inquiry should be conducted. First, as with Hillsborough, there should be a commitment to secure full public disclosure of details related to this tragedy, through a process managed by the affected community. There should be a mechanism to ensure all public bodies involved in the scandal are compelled to give oral and written evidence to the inquiry. There need to be assurances that the inquiry will cover the role of American firms in providing blood factor concentrates to people with haemophilia. There should also be an investigation not just of the run-up to the scandal but of its aftermath. Finally, the inquiry has to address the allegations of criminal conduct. As I said earlier, I hope the Minister will also be able to help us with a timetable for the inquiry, as those affected have waited so long to get to this point.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s chairpersonship of the all-party parliamentary group. My constituent Cathy Young is grateful to her and to other MPs, because those affected would have given up if not for Members of Parliament pursuing this issue. Cathy Young now has access to her husband’s health records, which she describes as a fairy tale. Does the hon. Lady agree that those affected by this scandal, if they have not already done so, should get, and have a look at, their family health records?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I certainly agree.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her outstanding leadership on this important issue. My constituent Alex Smith has been affected by contaminated blood. A great deal has been said about the Government response and the potential criminal cover-up, but there is also the immoral way in which the victims have been treated and the payments they receive. Many are living in absolute destitution and poverty as a result of Government penny-pinching, which should form part of the review.
My hon. Friend is correct. We need to look carefully at the support that has been provided for this group, and at what should be provided in the future.
I add my thanks, on behalf of my constituent Haydn Lewis and his family. Haydn and his brother have died, and other members of their family have been affected. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should learn from the lessons of the thalidomide inquiry and compensation fund to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that were made on thalidomide?
That is an excellent point, and it needs to be considered.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will give way one last time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I pay tribute to her on behalf of my constituent Jane Jones, whose family have had to deal with great privation for many years because of the scandal. In a written answer to the Welsh Assembly on 27 March there was confirmation that the payments continue to be made on an ex gratia basis, but with no liability being accepted. The answer was in Welsh, but it confirms that the payment of £10,000 to a partner or widow continues on an ex gratia basis.
That goes to the heart of it. There has never been any finding of liability, which has resulted in very low payments being made on a support basis, rather than on a compensatory basis.
I strongly believe, and I think the majority of the APPG believe, that a Hillsborough-style inquiry is the best way forward in this case, putting those affected at the heart of whatever is created and set up. They should be given the opportunity to have an input into the terms of reference. They should be able to look at people being considered as the chairperson or panel members of the inquiry, which has to have the support and confidence of all those affected. That is why the Hillsborough inquiry seemed to work effectively. In the case of Hillsborough, this was known as “Families First”, and I hope that approach might be able to continue in this inquiry as it is set up. All those affected need to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence, and to be fully consulted; any information that becomes available should first go to them.
In the remaining few minutes, I wish to talk about the four questions that I think the inquiry needs to look at. Andy Burnham set out in his speech why an inquiry was necessary, and of course he was one of two former Health Secretaries, the other being Lord Owen, who had raised serious concerns about the scandal. We know that the “Panorama” programme and the Daily Mail article followed. Given what Andy Burnham said and all the developments in the past few months, serious questions still need to be addressed by a public inquiry. First, why did the Government not act sooner to protect blood supplies once the risks became known? And why were we so reliant on American commercial products for haemophilia patients?
The UK was not self-sufficient in blood supplies, so profit-making American companies played a considerable role in supplying factor concentrates to haemophilia patients. That blood was sourced from much riskier patients, including prison inmates, who were much more likely to have infections and had a financial incentive to be less than honest about their risks of infection. The dangers of American products were discussed in public not from the 1990s, nor the 1980s, but from 1970. As the Daily Mail reported last week, files now suggest that at least as early as 1980 officials had even put an estimate on the number of haemophilia patients being infected from these products with what we now know to be hepatitis C. They put the figure at 50 a year, yet it was not until 1986 that they took any action to address that.
If the whole of the UK had been self-sufficient in blood supplies, fewer haemophilia patients would have been infected. We know that, because Scotland had higher levels of self-sufficiency than England. As the BBC “Panorama” programme outlined, that meant that haemophiliacs in England were twice as likely to be infected with HIV as those in Scotland. Even in the mid-1980s, when the dangers of hepatitis C and HIV became known, it appears we could have acted sooner to remove risky blood products. And when the United States started screening its commercial products from March 1983, we carried on using non-screened American supplies that we had purchased before then; how can that possibly be justified?
My second question for the inquiry is: why were patients kept in the dark and not told of the risks once they became known? There are many aspects to this controversy that I know other hon. Members may wish to touch on, but I want to draw the House’s attention to developments in 1983, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, when there was still uncertainty over whether AIDS was a blood-borne disease.
In November 1983, the then Health Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), told Parliament that there was
“no conclusive evidence that…AIDS is transmitted by blood products.”—[Official Report, 14 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 327-8W.]
Yet earlier that same year his Department was preparing internal documents that said the opposite: in August 1983, that same Department was telling practising homosexuals and drug users not to give blood because of the risk of transmitting AIDS; in the summer of 1983, the Department was preparing a blood donor leaflet that said AIDS was “almost certainly” transmitted by blood and blood products; in July 1983, the UK Haemophilia Centre Doctors’ Organisation said that young children with haemophilia should receive a less risky form of blood product due to the dangers of AIDS; and between March and May 1983, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service prepared a leaflet for blood donors, which included “haemophiliacs” and “recipients of blood transfusion” on a list of people who could get AIDS, and asked those same individuals not to give blood. Of course, the Scottish Penrose inquiry itself acknowledged that in adopting its position in November 1983, the then Government relied on
“a highly nuanced use of language.”
My third question is: why were some people tested for viruses without their knowledge and only told of the results many years later? There are many such cases of this happening, but I will make reference to just one: Jonathan Evans first tested positive for HIV in 1984 yet was not told of this until seven months later, in mid-1985. That posed a huge health risk to his wider family, and the history of this scandal is full of cases of spouses infecting each other. Tragically, the virus took his life. His son, Jason, was just four years old when his father died. He is still campaigning for justice for his father, and he has been instrumental in generating recent news coverage in the Daily Mail article and elsewhere.
Fourthly, there are allegations of a criminal cover-up, on an industrial scale, from the highest ranks of government downwards. At every stage of this scandal, there are concerns that officials knew more than they were letting on. Almost everyone affected by the scandal has encountered issues with lost medical records. Others have recovered their files, only to find that any mention of the connection with contaminated blood has been removed. Some individuals today are unable to access financial support via the Skipton Fund because of what has happened to their medical records. These cases of lost records also extend to the highest level of government. During the Archer inquiry, Lord Owen requested his departmental papers from the time when he was a Health Minister in the 1970s. He was told they had been destroyed
“under the 10-year rule”,
even though there is no evidence of the existence of such a rule.
Finally, when people were forced to sign waivers in 1991, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, they were asked to commit to bringing no further hepatitis C litigation as well as HIV litigation. These individuals did not yet know they had hepatitis C, as the disease has a long incubation period. It seems that the inescapable conclusion is that departmental officials knew more than they were willing to disclose.
In conclusion, earlier this week the Prime Minister expressed her intention to work more with other party leaders to act in the best interests of this country. She has shown a laudable commitment to that with respect to other public disasters, including the child abuse inquiry and the Hillsborough disaster. Alongside the many thousands of people who have campaigned for justice for so long, I want to personally thank her for showing that same commitment with respect to the contaminated blood tragedy.
There are still questions to be answered on the detail of an inquiry. In welcoming this announcement, we must also be mindful of those who will never see its results: the more than 2,400 people who have tragically lost their lives. Many never even knew of the true scale of the scandal that was impacting on them. Those infected, and their families, will be waiting anxiously to know that the Prime Minister’s announcement will truly give them the justice they have so long been denied. But today the Prime Minister has earned a place in history as someone who has listened to an issue that her predecessors had ignored, and put party politics aside in the name of giving people the answers that are their basic right. For that, she has my gratitude.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Just before I call the first speaker from the Back Benches, I should say that at this stage I have not imposed any formal time limit, but a substantial number of people wish to contribute. Therefore, I know that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) will exercise a magnificent self-denying ordinance in the length of his oration.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Do we really have to have it? I know what I am doing and am perfectly capable of handling the matter. If it is about the order of speeches—
It is the Minister—
No, no. I do not need to be advised by the right hon. Gentleman on the handling of the debate. Let me just say that in so far as this was not clear, it was as a result of a failure of communication between the two Front-Bench teams. These matters should be sorted out between the Government and the Opposition, not with people yapping at each other across the Floor of the House or very close to the Speaker’s Chair. The Speaker is happy to give effect to what the two sides of the House want, within reason, but that was not made easy on this occasion, and I am seeking to address the matter by consensus. I know that the right hon. Gentleman means well and his offer of assistance is greatly appreciated, but I do not need to take him up on it on this occasion.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker. May I join colleagues in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and the work she has done in leading the all-party group, as well to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who has been a joint chairman of that group?
I have been working with the victims in my constituency since 2011—for the past six years—and I consider myself a new boy when it comes to this particular tragedy and scandal. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has spent many hours working tirelessly on behalf of those of his constituents who are victims. I pay tribute to him; I know he wanted to take part in the debate but could not because of Government business.
I thank the Prime Minister for listening to the victims of this extraordinary tragedy and to colleagues in the House, and announcing the inquiry. I acknowledge the Minister’s saying to colleagues that the Government are in listening mode on the inquiry’s terms of reference and that they will put the victims at its heart. That is what the victims would expect, and they will be grateful for it.
Many victims—this is certainly true of my constituent Clare Walton—initially did not want an inquiry; they wanted a settlement instead. I pay tribute to Andy Burnham for his work on this issue, as well as to the journalists the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North cited. The new evidence that was uncovered led Clare Walton to change her view, and she is now very much supportive of and looking forward to engaging with the inquiry.
It is important that the inquiry looks into the subsequent treatment of victims and holds the relevant bodies to account. On Clare Walton’s behalf, I have been attempting to communicate with the Macfarlane Trust, which was one of the five charities set up to help the victims. I say “help,” but I have to tell the Minister that in my experience the Macfarlane Trust has done anything but help my constituent. It has behaved in an utterly despicable way. It refuses to meet my constituent or me—I have requested meetings for the past six years, but they always come back with a reason why they cannot meet.
The trustees of the Macfarlane Trust have bullied my constituent and “fed her with scraps”—those are her words—while at the same time having a charge over her property for all this time and making a profit on it. The trust refuses to discuss the future of the charge on her property. The scheme administrator will soon be changed to the NHS business advisory service, so she wants to know what will happen when that change takes place. I hope the Government will take some of these issues away and respond more fully at the appropriate time. The Macfarlane Trust says that it cannot give any more information until it has clarity from the Department of Health about transitional arrangements; Clare really wants that clarity. I hope the Minister will intimate, as his predecessor did, that the Macfarlane Trust is not much longer for this world. I have struggled even to speak to the trust on the phone.
Another of my constituents, Adrian Melson, is particularly concerned about the discretionary payments on which many victims rely. I hope that as the Minister begins to look at the evidence before him he will look closely at making sure that, if discretionary payments have become something much more permanent, they are recognised as such and not treated as discretionary. Under the previous Prime Minister, whom I commend for coming out and wanting to resolve this issue, we promised our constituents that no victim would suffer financially under any compensation structure we put in place.
I shall take Mr Speaker’s eloquent words on board and end there, other than to say that this is not a party political issue: successive Governments have failed the victims. I hope we can now come together and have this inquiry, but we must make sure that there is a clear timeline and a deadline.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on her leadership on this issue. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about coming together, it is important for this issue to be considered at a UK level, because it predates devolution. It is important that the Minister—I thought he was going to speak second in the debate—works with the devolved Administrations and that any future compensation is provided at a UK level so that there are no second-class citizens in the United Kingdom.
