The inquiry has now completed its preliminary hearings and plans to start its formal public hearings at the end of April 2019. Between now and then, the inquiry will hold public meetings in 18 places throughout the United Kingdom to enable people who have been affected or infected to express their views to the inquiry team. The inquiry has appointed 1,289 core participants, of whom 1,272 are people who have been either infected or affected by contaminated blood.
What steps will the Minister take to repair the damaged relationship with those infected, whose confidence in the Government has been undermined by the fiasco around their entitlement to legal aid and now by the failure of the Cabinet Office to swiftly notify Departments not to destroy relevant files?
As far as legal aid is concerned, more than £250,000 has been provided to those affected by this scandal to help them pay for their legal representation. As regards the other matter that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, this was an honest mistake caused by an administrative error. We explained that in full in the form of a written statement to the House and apologised to the inquiry as soon as it was discovered. All Departments, other than the Legal Aid Agency and the Courts and Tribunals Service, have now confirmed that no relevant records were destroyed during the relevant period.
Last month, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, said that many victims of the infected blood scandal are still living on the breadline today. The inquiry is not due to look at financial support until 2020, so what more now can the Government do to help the people affected?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, different compensation packages have been agreed by the Department of Health and Social Care in the different parts of the United Kingdom. Sir Brian did ask the Government to look at the case for some additional measures, which are being considered by the Secretary of State for Health and his ministerial team, and the Minister responsible for mental health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), is very willing to talk to the inquiry team about that.[Official Report, 20 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 7MC.]
The very comprehensive nature of this inquiry is important, and it is also important that it should have a timeframe that is kept to. Is my right hon. Friend able to give us any idea whether the timetable is still robust and when we can expect to see a final report?
As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, it is a matter for the independent chair of the inquiry to determine its duration. In my conversations with Sir Brian, he has always been very clear that he does not want this inquiry to drag out; he wants to get justice and a clear outcome for the survivors and the victims, and he will be striving to secure that objective.
A number of my constituents are affected by this scandal and have waited for decades for answers on how it was allowed to happen. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Members are updated about where those meetings outside London are held so that we can keep our constituents informed and get the maximum participation?
May I suggest to the Minister that one measure that he could take quite quickly is to level up all the payments that those who are infected and affected receive? There is a variation around the United Kingdom at the moment because of devolution, and such a move would go a long way to show good faith to this community.
The hon. Lady has always been the most ardent champion of those who have been affected by this scandal, but it is the legal and constitutional position that each part of the United Kingdom is responsible for its own compensation scheme, which reflects the devolution settlement as regards health policy.[Official Report, 20 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 8MC.]
Will my right hon. Friend say a little bit more about the role that those who have been affected by this tragedy will have in setting the terms and the scope of the inquiry? I particularly raise this because of the issue of access to treatment, which is something that I have regularly raised and that I think should be explored.
That issue is certainly one that I know Sir Brian and the inquiry team want to examine and call evidence on. People who have been directly affected have had opportunities at the preliminary hearings to express their views. More than 1,200 of them have now been appointed as core participants and the forthcoming public meetings will give them a further chance to make sure that their views are indeed heard. Sir Brian is determined that that will be the case.