I think the victims who looked at the Scottish settlement have taken that point on board—that is certainly the case with Adrian Melson—and I am sure that the Government listened to the hon. Gentleman’s view. Let us come together and provide a clear timeline for when the victims can get not only justice but compensation.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. Just before more Opposition Members are minded to grumble about the fact that the Minister has not yet spoken, and that he is not necessarily next, I should point out that I was in receipt of representations from Opposition Front Benchers on this matter. Some communication between Members on the Opposition Front Bench and Back Benches would be greatly advantageous to the conduct of our proceedings. Before I call the shadow Minister for public health, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), may I gently implore her to speak for no more than 10 minutes, and preferably for fewer, because there are a lot of Members who wish to contribute? After the hon. Lady, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), will helpfully set out the Government’s position. We will then open up to a wider debate. I will not promise complete satisfaction, because that is without precedent in the House, but I will try to ensure that there are as many happy Members as possible.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.
First and foremost, thanks must go to my outstanding hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who has so valiantly campaigned on this issue for numerous years now. Without her and the dedicated resolve of her and all those she cited who have been involved in this campaign, we would not be where we are today. Thanks must also go to the former Member for Leigh, Andy Burnham, for the debate he led at the end of the previous Parliament, for which I had the honour of being present. He helped to add expediency to this issue with his commitment to go to the police with the evidence he has if the Government failed to come forward with an inquiry to seek justice for those who have been neglected
For too long, the contaminated blood community have been simply failed by their Government and ignored by those who have let the demands of those affected fall on deaf ears, leaving the community without justice. It is very welcome—as we have heard in the news in the past hour and a half or so—that an inquiry may finally be happening, and I look forward to hearing further details from the Minister when he responds. I am grateful that he and you, Mr Speaker, have allowed me to speak first so that he can answer the questions I pose. This is a rather unusual format, and I had no prior knowledge that it was going to be changed. I hope that other Members who speak and pose questions will get a response from the Minister; I do not know whether he will get two bites at the cherry or will have to intervene to answer other Members’ questions.
This emergency debate is timely and allows the House to have its voice heard fully, which is right after the decades of neglect the contaminated blood community has faced. At any point prior to 12.30 pm, when the announcement was made in the news, the Minister could have come forward and made a statement. That would have saved my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North from having to apply for an emergency debate yesterday. It feels like the order of things has been a little forced, and it is sad that it has had to be forced in this way. But we are where we are.
Labour Members are resolutely in favour of a Hillsborough-style public inquiry, as we made clear in our manifesto a couple of months ago—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I pushed for that to be included. The Labour party believes that that style of inquiry would get to the heart of the problems that unfolded in the 1980s and hold to account those who were to blame for this scandal, before it is too late. It is not just our party, but all the parties—especially those on the Opposition Benches—that have made a commitment to stand up for those people seeking justice. That was so clearly documented in the joint letter, which was published on Sunday, from the leaders of every single opposition party here in this House, including, I am pleased to say, of the Democratic Unionist party.
Last November, in a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, we discussed a whole host of issues that this community faces, including how people could be compensated for the terrible events that have occurred. Today, we are here to debate the fight for justice, which should have happened a lot sooner.
In my contribution, I want to impress on the Minister two key points: first, that the previous two inquiries have, categorically, not been sufficient in seeking justice, which is why a Hillsborough-style inquiry must be actioned; and, secondly, that the evidence presented so far is clear that if we are to have truth and reconciliation after the murky covering up of this scandal, then the strongest of daylight must be shone on every aspect, leaving no stone unturned.
The two previous inquiries—the Archer inquiry in 2009 and the Penrose inquiry in Scotland in 2015—did not go far enough in the eyes of the affected community in getting the truth and justice that they deserve. The Archer inquiry, which was not Government-backed, failed because there were no Department of Health witnesses giving evidence to the convened panel. The Penrose inquiry also did not go far enough in seeking the truth, as it was unable to compel witnesses from outside Scotland when, at the time of the scandal, most, if not all, of the decisions were made in Whitehall. That failure to compel witnesses to attend from outside Scotland meant that the inquiry failed to provide the justice and answers that people from right across the UK deserved.
There are many allegations around this scandal, ranging from Department of Health officials destroying evidence as part of the cover-up, to victims’ medical details being tampered with to hide the cause of their infections.
Two of my constituents have two particular matters that they want the inquiry to consider: first, one said that he was infected with hepatitis C and exposed to the HIV virus, but was not informed of that by the NHS until years afterwards and he wants to be assured that the inquiry will reveal why the truth was hidden; the second wants to know about doctors and scientists being paid by the drug companies and about the precise nature of those deals. He thinks that those deals have to be really properly and rigorously exposed by this inquiry, so that we can get to the bottom of whatever vested interests existed during this scandal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The evidence on those things has been well documented, especially by the former Member for Leigh and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North. Those who have lived with these conditions, who are brave enough to come forward—and who are at the sharp end of this heinous negligence and the recent uncovering reported in the Daily Mail last week—have proved just how important it is that a Hillsborough-style inquiry is set up.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the report, “Self Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales” is unauthorised, and could be perpetuating inaccuracies and outright lies, as my constituent says in a letter to me?
All of this evidence will have to be examined. In recent days, constituents affected by this scandal have been in contact with my office with intricate details that must be addressed. It is important that those questions, no matter how small they may be, are answered, as they reflect the issues that have inextricably affected that person’s whole life. It is most important that those issues are addressed, so that those who have lived with the ramifications of this serious negligence can finally have the justice that they deserve.
Getting to the bottom of the allegations and the evidence and having a full and frank inquiry that brings justice for the many people affected are the reasons why we must have this inquiry. As the joint letter by the Opposition leaders said, if a panel were to be convened, it must disclose any and all documents related to the scandal, which involves the victims at every stage; and it must compel all parties involved to participate in the disclosure process and not to hinder justice any further. It must also investigate the events leading up to an individual’s infection and the aftermath, including allegations of medical details being tampered with, whether people were unknowingly tested for viruses without their knowledge and whether enough was done to identify those at risk of infection. As part of this inquiry, there must also be an investigation into the role of profit-making American firms, which supplied the blood factor concentrates to people with haemophilia.
Although none of this will bring back loved ones and those who have died as a consequence of this scandal, or change the life circumstances of those who are alive today living with these conditions inflicted on them, there is still something that we can do, which is to hold an inquiry. It is the very least that we can do. The thousands of people affected by this scandal must be supported and we must stand beside them in seeking justice, as that is our duty as elected representatives of the public.
I want to conclude with this final remark: none of us here has a magic wand—I know that our constituents think that we do—and we cannot turn back time and stop this scandal happening. Sadly, that power does not exist, but the power that does exist, at the behest of the Minister before us today, is that of facilitating the justice for those who live with the aftermath of this scandal. Here, today, we can send a message—a loud and strong message to those who campaign on this issue day in, day out—that Parliament has listened and is on their side. We in this House have heard them; we in this House are there with them; and we in this House will do all that we can for them in their quest for justice. We cannot let them down. We can help facilitate the truth once and for all. Parliament is listening to the individuals who have spent decades fighting against the system to get the truth that they seek, and the Government must listen to Parliament. Parliament is saying: fix this, provide those thousands of people who never asked for this to happen to them with the justice that they so rightly deserve. We cannot fail them any longer.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for explaining to the House the sequence in which we are speaking today in this very important debate.
I wish to start by offering my personal apology to all those who have been affected by the tragedy of infected NHS-supplied blood or blood products. This has had a terrible impact on so many individuals and families. I know that, quite rightly, there have been many debates on the subject in this Chamber, which have been prompted by the quite proper concern of Members on both sides of this House over many years.
There have been two previous inquiries on this issue: the privately funded Archer report, which was published in 2009, and the Scottish Government-funded Penrose inquiry report, which was published in 2015. However, I am aware that, over the years, there have been several calls for a full independent inquiry.
In addition to those reports, the Department of Health has worked to bring greater transparency to the events. Many documents relating to blood safety, covering the period from 1970 to 1995, have been published and are available on The National Archives website. Those documents provide a comprehensive picture of events and decisions, many of which were included in the documents reviewed by the Penrose inquiry. However, I recognise that, for those affected, these steps do not go far enough to provide the answers that they want or to get to the truth of what happened.
In the light of those concerns and of reports of new evidence and of allegations of potential criminality, we think that it is important to understand the extent of what is claimed and the wider issues that arise. I am pleased to be able to confirm to the House that the Government intend to call an inquiry into the events that led to so many people being infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C through NHS-supplied blood or blood products.
I am very pleased with the news that the Minister has just confirmed. Will he ensure that the process that is followed—I very much support a Hillsborough-style inquiry—facilitates the ability to bring criminal charges so that the full force of the law can be applied to anyone who may be guilty of criminal wrongdoing?
I shall come on directly to the form that the independent inquiry should take, and I hope that that will help to address the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
We have heard calls for an inquiry based on the model that was used to investigate the Hillsborough tragedy—the so-called Hillsborough-style panel—which would allow for a sensitive investigation of the issues, allowing those affected and their families close personal engagement with an independent and trusted panel. There have also been suggestions that only a formal statutory inquiry led by a senior judge under the Inquiries Act 2005 will provide the answers that those affected want. Such an inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses and written evidence—an apparent shortcoming in previous reports. The Government can see that there are merits in both approaches, and to ensure that whatever is established is in the interests of those affected we will engage with the affected groups and interested parties, including the all-party parliamentary group, before taking a final decision on the type of inquiry.
Will the terms of the inquiry allow for recommendations to be made about the correct levels of compensation for those who have been affected?
I shall make a little progress, then endeavour to answer that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Ministers at the Department of Health will meet those affected and their families so that we can discuss the issues and understand their preferences directly about the style, scope and duration of the inquiry.
I am grateful for what the Minister is saying, but can he give a time estimate of when the meetings will take place? My experience of the Department of Health is that, on this issue, deadlines are not met and things have to be dragged on to the Floor of the House to get Ministers to respond. Is there a set timetable for when a decision will be made and those meetings held?
The hon. Lady, who has taken an active lead in encouraging inquiries, will want to make sure that we get it right. We will take the time that is necessary to consult colleagues and interested groups. Our intention is to be able to come back to the House as soon as practicable—I anticipate in the autumn.
The Minister has mentioned the Department of Health, and he will know that my constituents live under a devolved Administration in Wales but were infected in a hospital in Liverpool. What consultation is he undertaking with the Welsh Assembly, including on the schemes that it is running, and on the liability ultimately for any objective?
We recognise that there is a legitimate interest for all constituent nations in the United Kingdom. As many of these incidents took place before devolution, we intend to consult devolved Governments.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, quite rightly, the inquiry has to give answers to the victims of the scandal and their families? There will be great interest in the conclusions of the inquiry in the House and among the wider public to ensure that historical circumstances that led to the scandal are never repeated.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
Several hon. Members rose—
I shall make a little progress on devolved matters before responding to other colleagues. Regardless of the style of the inquiry, our intention is that it should cover the whole of the UK, so we will be in direct contact with counterparts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to discuss that with them and to seek their views before determining those aspects of the inquiry.
First, I apologise to the House, the Minister and to you, Mr Speaker, for not being present at the beginning of this very, very important debate. The Minister said that he is going to consult on the inquiry, which will be UK-wide. He will know that we do not have an Assembly, and there is no corresponding Health Minister in Northern Ireland, which is absolutely disgraceful. There is no prospect of our having such a Minister before the autumn, so with whom will the Minister liaise in Northern Ireland in the Assembly’s absence?
We will ask the Northern Ireland Office to facilitate discussions with officials and representatives in Northern Ireland.
On the point about devolution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson), is the Minister telling the House that this is a UK-wide inquiry and that the consultation will take place across the UK, so that there will be equality for people such as Mr and Mrs Hutchinson in my constituency in the outcome of the inquiry?
The scope of the inquiry will be determined as part of the discussions which, as I have said, will take place over coming weeks and short number of months. Our intention is that the devolved Administrations and their residents will have full access to participation in the inquiry, irrespective of where people live or were infected.
The Government intend to update the House once the discussions are complete, and I encourage colleagues with a specific interest to engage in discussions through the all-party group or other relevant groups. In the meantime, if anyone in the House or outside has any evidence of criminality, they should take that evidence to the police as soon as possible. If anyone has any other evidence that they want the inquiry to consider, I would request that they submit it to the inquiry once it has been established. The Government will write to everyone in receipt of payments from the current schemes to make sure that they all know about today’s announcement and to inform them of next steps.
I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. Will he confirm that when the scope of the inquiry is drawn up care will be taken not to do anything that might endanger future trials? Will he further emphasise that anyone with information should make sure that it is made available to the police?
My hon. Friend will recollect that the recent Hillsborough inquiry gave rise to certain information that was made available to the police and led to charges being made. We would envisage that the inquiry that is established would have the ability to do the same thing if appropriate.
Several hon. Members rose—
I must make progress, because Mr Speaker has encouraged me to take 10 minutes so that everyone can make a contribution, and I have already exceeded that.
I should like to take the opportunity to inform the House that implementing the reforms to the infected blood ex-gratia support scheme remains a priority for the Government. That is why, as David Cameron established a year or so ago, within this spending review period, until 2020-21, up to £125 million of additional funding has been added to the budget for the ex-gratia support scheme. That more than doubles the annual spend over the spending review period. The second consultation on scheme reform, which closed on 17 April this year, received over 250 responses. The consultation contained proposals for a special category mechanism that would allow people with stage 1 hepatitis C to apply for the higher annual payment, greatly increasing the number of individuals eligible for the higher payment. The responses are being looked at and the consultation response will be published in due course. All the annual payments will remain linked to the consumer prices index and will be disregarded for tax and benefit purposes.
I thank the Minister for what he said about input into the inquiry. As the new chair of the all-party group on HIV and AIDS, I am sure that our members will want to contribute. I want to press him on the financial liabilities arising from the inquiry and the impact of devolution. Will he guarantee that, no matter where anyone was infected or where they live now, they will be treated with equality across the United Kingdom when it comes to financial liabilities and payments arising from the inquiry?
I have just described the additional contribution to the financial scheme for England. It will be for the inquiry to decide whether it wants to make recommendations about financial arrangements. At present, I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman the confirmation that he is seeking. That will have to come through the inquiry.
My constituent Lesley Hughes was infected with hepatitis C in 1970, but this was discovered only about three years ago. Will any consideration be given to those long years of suffering when the compensation scheme is put into effect?
I offer my sympathy to my right hon. Friend’s constituent for the challenges she finds herself facing. We have to say at this point that it will be down to individuals to make their applications. We will respond to the consultation in due course. I strongly encourage my right hon. Friend to make representations on his constituent’s behalf to the inquiry when it is established.
I thank the Minister for being extremely generous in giving way. May I press him on the issue of health records? Many families are still trying to establish what has actually happened, while the Minister is discussing the scope of the inquiry. Should we write to the Minister if there are any issues with families obtaining health records?
I think it would be appropriate to write to the inquiry, once it is established. I completely concur with an earlier point about ensuring that any evidence of medical records being tampered with should be made available to the inquiry.
I am afraid that I must bring my remarks to a conclusion. I thank those on both sides of the House who have worked tirelessly on the issue over the years. I add my voice to those of others who have already spoken to commend the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). She has spoken very powerfully in the House on this subject not only today, but on many occasions and for many years. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North did, I thank past and present members of that group, notably the former chair, Jason McCartney, late of this parish. Finally, I thank ministerial colleagues who have handled this delicate issue in previous Administrations, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who has worked so hard not just for his constituents, but for all those affected by the tragedy.
I appeal to the Scottish National party spokesperson certainly not to exceed 10 minutes, and preferably less. The Minister took a little longer, but he did take several interventions and was setting out the Government’s position, but there is no requirement or need for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) to take quite as long.
As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said, 2,400 people have died following the worst disaster in NHS history. That was due to a shortage of blood and clotting factors, which led to the NHS sourcing products from America. The problem is that the factor IX concentrates for men with haemophilia or women with Von Willebrand disease are made from thousands of samples. The moment one or two people within that collection are affected is the start of the virus, and that was why these patients were affected at a much higher rate than those who had a single blood transfusion. The problem is that the issue goes back decades and it has not been properly dealt with, as has been said already.
There have been multiple debates, statements and urgent questions on the issue during the two years in which I have been in the House—I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North for keeping at it with the all-party parliamentary group—but most of them have been about support. It was only last July that the Government finally came forward with a strengthened support package for these people. It is important to recognise that the payments are not compensation; they are ex gratia support payments, and they do not recognise the loss and suffering of the victims of contaminated blood. This seemed to come about only after the Scottish Government came up with a much more generous package in the form of a much larger lump sum, ongoing payments and, in particular, a 75% pension to the spouse and bereaved families. Such people still do not get sufficient support here in England, but it is not right that someone who has lost a partner to this scandal is not compensated.
We heard in March this year—a mere seven months after the announcement of a support package—that the Government were consulting on perhaps restricting who would qualify for the highest payments, and that the payments would not be index-linked. The youngest remaining victim is approximately 35. They have a whole lifetime to go through. That might be a shortened lifetime in comparison with ours, but we cannot suddenly leave people in poverty further down the line. These things need to be dealt with. I welcome the Minister’s commitment that the payments will be linked to the consumer prices index. We may need a debate on support, but that is not what this debate is about.
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Lady’s remarks, but may I point out that the support also extends to Wales, not just to England? As far as I understand it, there is also a £10,000 payment for spouses in Wales. Is it the hon. Lady’s understanding that the inquiry’s terms of reference will include the actions of the Governments in Wales, Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland, as well as what has happened in England? I had intended to ask the Minister that question, but could not make an intervention.
The Scottish Government set up the Penrose inquiry, but I would assume that any inquiry will look at the whole UK, and the Minister has committed to that. It must be remembered that the decisions that led to the scandal were taken here and in Whitehall. This was before devolution. Governments such as the Scottish Government have tried to step up to support citizens who have been affected, but getting the answers to what caused the situation is a matter for this place.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the lack of trust has been enhanced by documents such as “Self-Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales”? That was a Department of Health document, but many people felt it was inaccurate and contained outright lies?
The inquiry will have to look at all those things. Documents, patients’ records, things that were altered and hidden, and things that are hiding behind public interest barriers now all need to be opened up so that light can be shed on the matter, as with Hillsborough.
Penrose was a Scotland-only inquiry. The Department of Health was invited to take part and turn it into a UK-wide inquiry, but it declined. One of the key weaknesses of the inquiry was that Penrose did not have the right to summon documents or people.
I remember when the scandal started to unfold in the ’80s. As a surgeon who was, of course, using blood on her patients, I remember how shocked I was at the mere thought that an action I might have taken could have harmed a patient I was looking after. In my elective surgery, I set about chasing every single blood cell to avoid spilling blood. I used electrocautery and all sorts of modern techniques. If I were to wheel out the staff from my theatre now, they would moan about how long I used to spend doing that. If a clinician is dealing with someone who has been hit by a bus, however, they have no choice.
I remember a critic of Penrose in 2015 saying that they were surprised that clinicians showed so much trust in the quality of blood, but a clinician who is using hundreds of drugs, implants, machines and blood products must be able to trust them. We have no mechanism personally to check them. That is the role of the Government and all their agencies. It is why we have licensing and inspections, and it is why action must be taken when there is a suspicion of harm. Failing to act, hiding and not dealing with the situation at the time all happened pre-devolution, and this inquiry must take account of that.
At a conference in Glasgow in 1980, clinicians were already raising concerns about changes in the liver function of patients who were receiving blood concentrate for haemophilia. A 1981 meeting of the UK’s Blood Transfusion Research Committee, which we have all read about recently, recognised that about 50 patients a year developed some form of liver damage. Yet the decision at that meeting appeared to be to let that continue and simply to study the situation, using those patients as a way of developing a test for what was known at the time as non-A, non-B hepatitis. It is important that we ensure that this inquiry looks at all this. The official from the Department of Health and Social Security who was at that meeting would not attend Penrose. Such people need to be called by this inquiry.
Going forward, the inquiry must include the families and the victims so that we are sensitive to what they want to know. This is also about not just the Government but producers—and not just producers in America. We try to make ourselves feel better by blaming this on the States, where people bought blood, and where people with addictions, people living in poverty and prisoners were used. In the mid-70s, prisoners in this country were also used, and it is claimed that that was encouraged by the Home Office as part of prisoner rehabilitation. We need the documents on that; we need to understand if that decision was made. UK producers have often been found wanting in the quality of product they came up with, so we must not pat ourselves on the back and imagine that the UK product was somehow safe and that this was all due to the US. We need to follow this right down and get the answers.
These people have been failed so many times, over and over, and it is crucial that that does not happen again. We need to keep the Government on their toes. We need to have reports back from this inquiry as it is set up, so that we know what it is actually going to look into. If we fail to get answers this time, and particularly if we fail to deliver compensation for the lives lost, the suffering, the failure to get a mortgage or insurance, and the costs of care, we will have failed these people all over again.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this important debate. I was in the Chamber when the former Member for Leigh raised these very concerning issues, which need to be looked at in the inquiry. That struck a chord with me, so I am delighted to be back in the Chamber to see this debate.
Like many Members on both sides of the House, I have been contacted by constituents who have told me about their experiences and about how contaminated blood has affected them, their family life and their friends. Every so often as a constituency MP, we meet the saddest constituents who tell us the most heartbreaking stories. We sit there week in, week out, and those stories resonate with us, but they are not stories for the victims—they are daily life. These are wrecked lives, but the people have done nothing wrong of their own accord—it is pure injustice.
It is clear that the contaminated blood products that were used decades ago have continued daily to affect people’s lives in a devastating and destructive way. When I have heard the stories of how people have been affected, they have lived with me, and I can understand the campaigning that has been done by Members on both sides of the House. I am therefore delighted to talk about my constituents’ experiences.
Today, we finally recognise what has happened, and the Government are ready to tackle this injustice. I am delighted that that is being done in the name of the victims and their families, who did nothing to bring this on themselves.
After I became the MP for Eastleigh in May 2015, I met one of my constituents from Bishopstoke, Gary Webster, who has been left coping with HIV, hepatitis C and possibly variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as a result of the NHS blood products that were used during a routine procedure in the 1980s to treat his haemophilia.
It will be important that the inquiry goes far enough back. The decision to heat-treat albumin for hepatitis B was made in the mid-60s, but we did not treat concentrates. We need to make sure that all these conditions are included.
I thank the hon. Lady for that input. It is absolutely right that she, like all our constituents, brings her experience to this. We need to make sure that we do go back far enough.
Last year, Gary attended a debate we had here once again to discuss this heartbreaking issue. He attended a specialist school in Alton, where he was one of many haemophiliacs. He told me that he kept in contact with around 100 other students, all of whom had been affected by contaminated blood, although only around 20 were still alive. These students all contracted illnesses through blood products they had received because of their haemophilia. Tragically, Gary’s story is similar to that of thousands of others across the country.
Other constituents, some of whom wish not to be named, have had grave financial burdens placed on them and their families as a result of the diseases they contracted from contaminated blood, which have affected their lives. It is only right that we support those whose lives have been significantly affected by these contaminated products. I am therefore pleased to hear about the additional support that the Government will provide to those who have been roundly affected. I am particularly pleased that the annual payments for those with hepatitis stage 2 will increase to £15,500, and then to £18,500 in 2018-19. Payments to those co-infected with HIV and hepatitis stage 2 will also go up, to £36,500 by 2018-19. I am pleased to see that these payments will be linked to CPI.
That will help to support all our constituents we know have been affected. I know from speaking to Gary and others about the real hardship and challenges these conditions have brought to their lives, and about the difficulty they face in working, and in bringing up and supporting their families in the way they would have liked had they not been affected.
Almost £400 million has been paid out to those affected by five different organisations, which have been funded by the Department of Health. I am delighted to hear about the £125 million the Government have committed as additional funding for the reformed scheme, which will double the Department’s annual spend on the scheme over the next five years. That money must go to the people who really need it—that should absolutely be noted—because the daily-life decisions they have made have been really difficult because of their financial impact.
The hon. Lady talks about a reformed scheme, and some people have fallen outside the existing scheme. My constituent Sharon Moore, who suffered a transfusion of contaminated blood, has been told that she is outside the criteria. Would the hon. Lady urge the Government to look at cases again under the new scheme to make sure that people are not missed and not excluded unnecessarily?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that point forward. There is nothing more frustrating for an MP than hearing that people have just fallen outside the bracket. That is the worst place to be, and the scope of the inquiry will perhaps give us the chance to look at that.
This Government have done significantly more than other Governments to protect those who have been affected. There is a commitment to ensure that we pull the five fairly complex schemes together and transfer them into a new scheme in 2017. These people have complicated and difficult lives anyway, and it is only right that we make it easier for victims to get the support they need.
I am so pleased that the Prime Minister made her announcement this morning and that there will be a full and wide-ranging inquiry into the tragedy. I am pleased that the inquiry will be drawn together by the victims, to support and suit the victims. I am pleased that they will finally have a voice—the strongest voice possible—so that they can get the most and the fullest answers they can, which is what they deserve. It is only right that this consultation will be held with those affected by this terrible injustice, so that their families also have a voice.
I hope that the inquiry will provide answers for those who are looking for them. In particular, there are concerns about criminality—when I heard that issue raised in this House, it was extremely concerning. We now have a vehicle to get people’s voices heard, and if there is anything that should be going through the courts, we can do something about that.
With this inquiry, we have an opportunity to make sure that no voice is lost, and that the victims and their families get the right inquiry, the fullest compensation and the answers they rightly deserve.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. May I just advise the House that with the exception of the maiden speaker whom I am about to call, colleagues should be thinking in terms of speeches of five minutes each, or at most six, if the Chair is to accommodate everybody? I am sure there are colleagues who would like to expatiate eloquently and at length, and on other occasions they might be free to do so, but that will have to wait, I say to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for the long winter evenings that lie ahead. Before that, I hope that we can give a warm, enthusiastic and encouraging welcome to our maiden speaker, Anneliese Dodds.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing this debate.
As the new MP for Oxford East, I must say that it is a shame to me that it was the Oxford haemophilia centre that produced blood products which resulted in many people contracting blood-borne diseases, and further, that guidance from the centre in the early 1980s advocated the use of humans to test infectivity. I will repeat that—the use of humans to test infectivity. However, I am very proud of the people from Oxford who have campaigned for so many years for justice, along with many others mentioned by my hon. Friends. Their fight, as we have heard, has been simply for truth and for accountability so that events like these can never happen again. As I start my maiden speech, I would like to dedicate my words to them and to all the other people in Oxford who fought for justice against all the odds—not least, also, the survivors of the Bullfinch sexual abuse scandal, whose bravery has been remarkable and an inspiration.
I am enormously grateful to the people of Oxford East for electing me as their representative. As such, I of course take over from Andrew Smith, who served us for three decades as our MP and who many people in all parts of this House knew very well. Like many people, Andrew came initially to Oxford unsure of whether it would become his home, but quickly recognised the potential of our great city, not least because as a student he met, very quickly, his wonderful wife Val, who was also known by many people in this House. Val was an incredibly powerful advocate for the community of Blackbird Leys, which she served as a county and city councillor for many years. Her wisdom and her kindness is still very sadly missed by many of us.
Andrew is undoubtedly best known in Oxford East as a diligent constituency MP who cares passionately about our city and all its people, including of course those living in his home community of Blackbird Leys. But Andrew also had a very distinguished career in Parliament, including serving in the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1999 to 2002, and then as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from 2002 to 2004. Andrew’s work, with others, lifted more than a million pensioners and half a million children out of poverty, helped restore the national finances—a piece of history often ignored or, sadly, distorted in this House—and brought in some of the biggest increases in health and overseas aid spending our country has ever seen. Andrew also presided over groundbreaking disability rights legislation, set up the pension protection fund, and helped bring in the pension credit, among many, many more transformative initiatives.
Andrew is none the less an incredibly humble man. He always stressed how his achievements came about through working with others, either in this House or in Oxford. In fact, Andrew is so humble that when he was in the Cabinet running Britain’s welfare state, his own television was so dilapidated that it had to be whacked many times before it would actually work. He is very intelligent but also very straightforward, without any airs or graces, and is immensely respected for it. I am sure that Members in all parts of this House will wish him very well for a long and very happy retirement.
Oxford East could be imagined as a constituency filled only with gleaming spires, detectives driving Aston Martins, and mysterious university dons. But while Oxford East boasts two excellent universities and bustles with students during term time, Oxford also has an impressive industrial heritage, and enormous further industrial potential, with the right infrastructure investment and support. What was the Pressed Steel Company plant, now BMW Cowley, produces nearly a quarter of a million Mini cars every year. Its engineers, technicians and apprentices are among the best in the world. Oxford as a city voted to remain in the EU, although some areas in the city had a majority to leave. Whether people voted to leave or to remain, no one voted to deny our city its potential. It is essential that European markets remain open to businesses like BMW Cowley, and that we retain Oxford’s many and various links with European and global science, as well as protecting the EU citizens who have made their home in our city.
In fact, Oxford is a city that has always looked outwards, as the first ever Oxfam shop on Broad Street reminds us. People with roots from all over the world call Oxford East their home. I am very proud that in my constituency we have five mosques, many different Christian churches, and substantial Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish populations. But I feel that the potential of many people from all of our communities in Oxford East is currently being held back.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Bill Buckingham, who had been a Labour councillor and campaigner in Oxford East for 70 years; he died at the age of 96. Bill was among many who came back after serving our country in the second world war, determined that Lloyd George’s promise after the first world war now had to be turned into a socially inclusive reality, with homes built for heroes as part of mixed communities to be proud of. As Bevan put it at the time, we needed high-quality housing where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer could all be neighbours, without social distinction.
What of that ambitious vision survives now? House prices and rents in Oxford are the least affordable in Britain outside London. Renters of homes have fewer rights than if they were renting a sofa or a fridge. The rules for housing benefit have been changed so people whose families have lived in Oxford for generations are being forced out of their city for the crime of merely earning an average, not above-average, wage; and, to pay for the right to buy in housing association properties, up to a third of Oxford’s remaining council stock could vanish.
For me, people doing their best to bring up their children on low incomes in Oxford are today’s heroes and heroines. Often running between more than one job to make ends meet, I must say that it comes as a slap in the face to them when they hear politicians refusing to admit that there is such a thing as in-work poverty. I was disturbed to hear that repeatedly in this House last week. Britain, and especially Oxford, urgently needs more genuinely affordable homes, with affordability not covering homes worth £400,000, as is currently the case. Renters need stronger rights, and they need, above all, a system that recognises houses as homes—as places to live and not merely investment opportunities. We also, of course, need to unlock the potential of our communities and not allow them to be asset-stripped.
I live on the Rose Hill estate in Oxford with my family—I am very pleased that some of them are here today. It is a wonderful, friendly place, albeit one where almost half the children on the estate grow up in poverty. Bill Buckingham, along with many other local people, kept Rose Hill’s community centre going through thick and thin, even when it burned down, and now we have a new centre on my estate, but other community facilities have been run down in recent years. I loved meeting other parents during baby sessions at the children’s centre when I had my first child four years ago. As you can see, he is quite grown-up now, albeit a little bit tired. But by the time my daughter arrived 18 months ago, there were no more baby sessions available. Instead, the children’s centre is only available for supervised contact sessions and for two—that is two—hours a week of supervised play. Community spaces such as children’s centres may not grab the headlines, but for many people they mean the difference between loneliness and friendship, between ill-health and wellbeing, and between division and neighbourliness.
Oxford East and its incredible people have so much potential, but too often, I feel, they are being held back. As their MP, I am ambitious for our city and its people, and I will devote the time they have given me in this place to ensure a better, brighter and fairer future for them, and for people like them, across this country.
I, too, start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for her leadership and persistence on this issue, on which she and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) have done tireless work. I welcome the Minister’s statement that a public inquiry will happen on this most important of issues. The Prime Minister has clearly listened to views across the House on the matter.
At one of my first surgery appointments, Richard and his wife came to see me to tell me his story. Richard was a haemophiliac who was sent to a school for the physically disabled in Hampshire when he was 11. For six years, he was given hundreds of thousands of units of factor VIII. Prior to that he had been given cryoprecipitate, which was perfectly workable in moderating his condition. The factor VIII prophylactic treatment was meant to prevent the dangers caused by haemophilia. It changed Richard’s life. Sadly, 64 of the 75 people from Richard’s school are no longer with us. Many of those young people died in their early teens.
This case is a double tragedy. Richard and his wife told me the very good news that, in later life, they decided to have children, but due to the risk of his hepatitis affecting the unborn baby, they had to have a termination, so they are childless as well as having been affected by terrible diseases throughout their lives.
I neglected to congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on her very fine maiden speech. She certainly made a far better job of it than I did of mine when I stood here two years ago. Her tremendous words were highly relevant to the topic under discussion. I am sure she will make many further fine contributions in the years ahead.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the inquiry needs to consider the challenges faced by people affected by contaminated blood who want children? A constituent of mine had one round of IVF treatment covered by the NHS, but he was not entitled to a second round, so he had to pay for it himself. We should consider such issues and their effect on people in the round.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These terrible diseases have so many tragic implications. Through no fault of their own, people did not know that the treatments would have an adverse impact on their health.
Helen was infected in the 1980s, but it was only when she moved to my constituency in 2006 and registered with a new GP that she was diagnosed with hepatitis and its associated difficulties. She has had many consequent health problems, including four strokes, diabetes and rheumatoid osteoporosis. It has had a huge impact on her life. She calls her health a “ticking time bomb”. She had to relocate back from France after trying to set up a new life there with her husband and two children.
I have spoken to both of those constituents today. It is incredible how lightly they seem to carry their burdens. They have moved on from the principal issue, which was compensation, and what they want now is a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this. It is about getting answers. I am not saying that compensation is not important—it is hugely important, particularly for their spouses and children—but today they want answers.
My hon. Friend is making a very good case. Does he agree that, while we welcome the Government’s inquiry and the funding given so far, transparency should be at its core? That is what it is all about.
I absolutely agree. The Minister may confirm at the end of the debate, if he gets the chance, that the Government have released all the relevant documents in their possession. It is absolutely right that there should be full transparency and that key witnesses who were involved in this tragedy should be interviewed.
One of the biggest outstanding questions is: what was known? Helen told me that, despite the fact that she did not find out until 20 years after she was infected, the hospital had known for years. That is a tragic set of circumstances.
Richard sent me a passage that he found during his research. As early as 1975, Dr Joseph Garrett Allen, then professor of surgery at Stanford University in California, wrote to Dr William Maycock, then head of the transfusion service in the UK, to warn him of the severe dangers of using US-pooled plasma sourced from paid skid-row donors and prisoners. He said that the situation was extraordinarily hazardous.
My constituents want answers to the following questions. What was known about the risks? Was Parliament informed about the change from self-sufficiency to imported products? What was found out and why were the products not withdrawn? Was it a cover-up or negligence? Did clinicians take a paternalist approach or was it simply incompetence?
I welcome the fact that this Government have done more than any other on compensation and transparency. I welcome the public inquiry and hope I can play my part in making sure that my constituents, their loved ones and everyone else affected by this terrible tragedy get answers.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. May I remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker asked that speeches be kept to about five minutes?
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for her sterling work, and to Andy Burnham and so many others who have pursued the issue relentlessly over the years. It is a testament to their commitment that they have kept going, even when all hope seemed to be lost.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) for her excellent maiden speech. I am sure that we share a lot of common ground, and I hope we will work together over the coming months and years.
Before Parliament broke up back in April, Andy Burnham laid a challenge to all the parties to include in their manifestos a commitment to the victims of contaminated blood. I am very pleased and proud that my party saw fit to do so. Our manifesto stated:
“Victims of contaminated blood products deserve answers.”
In 2008, the SNP Scottish Government established the Penrose public inquiry, which reported in 2015. In government we have also worked with stakeholder groups to develop a substantially improved compensation scheme, which is now the best in the UK. SNP MPs will support a full public inquiry for the rest of the UK, and I am very proud to stand by those words today.
I am incredibly pleased and surprised to hear that the Government have changed their stance. When we last met in April it did not feel as though much more was going to happen, so the change in the Government’s attitude is very welcome. I do not want to appear churlish, but the changed numbers in this Parliament mean that some things that seemed impossible before are now open for debate. I am very glad about that.
There has been recognition of the limitations of Penrose and what the Scottish Government could do. We could not compel witnesses to attend and we had a limited remit to consider negligence, so it is good that we now have this opportunity to relook at all the issues. I am also glad to hear the Government commit to working with the devolved Administrations, because we have the experience of an inquiry, limited though it was. I hope to hear more about the ways in which the Scottish Government and victims in Scotland will be brought in as part of the process.
In the April 2016 debate, I mentioned my constituent Maria. I have not been able to reach her to ask for her views, because this debate and the Government’s announcement came so very late in the day, but I want to put on the record again that Maria contracted hep C in 1981 from a blood transfusion following a miscarriage. She did not find out for many years. Even when she sought a diagnosis, it took two years to get it. She would want this House to know that, having lived with hep C for 36 years, she does not want charity. She does not want vouchers or handouts; she wants to be treated fairly and with dignity. That is the very least she deserves from this process.
The Oxford haemophilia centre serves my constituents. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing this debate. Does the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) agree that victims want not just transparency but justice, and that if we find evidence of a cover-up, the individuals involved should face the full force of the law?
I absolutely agree. I am glad that the hon. Lady raised that point, which I was about to move on to. Without that justice, the victims will never feel as though they have been well served. They will feel as though they have lost out and there has been no justice.
The inquiry must look at the changing of medical records. Somebody must have issued a clear instruction to do so, because such cover-ups do not happen by themselves. We must find the lines of responsibility whereby people were told, “Delete those records, and don’t tell people about this. Test people, but do not let them know.” All those outstanding questions must be answered, and we must find out what was known, when and by whom. In the search for answers, we must recognise that some questions cannot be answered because the relevant information is held in the United States. Ministers must reach out and speak to their counterparts in other parts of the world to try to find answers. Ways must be found to co-operate with the American Government.
We need to be able to have confidence in our current processes. I understand that the US started screening blood donations in 1983, but we did not start doing so until 1991. Every time I donate blood, I am conscious that the integrity of the system is based on my honesty, at every stage. We must find better ways to ensure that our systems are as robust and secure as possible.
The Government have said that during the inquiry they will reach out to those who receive funds through the current schemes. I hope that that will be done in co-operation with the devolved Administrations where they have responsibility. I encourage the Government to find as many ways as possible to contact people and let them know what is happening. In some cases, the individual concerned may have died and their family members may not be aware of what is going on. We must reach out as widely as possible through advertising, social media and all other means at our disposal to involve as many people as possible in the inquiry.
People must be supported to attend and give evidence to the inquiry. The experience may be very traumatic for some, and they may need counselling or financial support to enable them to attend and to ensure that the required documents reach the inquiry. The Haemophilia Society has said that we must treat such documents with the utmost care and protection. People are, quite rightly, sceptical about how their documents will be treated, and we must enable them to trust that if they submit evidence, it will be not be lost. That goes for Government evidence as well as for private evidence belonging to members of the public.
We have waited far too long for justice on this matter. I encourage the Government to maintain the sense of urgency during the inquiry, to make sure that it is not dragged out over many, many years without the victims receiving answers. The victims have waited far too long for justice, and they should not have to wait much longer.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first time that I have had the honour to be in the Chamber when you are sitting in your rightful place in the Chair.
My involvement in the contaminated blood scandal was as, I think, the second Minister for public health the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) had occasion—I nearly said the great misfortune—to come to see. She brought to that meeting all the vim and vigour with which she has pursued this campaign over seven long years. It has taken seven years for justice to be brought about, and that is too long.
I think I am right in saying that when the hon. Lady came to see me, her biggest concern was the burning injustice. To me, something inherent in the matter just felt wrong. I could not put my finger on it, but I was convinced that something was not right. The attitude of some of the people I encountered strengthened that feeling. They wanted to sweep the matter under the carpet, so that they no longer had to deal with it, and move on to other ways of helping the unfortunate victims.
There are two elements to all this. The first great injustice is the terrible scandal itself, which happened decades ago and which Governments—of all three colours, including the coalition Government—failed to grasp as I and others in government wanted them to.
The second great injustice concerns money. I pay full tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who absolutely got it, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton). After the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North asked her question of the Prime Minister last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and I sat here together. I will not repeat everything that we said to each other, but it boiled down to, “For goodness’ sake”—or words to that effect—“let’s just get on and get this done properly.” We were talking not just about a public inquiry, but, most importantly, about the money. I also pay tribute to Jane Ellison, the previous Minister for public health, because I know that she got this as well.
To get a public inquiry, it was necessary to submit to the Government all the extra material that has been forthcoming in recent times, as further evidence of the need for such an inquiry. No matter how much Ministers and hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House care about something and see why it should be done, political will is required to make it happen. I pay handsome tribute to the Prime Minister for not messing about. I know that she will have been supported by wise words from the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), and from the Secretary of State, who made the case to her. She has grabbed it by the horns, done the right thing and given us a public inquiry.
I want to go further and talk about the second grave injustice. I was reminded of correspondence that I have had with constituents whose son is a haemophiliac. As if being the parents of a haemophiliac was not hard enough, he was diagnosed at the age of nine with AIDS and hep C. He has faced real challenges in his life, which has been blighted by plain prejudice—I have heard horrible stories about the bullying he encountered at school—because of the triple combination from which he suffers. Now he is married, he is the father of a child and he owns his own home. His parents, who have suffered not just injustice but the real difficulty of watching their son suffer, are such wonderful people. They give you every faith in people’s goodness. They have no grievances against anybody; they just want a proper financial package.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) talked about the fact that victims receive an ex gratia payment rather than compensation. I remember those schemes, and I was horrified to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) that they have not been sorted out. I beg the Government to scrap them, and, in blunt, simple terms, to give these people the money that they deserve and need: do not give them that money as ex gratia payments; do not make them scrabble around to find bits of paper that they have to take with them, cap in hand, to ask for money. As if they have not suffered enough, how demeaning is it for them to have to go and, as they see it, beg for bits of money?
I urge the Government to get a load of money—these things are possible; we know that it can be done—of the sum that is required. I know that it is not quite so simple, but the next thing to do is to look not at liability, but at quantum, as we lawyers call it. How much would each individual, or their widow or survivor, be entitled to if liability was not an issue? Then, I ask the Government to do the right thing. I do believe that they can find the money. I know that many in government, including the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, absolutely got this. For whatever reason, his term in office was not the right time to do something, but he understood the human side, as did many of us.
It is now time to sort out the second grave injustice—the money. Get the money together, put it in a pot, decide quantum and give these people everything that they deserve and need. Then, finally, the last grave injustice and national scandal will have been sorted out and solved. Of that, we will all be able to be proud.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), I became engaged in this issue after 2010, when constituents contacted me, and one constituent in particular—a remarkable man called Andrew March, whom I shall say a little about in a moment.
I feel slightly ashamed that I did not fully understand the utter tragedy of contaminated blood, which has not been with us for seven years; it has been with us for more than 30 years. As a country, we need to own up to the fact that we do not do these things very well. The same is true of Hillsborough and, in many ways, of Grenfell. These are not matters that have happened and then been dealt with appropriately. They are things that we have failed to address over years, if not decades.
I would say one or two things on the remit and type of inquiry, because these are multiple failings. Yes, of course, there is the failing that led to the infections and the multiple infections in the first place, but, until recently the Government would not even mention the word “negligence”. Now, I am pleased to say, due in large part to what Andy Burnham has done, we are talking about criminality, but it has taken a long time to get there. On how the victims have been treated by the establishment, again, one could make comparisons with what happened with Hillsborough over many years, such as the way that they have been ignored and badly treated. In relation to recompense and financing, that includes the fact that the various trusts and schemes, as well as the quantum involved and the administration, have been appalling.
I have said to Minister after Minister over the past seven years that a bespoke solution is needed. We are talking about a finite and decreasing number of people, and we need a bespoke solution for each of those individuals and families, because everybody is in a different position according to their circumstances, health and personal needs.
I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, and to many other Members—I am surprised that the all-party group does not have 650 members, rather than 111—but the real credit goes to the victims themselves, who had to fight and fight and fight to get very little.
I have felt frustration taking part in every debate on the subject over the past seven years and during the endless meetings with Ministers through the all-party group, so I am glad that the Minister has said that his mind is open on the type of inquiry. We need an inquiry with powers, such as an inquiry held under the Inquiries Act 2005 with powers to call witnesses and interrogate them under oath. We need the forensic skills that a judge would bring, but at the same time the inquiry needs to have credibility and trust. We do not want to start making the same mistakes that we made with the sex abuse inquiries and are beginning to make, I am afraid, in the Grenfell inquiry.
The other day, I was listening to Dr Richard Stone on the radio. He assisted the Macpherson inquiry and was trusted by the local community. We need here a combination of those forensic skills and people who know the issues and know the people involved, and are trusted by them. We have to have full access to documentation. We have to have proper rights of audience for the victims and their families. We have to have full representation. That means legal aid. I hope that in the same way that the Government are now discovering their neglect of social housing over many years has been a mistake, they will discover that the cuts in legal aid are also a mistake and are false economies.
I say that while paying tribute to what the Minister has said today, but remembering that in the previous debate, which Andy Burnham held in this House only some two months ago, we were told that a public inquiry was not appropriate. Let us consider just some of the issues that are being dealt with here: non-consensual testing; victims not being informed of the results of that testing; non-consensual research involving previously untested patients; people being informed, if they were informed, in hospital corridors or through the post; and minors being told without their parents being present. All this was happening in our country in the relatively recent past.
Then there is the cover up—the allegations in relation to documents being destroyed and people not being prepared even to answer questions. All that has to be addressed through this inquiry.
Given the time, may I end by talking about Andrew March, as a large part of my involvement in the investigation is down to him? With his consent, I shall discuss personal details, which, courageously, he wants in the public realm because he wants us to get to the bottom of this. In a letter to me earlier today, he wrote:
“I have been looking at my medical notes, and have discovered that essentially, I am one of the patients who was not informed by their hospital (in my case Coventry and Warwick Hospital) that I had non-A non-B hepatitis throughout the 80s, and similarly, I was not informed that I had Hepatitis C when the hospital tested me without myself or my parents knowing”—
he was a minor at the time—
“despite testing me years earlier, without myself or my parents knowing. I only found out ‘by accident’ in October 1992, when I transferred my care to the Royal Free in London”.
Andrew quotes from the letter from the consultant at the Royal Free, who said:
“On further discussion he did not seem to be aware that he was Hepatitis C antibody positive and we therefore spent some considerable time discussing our understanding of Hepatitis C infection and the implications of antibody positivity.”
“I am a severe haemophiliac, and one of only 250 HIV positive haemophiliacs who remain alive today. Of those originally infected in the 1980s, more than three-quarters have died during the course of the past 3 decades. Many of them were my friends.
I was also infected with hepatitis B and C, and despite treatment, I continue to live with the adverse effects of cirrhosis of the liver…I am also one of the 3,872 haemophiliacs (and persons with bleeding disorders), who have been notified as being considered ‘At-Risk’ of vCJD (the human form of Mad Cow Disease).”
This avoidable tragedy has completely transformed Andrew’s life and put him at huge disadvantage. He has never received a proper explanation. He has never been properly recompensed. Despite that, he has devoted his life to ensuring justice for all the victims. We owe it to him and to all those other victims—many of them, unfortunately, already dead—to drill down forensically into this tragedy, and to do so reasonably speedily and in a way that leaves nothing unexposed. If we do not do that, a reducing number of people will get justice.
I welcome you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as this is the first time I have spoken with you in the Chair.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). The case he mentioned is almost unreal, and few of us could believe it to be true if we had not lived through this issue ourselves. I pay tribute to all the campaigners up and down the country who have worked so hard to get this issue on the agenda—in particular the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), but also many Members from across the House. This shows us pulling together and how Parliament should work. It has taken a long time, but we can make a difference. I hope this really will make a difference to those victims who have suffered, and that today’s announcement will change people’s lives once the public inquiry gets going. I would very much like to thank the Prime Minister and the Government for listening and for responding over this tragic affair.
When I became MP for Taunton Deane, one of the first people who came to see me, who does not want to be named, visited my surgery to tell me the desperate story of how his whole life had been blighted by being treated—inadvertently—with infected blood, as in so many other examples that we have heard today. I was quite naive. I had never engaged with anybody in that situation before, and I was deeply shocked by his account of all that he had gone through for his whole life. Being given infected blood had plagued and blighted his life. He was ill, of course, but also his quality of life was affected. One of the effects that resonated most with me was that it affected his relationship with his son—he did not have the time to spend with him. We all take for granted that we can leave our children an inheritance, even if it is not very much—some money for a car or a share of a house. My constituent was distraught and felt he had not done justice to his son because his illness meant that he had a problem holding down jobs. Not only was he suffering from the blight of the illness, but he carried that guilt with him.
My constituent raised two practical concerns with me about the system. First, he felt that the level of financial support was not sufficient to enable him to feel secure and he was constantly struggling. Secondly, the scheme that administered his payment—the Macfarlane Trust, which other hon. Members have mentioned—did not work effectively and as a result did not adequately support those it was designed to help.
I have spoken on this issue several times in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall, as well as privately to the Department of Health. I was pleased to hear that the Government had listened to our voices and it is welcome that this autumn a new single scheme will be introduced, with additional funding of £125 million, to replace the complicated system of five different support schemes. The devil will be in the detail, but I know that the Government will take into consideration all the comments from the consultation. I hope that that will iron out some of the problems that so many people have struggled with and make life better for the victims.
I am also pleased with the moves that the Government have made on transparency—another issue that hon. Members have mentioned. I appreciate the serious concerns about how this has been handled in the past, but I know that Ministers are keen from now on to make all information readily available. That has been promised in the inquiry announced today.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because I, too, have a constituent who has been infected by contaminated blood since the 1960s. He will be delighted with the public inquiry, because he wants to know why it happened and how he can gain access to proper compensation. Transparency is vital in this case.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I could not agree more. Transparency should be the nub of the inquiry, because it is important for my constituent and for all those who have had their lives changed forever through no fault of their own. We must remember that they have not brought it on themselves.
I thank the Government for listening and giving the issue the attention it deserves. I also thank them for more than doubling the Department’s annual spend in this area. Let us make sure that the funding gets to the people who really need it. I thank the Government for announcing the inquiry as I will be able to give my constituent a glimmer of hope both that the Prime Minister has understood the issues and called for the inquiry, and that we will get the inquiry right. Public inquiries are rare events and we need to make sure this one works. New evidence will emerge, and I urge that all relevant and commercially sensitive documents are made available. With the right framework, progress can be made and—I hope—the right thing done at last. I urge the Minister to ensure above all that the inquiry does not drag on too long. For those who have suffered for too long already, time is of the essence.
I want to speak in this debate on behalf of my constituents Lin Ashcroft and the Smith family, victims of the contaminated blood scandal.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on an excellent maiden speech. She rightly highlighted the importance of the campaign and her local campaigners, and we look forward to hearing many more speeches from her. I also add to the tributes to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). We are having this debate because of her, and she has worked tirelessly on the issue with other hon. Members. She has a parliamentary life well spent on the issue, let alone all the other matters that she has campaigned on. But she has done this for the victims, and, in welcoming the Government’s announcement of a public inquiry today, I agree with her that it is so important that the families are at the heart of it. The inquiry has been a very long time coming; we failed this community many, many times, and they need to be at the heart of it and have confidence in it.
It is absolutely shameful that 45 years have passed since the first people were infected with HIV and hepatitis from NHS-supplied contaminated blood and blood products, yet we have still not got to the truth for the members of the community who are affected. They have been let down so often, but they still come here relentlessly, all these years later, to see Ministers and lobby MPs to fight for justice. I pay tribute to them for their strength. I remember a family telling me, not so long ago, that in the end they had to stop going to the funerals of the friends whom they had made as part of this campaign, because it had become too heartbreaking: there were just too many funerals to go to. I think that is really sad.
As the former Member of Parliament for Leigh said in his last speech in this place, there is plenty of new evidence that backs up what campaigners have known and felt in their bones for many years: that the risks posed by contaminated blood were known by the authorities and pharmaceutical companies at the time but it was still used; that people were used for testing and as guinea pigs; and that efforts were made to suppress that truth. Let us remember that these were people who went to the NHS for treatment and were infected by blood provided by the NHS—provided by the state. They have had to fight for years for that to be acknowledged, and no fault has ever been admitted by either the Government or the pharmaceutical companies that supplied the contaminated blood products. It was said that that was because no one could have known about the problem at the time but, as a result of the work of campaigners, Members and the media, we now have that new evidence that risks were known. The inquiry must start now, so that we can get to the truth once and for all.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, more than 2,400 people have died and the lives of thousands more have been wrecked. I want to talk about just one of those people, Colin Smith from Newport in my constituency. He was one of the youngest victims of the contaminated blood scandal, and what happened to him illustrates just why the inquiry cannot come quickly enough.
Colin went into hospital in 1983 when he was eight months old with a minor ear condition. As a haemophiliac he received factor VIII, which the family learned, following a freedom of information request, had come from a batch from a prison in Arkansas. He spent his short life fighting illness. He died, aged seven, of AIDS and hepatitis C in 1990. The family did not know he had hepatitis C until three years after his death: it had been kept secret, as so much was kept hidden. I hope that that will be examined in the inquiry, because people like Haydn Lewis, who was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), had to battle and battle to obtain such information.
Colin died aged seven in his mum’s arms, weighing about the same as a baby. I have told his story before in the Chamber. It is a heartbreaking story, but telling such stories is an important reminder of why we are here today. It is also an important reason for having a public inquiry. We now know something that Colin’s family knew in their hearts, I think, for many years, but have since outlined on “Panorama” and in Private Eye. One of the recently unearthed letters written by Colin’s haemophilia specialist in 1983 recorded that, following his minor incident,
“without any evidence of intracranial bleeding the child was still given factor 8”.
The specialist added that
“all these materials carry the risk of hepatitis but this is something haemophiliacs have to accept”.
He said that he would keep Colin under
“close observation as months go by”.
Six years later, after Colin had died, the same specialist wrote to pharmaceutical companies saying that he could not supply any more “samples” because Colin was no longer at his facility. Colin’s family were not aware of that until much later. That and other evidence needs to be put before the public inquiry so that witnesses can be called under oath and all documents can be disclosed, because it indicates that the risks of using this blood—supplied by profit-making American companies—were known in 1980 or earlier, three years before it was given to Colin.
Colin’s tribute on the Tainted Blood website says:
“Thousands of people, like Colin… didn’t make it this far. He never had the chance to join the cubs, play football for his school, have a girlfriend, go travelling or get married…Instead, his short life was filled with hospitals, doctors and illness. He was just a little boy, but a very special one who we, at TB, always keep in mind as we campaign.”
He is in my mind every day, because when at home in my constituency I often drive past the Smith’s house, with my eight-year-old son sat in the car next to me, and I imagine how I would feel if this had happened to me. So I just say this to the Minister: would I have been happy if there was a public apology and would I have been happy with the limited financial support that people felt they had to beg for, or would I want to finally get to the truth? Nothing can bring back Colin and others, but we can at least have a public inquiry that gets this right. We need to get it right this time, because Colin’s family and others have been through so much over the years that we cannot let them down again.
It was interesting to hear the reflections of the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and the personal stories she recounted. That was what brought me to this issue two years ago when I was first elected. Someone came into my office who was heavily disabled, but who should have been fit and healthy. They were relatively young—not much older than me—but their whole life had been dominated by a series of treatments they received back in the 1980s.
This is not an issue of someone having had a couple of opportunities taken away, having lost a couple of quid, or needing to work a little longer before finally being able to retire. This is about people who literally had their whole lives, which were going reasonably, taken away, with all opportunities removed. For many—about 2,500 people—literally the end of their life was caused by a treatment programme that should have helped to cure them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) that doctors in a hospital or an operating theatre would not be able to look at every single thing; they have to rely on the agencies that vet and certify things as safe. Clearly, in this instance, there was a huge failure.
I am pleased about the progress that has been made over the past couple of years. When I first spoke on this, I remarked that I suspected that my predecessor, at the time he was elected in 1997, would not have expected his successor in 2015 to still be talking about the issue. It is therefore very welcome that we will finally have a public inquiry to examine exactly what went wrong.
I was reassured to hear the Minister saying that there will be genuine consultation around the terms of reference, as they will be very important. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, no aspect of the inquiry should prevent people from being held to account for any criminal liability in a court of law. It would be a great pity if the inquiry that finally brought about justice and answers also prevented people from being held to account in a criminal court.
I was reassured to hear the Minister’s reference to the Hillsborough inquiries— obviously charges have followed on from that, although I will not go into them—and I hope that the same pattern can be established for this inquiry if there is evidence to support it. I am sure that we would all join the calls that anyone with evidence should hand it over to the police immediately. People certainly should not be withholding anything that would be of interest to the police and might identify whether individuals need to be held to account.
It is right that there will be proper consultation on the form of the inquiry. It certainly will need to be able to compel people to take part and provide evidence. I was reassured to hear that the Minister is carefully considering those issues, because that could make quite a difference. If there is an awareness that criminal sanctions might be available but people can just choose not to take part, that might have a negative impact on getting to the truth of what has happened.
It is appropriate that there is some form of time limit on getting to the answers. We can all think of examples of public inquiries that took a long time and seemed to drag on forever. Although people have had to wait decades for this process, there is a limit to how much longer many of the victims—and, in many cases, the children and families of those who have already passed on—will be able to wait for the final answers about what happened.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister recently made the wise announcement that the Government would introduce an independent public advocate to help victims following disasters. Does he agree that it would be wholly appropriate for this independent public advocate to be appointed in time to represent bereaved families and victims right across the UK in this very sensitive and difficult case?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I am sure that the Minister will have heard it and will wish to consider, as part of the consultation, how the inquiry is structured and how the victims are represented. I can imagine, given the victims’ experience over the past 30 years, that they might have strong views on whether they should be represented by a state-appointed person or someone they know themselves. It is important that the way in which they are represented should be determined through consultation. I am sure that all points will be carefully considered to ensure that these people are represented appropriately.
In my constituency, three ladies have raised this matter with me constantly: Jean Hill, Michelle Digby and Margaret Murray. They have been determined to pursue the matter, to find answers and to reach justice. Even while I have been in the House for the Minister’s speech, Margaret has been in touch to ask when the compensation payments will be made, given that the forms were sent out over 12 months ago. It is important that we resolve all these issues as well as finding the answers to what happened 30 years ago.
I welcome the Minister’s statement today, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on her pursuit of this matter and on securing the debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who has been diligent in pursuing these cases. I hope that those who have suffered for too long can finally get the answers that they deserve and have an absolute right to receive.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first chance I have had to speak under your chairmanship, and I congratulate you. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on her maiden speech. She made a powerful intervention on behalf of her constituents, and I wish her well in her parliamentary career, which I hope will be at least as long as that of her predecessor, Andrew Smith, who served in the House for more than 30 years. It is also appropriate for me to pay tribute, as have many hon. Members, to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on behalf of all the Members who have supported her in the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, which has more than 111 members from both sides of the House. The group has looked at the real effects and causes of this scandal, as well as examining the recompense and support given to the people who have suffered as a result of it, and I should like to comment on those issues today.
There are two clear issues that we need to address. The first covers the history of these events, what caused them, what could have been done to prevent them and who is liable and responsible. The second covers the question of what the state does for those who have no blame in this matter, and what type of support is given to those who are now facing the challenges resulting from the scandal. I do not expect the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), to be able to answer all these questions today. It is clear that the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North and other hon. Members, and the letter from the six party leaders, have focused the Government’s mind on how to respond. I accept and understand that, but it is none the less important to put some challenges to the Minister about the form of the inquiry. The Welsh Government in Cardiff publicly called for an inquiry in January, and I know that they will be interested to know that they have the support of the House here today for that response.
I raise these issues because, like all hon. Members who have spoken today, I have constituents for whom the impact of the contaminated blood scandal has run through their lives over the past 30 years. They wish to remain anonymous, and that is quite right, but I have met them and I have seen the impact that it has had on their lives. This involves not only the trauma of the people who were infected and have since died in large numbers but the fact that people cannot get insurance and often cannot maintain stable employment. They have the problem of not knowing whether they are going to live or for how long, and not knowing what will happen to their relatives when they die. I have constituents with young children who might have to face the consequences of their early death at any time.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case, and he has just mentioned a point that I was going to make. Many of the people who were badly affected have not been catered for to date. They include constituents of mine whose father was infected and who died. They ended up in a children’s home and their lives have been totally devastated, yet they are not within this process. They should be.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The constituents who have approached me are concerned about what will happen to their children in the event of their death. They are concerned about the lack of insurance and the costs as a whole. This worry has been mentioned already, but in one case the records relating to the time of the infection have been lost by the state so some people may not be able hold anyone liable because the records have simply disappeared. I hope that the inquiry looks in detail at that those challenges.
I was pleased to hear from the Minister that the inquiry will be UK wide. The scandal happened before devolution, but I have constituents in Wales who were infected in Liverpool, which is under the Department of Health’s jurisdiction. I have constituents who were infected in Wales who live in Wales. I have also had correspondence with people who were infected in Wales but now live in other constituencies. It is important that we look at the picture as a whole. The Minister has given some indication of it today, but I will be interested to hear about how the devolved Administrations will be involved under the ultimate terms of reference. I want to hear about how the consultation will happen, what the terms of reference will be, and what opportunities there will be for input into the process. My constituents will want to ensure that we get to who is responsible, why it happened, what could have been done and, ultimately, whether any compensation or redress is needed to help meet the challenges they face, such as the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly).
Given that it will be a Hillsborough-style inquiry, it is important that the Minister—not today, but in due course—clearly sets out not only the terms of reference, but the terms of engagement. I was going to make the same point as the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in that, to be frank, my constituents want to try to get on with their lives. Something happened to them when they were younger over which they had no control, but it has not engulfed their entire lives, so it would be helpful if the Government set out how victims can engage with the public inquiry in due course. It may be possible to engage through organisations such as the Haemophilia Society and others, but how will individuals who may not be involved with any organisation get representation? They may need financial support for that representation—perhaps they could have the independent advocate that was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Down—and they need to be able to put their case to the inquiry effectively.
I am also pleased to speak on this occasion with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Picking up on my right hon. Friend’s point, a constituent of mine called Michael from Runcorn wants justice, but he wants justice that involves all the families. He wants them to be engaged and to be able to shape this Hillsborough-style inquiry. I welcome the inquiry that the Prime Minister and the Minister have announced, but people are impatient for justice that is shaped by the victims.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The point that I want to finish on—[Interruption.] Does the Minister want to intervene?
Briefly. I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who is making some important points, that we intend to contact all the families who are in touch with us through the different schemes to alert them to today’s announcement, so that they will have the opportunity to contribute to our determination of the best form of inquiry. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, it will be for the inquiry, once it is established, to determine how it engages with people, and those involved will be interested in any advice from Members or others.
I am grateful for that intervention, because that reassures me and my constituents about the process. I simply say that confidence, transparency and ensuring that people feel like they can have their say properly and effectively will be key. The inquiry should also have some timescale, so that people know how much of their lives it will take up. If the Minister can do those things and perhaps inform the House about the inquiry’s budget, staffing and the other things that we would expect in any inquiry, that will help to reassure people that the Government are not just responding to events and pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, but are keen on getting a positive outcome for the innocent victims of what is a national scandal. I hope that the Minister will keep the House and, in particular, those who have been infected informed, because at the end of the day this is about their lives and their futures. The uncertainties that they have faced demand the compassionate and considered support that I am sure the Minister will give them.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I do not want to impose a formal time limit, but I would ask Members to try to keep to four minutes. I will not then have to impose a formal time limit.
I welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I join other Members in paying tribute to all those affected by this terrible tragedy, to the families of those affected and to hon. Friends and hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi). I also pay tribute to the new hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) for delivering her maiden speech in this important debate.
I speak today to give a voice to a constituent, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous. He was born with haemophilia and has had to endure that terrible chronic condition, the treatment for which has poisoned him—he has been infected with both HIV and hepatitis C. Those infusions have condemned him to a life of pain, of serious medication, which has its own side-effects, of major surgery and of worry. “Worry” seems an inadequate word to describe the constant weight that must be on his mind, and on the minds of those who love him, each and every day of his life.
This tragedy has affected every single day and every single aspect of his life, from his marriage to his ability to work and his family. He told me recently that he and his wife have told their grown-up child of his condition and his infections because, as he told me, “when is the right time to tell your child that you have HIV and hepatitis C?” So my constituent welcomes today’s announcement. He asks for a Hillsborough-style inquiry because, as others have said, people affected by this do not have time on their side.
I must declare an interest as a barrister. I hope the public inquiry will ensure that public money is directed towards those who need it most, namely the victims and their families, not towards massively expensive tribunal costs. I state that warning to any of my former colleagues in the legal profession.
I am conscious that some of my colleagues wish to speak in this debate, so I will finish by talking about a school photograph that my constituent brought into a surgery. It was like any other school photograph—children smiling, and with teachers on either end of the row—but this photograph was different. It showed my constituent’s class at the special school he had to attend because of his medical condition. Eight of his school friends had haemophilia. Four of those eight are now dead as a result of contaminated blood infections, and another is so ill that, in his early 50s, he is forced to live in a specialist care home because of how his body has been left.
My constituent and the thousands of others we have heard about today are the victims of a terrible episode in our national life. They have fought for justice for 30 years, and I thank this Prime Minister and this Government for listening and acting. I hope this inquiry delivers answers for those affected.
This is also the first time I have had the pleasure of speaking in this House with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, so may I welcome you to your position? I also echo what has been said in thanking the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for being able to secure this important debate. Let me also say that it was a pleasure to be in the Chamber for the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). I congratulate her on taking her seat.
I am not going to take up too much of the House’s time in this debate, but I want to draw the House’s attention to the case of a constituent of mine, one that I have raised in this House before; I have been fortunate to be called to speak on this issue in a number of different debates. My constituent Sue Threakall has been communicating with me for more than two years. She was one of the first people to come to me after my election in 2015 to raise this issue, and this was one of the first cases I decided to take up and follow. Other colleagues have made this point, but I, too, have to feel a sense of shame that I was not aware of the background to this story before I started to hear some of the personal testimony.
I merely intend to read out part of an email that Sue Threakall sent to me yesterday, when it became clear that this emergency debate was going to be held—I have been in constant touch with her. She asked me briefly to share with the House her story, and I am doing so because it says in more powerful words than anyone else could why it is so important that we have this full public inquiry. At the time of this email, we were not aware of the Government’s announcement, which I warmly welcome. I pay tribute to not only my hon. Friend the Minister of State, but the Prime Minister for driving this forward.
Let me share with Members what Sue Threakall wrote to me in her email yesterday:
“My husband, Bob Threakall, died in 1991, aged 47. Despite being a severe haemophiliac, he had lived a relatively normal life until he was given commercial blood products. Following that his health, and his life, followed a deep and dark downhill path.
He contracted Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. He died a terrible death, which I believe was wholly avoidable.
He was NEVER informed about the risks known at the time of imported Factor 8.
He was NEVER told he had Hepatitis C, and indeed I only found out myself a few years ago.
His HIV test result was withheld from him for many months, thus leaving me at risk. I was fortunate...many women were not.
From Autumn 1990 until two days before he died, months later, with shadowing on his lungs and despite being at high risk of contracting pneumonia, he was left UNTREATED.
He never had the chance of seeing his eldest son married, nor met his grandchildren.
He didn’t see his middle son graduate from university.
He didn’t see his youngest son pass his 11 plus and go to grammar school.
Following his death our family basically fell apart. Grief sent us in different directions and for many years we were completely broken. The fallout is still there today, bubbling away, just below the surface.”
Sue writes in conclusion:
“It is my firm opinion, following campaigning and researching since 1985, that haemophiliacs were used as guinea pigs. I believe that, had people acted differently at the time, Bob, and so many others, would almost certainly be alive and well today.”
I found Sue’s email extremely moving, and I have repeated her words to the House today because they say better than almost any of the rest of us could why the decision that has been taken by the Government to hold this public inquiry is so welcome. I will be following this process carefully to ensure that the form of the inquiry is the best it can be, so that victims and survivors, such as my constituent, can get the truth, fairness and justice that they deserve.
I wish to start by echoing what has been said by so many in paying tribute to the victims of this tragedy, their families and those many hon. Members who have campaigned tirelessly for such a long time to ensure that this public inquiry takes place. I also pay tribute to our Prime Minister who, after so many people have not, has listened to these concerns and has organised this full public inquiry.
As a doctor, I prescribe blood products—and that will be continuing every day—often for people who are not in the position to make decisions for themselves. I prescribe blood for babies who have been born very prematurely and for children who have cancer—people who are not in the position to make these decisions, just like the youngsters with haemophilia and other constituents who have been mentioned.
This is an issue of trust. It is important that when people go into hospital and receive treatment they are able to trust that the risk-benefit decision that is made with them or, if they are very small or very unwell, on their behalf, is made on the basis of all the known facts and all the available information. With the contaminated blood scandal, it appears that that was not the case. Despite the fact that people knew that HIV, hepatitis and hepatitis B were transmissible through blood products, that information was not made available to the people receiving such products. The bloods were not being properly screened, and even when, as I understand it, bloods were being screened elsewhere, these products were being used on people in the UK.
Trust is the key word—trust and faith, if people have that, in the inquiry. Every story is different. My constituent Barry Flynn is a twin. His twin is not here, but on his behalf he wants to be able to trust the inquiry. He wants the victims to be heard and to decide the remit, and he wants their evidence to be taken. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the way to get trust?
Absolutely; the victims and their families have the right and deserve to know what happened. They deserve answers to their questions. They need to know when people knew that these blood products could be causing harm and, if those people did know, why the products were still given.
The House should be under no illusions—I am sure it will not be, after listening to many eloquent Members describe their constituents’ cases—about the suffering people have been through, losing their family members. There is a stigma that still exists today around many of these medical conditions, particularly HIV. Other people, such as victims’ wives and children, have been put at risk, and many others still suffer today from poor health.
I very much welcome the announcement of the public inquiry, which I hope will get to the bottom of all the issues. I hope that the victims receive the compensation they deserve.
May I, too, welcome you to your new role, Madam Deputy Speaker? I am absolutely delighted. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on her brilliant maiden speech and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for being such a doughty champion of this issue in Parliament.
This debate has been conducted in a way we can all recognise as hugely positive. It has been very constructive, which I think is what people out there in the country would expect—they would expect us to conduct this debate responsibly because this issue very much affects people’s lives. I am acutely aware of that because one of my constituents who has been caught up in this tragedy is Sue Wathen, a local teacher whose husband is a councillor. They are friends I care about very much. Rather like several of my colleagues, I was shocked when, shortly after I was elected, Sue and Peter asked me to go around to their house, where they told me all about the things they had gone through and the difficulties that Sue was facing in trying to access the Harvoni treatment that she so desperately needed.
I know that Sue will be sat at home watching this debate and will welcome the Government’s announcement no end. Things went so disastrously wrong in the past and we need to get to the bottom of that. A particular shock to Sue was that she was diagnosed as having her condition after some 30 years. It was a bombshell: she was marking books in her office at school when she received the telephone call telling her that she had this condition.
The most welcome thing about today’s announcement is the firm commitment to ensure that the victims of this tragedy are properly listened to and are really involved in shaping the inquiry. There are lessons to be learned from what happened with Hillsborough. It does not surprise me in the slightest that the Prime Minister is so committed to addressing this issue: we have seen her take up a number of injustices, of which Hillsborough is one example. I hope that we can get to the bottom of this particular tragedy. The victims know how it affects them on a day-to-day basis. They know what the consequences are for their families and they should be listened to and encouraged to help shape the inquiry.
One key point that I suspect will come up in these discussions in the weeks and months ahead is access to treatment. Unfortunately, from time to time, NHS bureaucracy gets in the way of people accessing treatments. In Sue’s case, we went through a multitude of dramas to get the Harvoni treatment that she so desperately needed. In the end, we were successful. I am very grateful to Ministers for all their efforts in helping to achieve that. I remember what Sue said to me when we first had that early conversation. She said, “I am not worried about compensation; I just want to get better.” There is a lot in that. These are all issues that the public inquiry should consider and address. I welcome it very much and look forward to the debates ahead.
Like other hon. Members, Madam Deputy Speaker, I welcome you to the Chair. I also wish to put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing this debate. In the short time that I have been a Member of this place, I have been struck by her determination and perseverance with this campaign. Clearly, it is an issue that goes right across the Chamber. I also wish to thank and to recognise all those Members who are not in the Chamber today or who have perhaps moved on following the election for playing a part in this campaign. That includes David Cameron, who, at his last Prime Minister’s questions, said that he wanted more to be done on this very important issue.
This is a very important matter to many of us both inside and outside this House. As we have heard today, so many constituents have been affected by this issue and are still affected today. It was first brought to my attention about a year ago when a constituent came to my surgery, but the issue that she raised was slightly different. We have heard a lot of stories about victims and those who are suffering as a result of the contaminated blood tragedy, but this lady came to raise the issue of support for the spouses of those who have died from contaminated blood. She had a number of questions and concerns, particularly around the discretionary payment fund. In particular, she wanted to know exactly what her position was, saying that she felt as though she was in limbo when it came to her monthly payments.
This is a tragedy that means so much to so many people. Through no fault of their own, they have suddenly found themselves in hardship and really suffering as a result of what has happened. We know that this tragedy goes back to the 1970s and 1980s and that it is an issue that has spanned several Governments. It is a long-running issue, but for those families in my constituency and across the country, it is still a priority for them and rightly so. From what we have heard from the Minister today and from the Prime Minister in her statement, I sense that it is still a priority for the Government as well. We should continue to provide support for those affected by this tragedy.
I am very conscious of time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will draw my comments to a close by saying that I hope that this inquiry brings together all the parties, including the families and the victims, because, after all the time that has elapsed, there are still families who want answers, and a sense of conclusion and closure to this tragic issue.
I, too, welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have a confession, or an apology, to make: when I was first briefed on this issue, I put it into the “too difficult to deal with” category—perhaps it was too niche, too much of the past. It lacked a contemporary feel to it. I was wrong and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has proved the point today, and she is to be congratulated on that.
Listening to this debate, I have been reflecting on the fact that so many of our constituents view this place through that very narrow prism of 30 minutes or so on a Wednesday. This debate has shown Parliament at its best—Members from across the parties with an interest in an issue coming together to try to find a solution. I welcome the words of the hon. Lady in relation to my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, many Ministers have listened, and just as many Ministers listened to the tragedy of Hillsborough. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seems to have something in her essence, as she does not listen but decides to act in a fair, calm and sensible way, always in the pursuit of justice for our constituents and fellow citizens.
This issue speaks to a time long past—a different time for procedures, practices and medical processes. It certainly predates patients’ rights and, as a number of hon. Members have said, the devolution settlement, which will doubtless throw up challenges for the inquiry. However, it is also a contemporary issue, as it causes pain, suffering and anxiety, as many colleagues across the House have referenced. I strongly welcome the Government’s decision to move towards a single payment scheme. Having five silos to which people can try to apply and have to justify their needs to—my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) alluded to such cases—has added indignity to injustice.
Money is not everything, as a number of colleagues have said. Yes, the ill health unnecessarily—and probably avoidably—experienced by sufferers as a result of contaminated blood means that they must bear greater medical costs as well as greater social and lifestyle costs. But the inquiry is crucial. I confess that I am sanguine, on a personal level, as to whether there should be a panel or a judge-led inquiry. If the latter—I agree entirely with the Minister that this has to be done in concert with the survivors to identify the best way—I hope that we can rally around the authenticity of the judge and not question their motivation or bona fides. The sufferers do not have time on their side, and we must move forward quickly. This is a campaign that has festered too long.
I conclude by congratulating again the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. I hope that people who are suffering, who are bereaved, who are in pain, or who are anxious today are in some way sustained and comforted by a brighter glimmer of the hope of justice at the end of the tunnel.
I thank the Government very much for the announcement. I am new to the issue, and I pay tribute to hon. Members who have done much work in previous years, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), and others who had the wisdom to champion this cause when it was not fashionable to do so.
Islanders who have been affected will be relieved that all the truth behind the scandal will come out. I suspect that some of it will make for very difficult listening indeed. I did not know whether I should speak in this debate, but I decided to do so after listening to the moving experiences of some of my residents, who asked me to come to the Chamber and listen to the debate. I am glad that I have done so, and I thank them for that suggestion.
I represent residents, as we all do, who have lived with this for decades, including people who contracted illnesses linked to contaminated blood, some of whom were infected when only nine years old. One resident, Janet Sheppesson from Freshwater in the west of my constituency, worries not only for herself but for members of her family. She told me that her life had been turned upside down by the contaminated blood:
“My infection has caused me to suffer from a disabling and debilitating autoimmune disease. You may be amazed, as I am, to know that, despite all this, I was refused funding for the new generation, direct-acting antiviral treatment for Hepatitis C by NHS England and was obliged to buy it myself earlier this year.”
Not only do the residents I represent suffer but they feel that the NHS, which let them down in the first place along with others, has not provided the support that it should have done, which concerns me.
The light of investigation, whether by the Government, media or interested parties, is critical to making progress in our society, to upholding justice and to lessen suffering. Those inquiries are often difficult, as we have seen from Hillsborough and may well see from Grenfell Tower and others. Such inquiries ask questions of those in authority and test the system. The outcome should be justice and, as other hon. Members have said, trust in the system and in people here, who are doing the right thing and battling for their constituents.
Islanders want to know the answers to a series of questions, some of which have been asked. I will not repeat those, but there are two or three outstanding questions. Will the Government at some point explain the difference between a statutory and a Hillsborough-like inquiry, especially for my constituents who are interested in participating in it? How will the widows and families of the 2,400 people who have already died be treated as participants, and how will their financial and other claims be handled? The potential criminal elements have to be investigated to their ultimate conclusion. Will the Minister reassure us that the inquiry will be time-limited, while being as comprehensive as possible?
I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for calling the debate and for her indefatigable campaigning on the subject. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on an excellent maiden speech; I am confident that it was the beginning of many excellent contributions in this Chamber.
Many colleagues on both sides of the House have been tireless in their advocacy for the victims of this unspeakable tragedy over many years. I am a relative newcomer to the issue, but I speak today on behalf of my constituent Jackie Britton, who lives in Portchester. Jackie has met me on many occasions, for she, too, has not given up on this fight. She contracted hepatitis C in 1982 from a blood transfusion during childbirth, but she was only diagnosed in 2011. For many years, she has been afflicted with and has suffered from a debilitating illness. Her daughter has also been very ill with various medical conditions.
I am sure that Jackie would welcome today’s news about a public inquiry into this matter. It is clear that the Government are seriously reflecting the concerns and voices of those who have been tragically affected by the incident. The inquiry is the latest in a series of actions taken by this Government over several years. The Government have increased the amount of money spent on payments to victims to record levels since 2016, with an additional £125 million in support funding for those who need it. I am pleased that the Government announced last year that they would reform the package of support measures for those affected. For the first time, almost 2,500 beneficiaries with chronic hepatitis C were eligible to receive an annual payment of £3,500 a year. That progress results from listening and action on the part of the Government.
I will conclude my comments because I am aware that other colleagues want to contribute. There is nothing that anybody can do to change the past, and this awful incident and tragedy, but I hope, for the sake of Jackie and all those victims about whom we have heard today, that the inquiry—the process of discovering the truth and bringing some justice to those affected—will provide some solace and finality to this heartbreaking tragedy.
Welcome to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for squeezing me in at the end of the debate.
For the many reasons explained in the many excellent speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have been really impressed and pleased that the Government have thought this issue through afresh, which is significant, given the previous inquiries and many debates on it. The apology given by the Minister today was an important step, which will be appreciated by the victims.
I note what the Minister said on the need to consult on the form of the inquiry. Given the numerous positions on that issue alone, he has made the right decision to engage with the affected groups. However, I hope that an element of urgency will now be forced into this process to move things forward, and that we think always about the victims and how they have been waiting so long.
I hope the inquiry will look into the decision to acquire these products in the first place and into who was responsible—that is, at the period before anyone in the UK became infected.
This is a tragic story from start to finish. I acknowledge the persistence and total commitment of my affected constituents and those involved in the wider campaign to seek the truth. It is due to them that we are here today, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on leading the all-party group and on calling this debate.
We must acknowledge that there are variations in the interpretation of the facts and history of this scandal. One of my constituents, Tony Farrugia, feels that evidence from his infected father’s medical notes—namely, a letter—was removed from them. The letter was noted in the 1991 HIV litigation, but has been removed since. When my constituent received the notes, the letter was missing, and his attempts to retrieve it from the Department of Health have failed. The letter states that his father was given a bad batch of F8 in 1980, and that was reported on on 7 June 1983. However, surprisingly, his father was not told until February 1985—nearly two years later.
I do not know the answers to those questions, and I do not believe that my constituent knows all the answers, but it seems to me from discussions with my constituents, and from the limited documentation I have seen, that there was a series of horrific mistakes, leading to a series of unimaginable consequences. That makes it really important that we get to the truth of what happened.
Efforts to deal with this issue to date—and we need to recognise that there have been a number—simply have not satisfied the people concerned, or many of them at least. The point is that many people affected by this tragedy—especially children and wider family members—have not been offered compensation. In any event, they do not feel that there will ever be closure until the full facts are known and they themselves are included in the process.
I do appreciate that the Government feel there has been proper disclosure of the information they have, but the fact remains that there is a clear disconnect between the various parties on this issue. As ever with such events, it is not just what happens between the various parties where one can see fault, but in the lack of information afterwards. That not only can make the original situation worse, but is immensely frustrating for the victims’ families.
As has been explained to me by my constituents Tony Farrugia and Chris Smith, who are members of the Fatherless Generation action group, this is a scandal of epic proportions, and I look forward to seeing continued progress on it.
It is delightful to see you in your new place in the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on her maiden speech. That was an excellent start, and I am sure she will have a very long career in the House of Commons.
We have heard some really important and excellent contributions. I think we were all moved by the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) when she talked about Colin Smith—a little boy who received contaminated blood products when he was quite tiny, and who eventually died of AIDS and hepatitis C. That reminded us all that this is about boys and girls, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters who have been affected by this scandal.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these blood products should have been withdrawn as soon as the risks involved in their use became clear?
That is a good point, and I hope the inquiry will be able to get to grips with it.
I am really pleased we have had this announcement today from the Government, but I gently say to the Minister that we will not be going away on this: parliamentarians on both sides of the House will be following carefully how the consultation takes place and who is consulted, and making sure that there is a good, timely timetable, that there is legal support for those who need help with representation, and that there are regular updates to Parliament.
I want to finish with a quote from a person who has just emailed me and says that this is
“just the end of the beginning and still a long way to go before truth, justice and holding to account are achieved”.
We will now be watching very carefully what the Government do next.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the need for an independent public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal.