With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to update the House on the infected blood inquiry.
The Government welcome the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s second interim report, and I would like to thank Sir Brian Langstaff and all those who have contributed. The infected blood inquiry has done a huge amount of work on an intensely complex issue, ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I have been deeply moved by the testimonies outlined in the latest report, and the victims’ bravery in coming forward should not be overlooked.
The issuing of a second interim report specifically on compensation was not anticipated by the Government until we were informed of it by the inquiry in February this year. However, we very much appreciate and welcome Sir Brian taking this approach. The Government are considering intensely the recommendations outlined in this report, and work is under way at pace across all relevant Departments to respond fully.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) announced the infected blood inquiry in 2017 to examine the circumstances that led to individuals being given contaminated blood and blood products in the UK. The inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, commenced on 2 July 2018, and I would like to reiterate our total endorsement of my right hon. Friend’s point that the
“contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 80s…should simply never have happened.”
In tandem with the ongoing inquiry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), then Paymaster General, commissioned Sir Robert Francis KC to produce a compensation framework study in anticipation of a recommendation from the inquiry to set up a compensation scheme. The findings of this study were published in June 2022.
Shortly after that, in July 2022, Sir Brian published his first interim report of the infected blood inquiry. In his report, Sir Brian recommended that the Government make interim payments to infected individuals and their bereaved partners. The Government accepted this recommendation in full on 17 August 2022, and interim compensation payments of £100,000 have been paid to those infected individuals and their bereaved partners registered with existing support schemes.
As I said to the House in December:
“We have much to do, but I wish to assure the House…that this is a priority for the Government and we will continue to progress it.”—[Official Report, 15 December 2022; Vol. 724, c. 1251.]
I would like to assure the House that this commitment absolutely remains.
Sir Brian’s most recent report sets out what the inquiry recommends as an appropriate means of compensating both those infected and affected, and the mechanism for delivering that compensation. In doing so, it sets out the complexity of what is a multi-layered issue. The recommendations in his report outline that those infected and affected should be granted legal support, and infected and affected people and the estates of infected people should be able to claim for categories of loss against five awards: injury impact award, social impact award, autonomy award, care award and financial loss award. This is rather than claiming on an individual assessment of each application. In addition, those dissatisfied with their compensation payments should have redress through an appeal to a structure outside the compensation scheme.
The report has also proposed mechanisms that Sir Brian thinks will ensure the fairness of the compensation scheme. He has recommended that the scheme be administered by an arm’s length body, chaired by a High Court judge or equivalent, and advised by legal and medical professionals, as well as the beneficiaries of the scheme. In addition, Sir Brian has proposed that the route through the courts should still remain open to beneficiaries.
Sir Brian has agreed with much of Sir Robert’s study, but there are also differences in approach. For example, Sir Robert outlined in his study that the scheme should be delivered locally in each of the four nations as this was the preference of the victims. Sir Brian has recommended that the scheme be delivered by a central body, while continuing the support provided by the existing infected blood support schemes, which should be continued and guaranteed for life
“by legislation or secure government undertaking”.
There is also divergence in the consideration of scope of those eligible for compensation payments, including the extension of payments to those with hepatitis B, and not providing payments to the estates of those affected.
Sir Brian’s interim report is detailed, and it is only right that the Government will need to consider the complexities it sets out thoroughly when preparing our response. The House will recognise that health is a devolved matter, and I will be discussing the report with my colleagues in the devolved Administrations.
As I said at the start of my statement, the Government welcome the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s second interim report to assist its ongoing work. However, we do not underestimate the complexity of these recommendations, which do need careful consideration. For example, Sir Brian recommends an arm’s length body in which His Majesty’s Government would have no ongoing role beyond providing taxpayer funds as required by the body. On anything like this scale, this would be a new departure, and it does have implications for Government accountability that will need careful consideration alongside how its financial implications will be managed.
However, I would like to reassure the House that while the Government are progressing work to ensure that we are in the best possible position to respond fully at the end of the inquiry, every recommendation by Sir Brian, including in relation to timing and a further interim payment, is receiving intense focus.
My colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are aware of issues that Sir Brian has raised in relation to psychological support. Under the current psychological support scheme for England, there is provision for a grant of up to £900 a year, for established beneficiaries and family members, for counselling and talking therapy. The Department of Health and Social Care is undertaking research to look at the psychological support needs so that decisions on commissioning a bespoke service are based on robust evidence and meet the requirement.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the need for pace. People die every week as a result of the impact of the scandal. This Government want to deliver resolution, and we are working at pace across all relevant Departments to consider the recommendations as outlined in this latest report and to ensure that we are best placed to respond to the inquiry’s final report. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Paymaster General for providing an advance copy of his statement. I would like to begin by paying tribute to the brave victims and their families, who, while working through their own personal ill health, grief and trauma, have campaigned tirelessly for justice—without their strength, we would not have reached this stage—and of course to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who has been a stalwart of the campaign.
The continued work of the infected blood inquiry is crucial to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I had the privilege of meeting victims of this scandal last month, and their stories will stay with me forever. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish they have faced and are still facing. Justice delayed and its continuing delay is justice denied. While we await the conclusion of the report and inquiry, those who were given contaminated blood products are dying at a rate of one every four days. Families have suffered decades of health issues, financial loss and stigma.
Victims—those affected and infected—will have watched the Minister’s statement today with heavy hearts, disappointment and some degree of anger. There seems to be no commitment from the Minister to respond to the second report until the final report is published in the autumn. The interim report was published so that the Government do not have to wait until the final report to take action. We all understand the complexities of this scandal, but I hope the Minister can see that many individuals directly affected still feel angry and unrecognised. Today’s statement does not provide any certainty for the families or children of victims.
To finish, I have five questions for the Minister. First, does he agree with Sir Brian’s statement in the interim report that
“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress”?
Can he confirm that the “intense focus” he talked about is to achieve the recommendation in the report that the scheme is
“set up now and…should begin work this year”?
Secondly, how can he provide more reassurance to family members of victims, including parents who lost children and children who were orphaned when their parents died?
Thirdly, the Paymaster General talked about work under way. If the Government plan to accept these interim findings, officials must start verifying and registering directly affected people and their families urgently to understand the size of the group and to speed up the payments. Can he confirm whether that is already taking place? Fourthly, will he commit to more regular updates on progress and the direction of travel on this issue ahead of the inquiry’s final report later this year? We should not have to keep squeezing this information out of the Government, because it compounds the pain of the victims.
Finally, will the Paymaster General agree to meet me and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), so that we can work together to deliver the justice the victims deserve?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. She was right to pay tribute to many MPs in the House, including the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue over a long time. I am grateful for the work of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, and some members of the media have also been at the forefront of pushing this issue for a long time.
Above all, the hon. Lady is right to refer to the victims, and I am very conscious that there will be tens of thousands of people watching this statement who are desperate to see a resolution. Every time there is another iteration, or a cause for me to be in this place, it is a source of anxiety, concern and worry. I am sure that there is disappointment every time there is another statement and we do not have the final resolution, but we have travelled a long way. This inquiry was announced six years ago, and Sir Brian started work five years ago. I am very grateful to him for producing this interim report. A lot of it is similar to the report by Sir Robert Francis, but there are differences.
We do need to do the work, and on the points the hon. Lady raised, we have been focused on ensuring that at the conclusion of Sir Brian’s inquiry, we are able to come forward in the best place possible, but that does not preclude doing something earlier if we are able and have the means to do so. Registration is not as yet taking place, but I am mindful that whereas for the previous interim payment there was a defined set of people and bereaved partners, if this recommendation is to be taken forward it will require registration, and that inevitably takes time, as we are all aware.
Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that this statement is no more than an update. I was keen to come to the House to hear the views of hon. Members, and I commit to doing so again as appropriate and as we continue through this process. Work will continue, and of course it would be a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if they would like to discuss this matter.
In his second interim report, Sir Brian Langstaff makes it clear that the Government have everything they need to implement the compensation framework now. I repeat the pertinent quote that the shadow Minister pulled out from the report:
“Time without redress is harmful.”
I suggest that that is rather underplaying it. During “time without redress”, people are passing away. Currently, the infected blood support schemes make regular ex gratia payments to those who are affected and bereaved partners. Will the Government make that provision statutory?
I do not dispute for a second Sir Brian’s comment that time without redress is harmful, to which my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) referred. We want progress, which is why we are working at pace to deliver it. Sir Brian makes a specific recommendation that the ongoing ex gratia payments should be put on a statutory basis, or receive a similarly strong Government commitment. I am not in a position to respond to recommendations today. It has been eight working days since the report landed, but all the recommendations will be taken seriously.
May I put on record my gratitude for advance sight of the statement, and for the work of the infected blood inquiry? I suspect there will be a considerable amount of consensus in the House on this issue. Over the years, I have been appalled at the personal testimony that I have heard from my constituents about 40 years of struggle, and the realisation that this scandal could have affected any one of us. It is a tragedy that simply should never have happened, and it has been made worse by decades of delay, first in preventing further use of contaminated factor products and identifying victims, and then in delivering compensation.
As we know, the infected blood scandal took place before devolution, while healthcare in Scotland was the responsibility of the UK Government. Financial powers to deliver compensation still lie with Westminster. It is therefore entirely appropriate to have a scheme delivered by a central body, as recommended by the inquiry. Over the years, too many delays and denials have impacted victims and their families. Sir Brian Langstaff is spot on when he says in the interim report—we have heard this a couple of times already, but I make no apology for repeating it—that:
“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress.”
It is therefore imperative that the recommendations to widen the interim compensation payments are carried out, and that should be done before the final compensation scheme is set up. Will the UK Government accept the inquiry’s recommendation that interim compensation payments are widened and delivered without delay? Finally, when will the compensation system’s independent chair be appointed, and can we have a detailed timescale for that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his welcome for the concept of a central body. That was not an area of dispute, but there was a slightly difference emphasis in Sir Robert’s report and Sir Brian’s report regarding whether the payments should be delivered locally through each of the four schemes or through a UK scheme. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this happened in the ’70s and ’80s, long before devolution, and there is a clear recommendation from Sir Brian, which I am glad he endorses.
The hon. Gentleman raises two points about the interim compensation payment being widened and there being no delay in its implementation, and about the appointment of individuals. This all depends on the Government’s response to each of the recommendations—he will accept that—but a number of things could be done to speed up the process. If we were to agree with Sir Brian’s recommendation to have an arm’s length body, there are mechanisms whereby individuals could be appointed on an interim basis, prior to the ALB being formally constituted. All that is in the mix as we work through our response to the report.
The main views from the all-party group will come from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), but we recognise that a great deal of work needs to go into this. As a minimum, may I put to the Minister that he should come back to the House before the summer break to say how far the Government have got in considering the recommendations, and which ones they will accept?
Will he set up a register so that those who think they have claims can put their names forward and be able to receive updates from the Government directly, rather than just through the mainstream media?
The words of former Secretaries of State for Health, that the totality has been a failure by the British state and that the pain and suffering has gone on for far too long, are endorsed across the House and by the country as a whole. We want the action that Sir Brian Langstaff has asked for, which is that the scheme should be set up this year.
I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that there is a great deal of work to be done. I have already referred to the point about the register. Were we to adopt the clear recommendation from Sir Brian about an interim payment that goes more widely than the last scheme, that would require a registration scheme. I appreciate that that would take time, and it needs to be established at an early stage if that recommendation is accepted. I will return to update the House as appropriate, which I hope will certainly be before the summer break.
I thank the Minister for his statement, but really, after thousands have died, decades of campaigning, a five-year public inquiry with more than 500 people dying during that period, a review of compensation frameworks by Sir Robert Francis which was delivered to the Government last February, a first interim report from Sir Brian Langstaff, and now a second interim report from Sir Brian Langstaff setting out the clear case for compensation, enough is enough. Sir Brian Langstaff is clear in his report that the scheme need not await the final report to begin work. He states:
“It will clearly take political will to act quickly but the circumstances here warrant it,”.
Will the Minister explain to me, and to the thousands of people who will be watching this statement, what exactly is the problem? Why is there not the political will from this Government to deliver justice to this group of people?
The right hon. Lady has been a constant and incredibly effective champion for those affected and infected. It was about time, but it was this Government who instituted this inquiry. We have made a huge amount of progress in having an inquiry, and in having clear recommendations on compensation from Sir Brian. We want to act at pace and we want to act swiftly, but it is also vital that this is done properly. There is a huge amount of work. The nature of the report and the recommendations Sir Brian makes are unprecedented for an unprecedented circumstance, but that requires detailed work and detailed analysis. We will bring forward a response as soon as we can. As I say, we are focused on the inquiry’s conclusion, but that does not preclude coming forward before then if we are able to do so and we decide that that is the right course of action.
I add my voice to those thanking Sir Brian Langstaff and the whole team for the work they have done. We all recognise the complexities of delivering a scheme that is effective. I am grateful to the Minister for repeatedly coming to this House and for committing to come to the House again, but will he repeat from the Dispatch Box the moral case for compensation, which has effectively bound the Government to act and to follow the recommendations for compensation? Of course it takes time to put that into practice, but what is vital for people to hear today is that, in principle, the Government are going to make it happen. For many years that commitment was not there and it needs to be repeated now.
My right hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of knowledge on this subject. I am very grateful—I repeat this, as did he—to Sir Brian for producing a comprehensive and thorough appraisal of what the compensation scheme should look like, but we need to go through it in detail. As my right hon. Friend would accept, it needs to be effective and it needs to work, but I am pleased that he has given me the opportunity to reiterate what I said last December in this place: we fully accept that there is a moral case for compensation in this circumstance, absolutely.
As I said in the debate in 2017, I remember, as a young surgeon, when this scandal began to break in the early ’80s. That is 40 years ago. My entire medical career has passed while people have been fighting for justice and recognition. Dragging that out has added financial hardship to the suffering people were already going through. As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) said, enough is enough. The Minister talked about how long things will take and we recognise that, but when will they start? When will registration of bereaved parents and children start? When will the framework actually start, so that, as Sir Brian Langstaff called for, people can expect to see action this year and not wait any longer?
The hon. Lady is very clear, as is Sir Brian in his report. There is no dispute over what Sir Brian is recommending. I cannot give that commitment now. There are processes across Government, as she will understand. We are working at pace and we are going through the report in great detail. As I say, it has been a short period of time since that report landed with all of us. It is detailed, it is comprehensive and it does need work, but we will be coming back to the hon. Lady and to this House.
My first portfolio as a shadow Minister, in 2006, was health, so I met many of the victims. The situation started in the ’80s, but we did not really know until the ’90s what was creating it—I am no expert, but that is what was coming forward—so I am very proud that the Government have done something that I promised we would do for the victims, but it has taken too long. The moral position is that the victims and their loved ones are still suffering. People have lost their loved ones. It is not just a financial issue; it has broken people’s hearts and minds. Their scepticism might be fuelled by the fact that the Government initiated an inquiry by Baroness Cumberlege into the Primodos debacle and disaster, but they literally ignored their own inquiry, so can the Minister understand the concerns of victims and Members who are a little bit sceptical about delay, delay, delay?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This has been a long, long-term scandal. It started in the ’70s and ’80s, and it has taken many, many years to get to this stage. But the stage we have got to now is that a very distinguished High Court judge has spent five years working through the circumstances. He is at an advanced stage with his inquiry and has produced a thorough report on compensation. As I said to the House and say again, the moral case for compensation is fully accepted by the Government. We need to go through it to work through exactly what the implications are—they are multiple. As I said before, this is an unprecedented circumstance which requires unprecedented means of address and that is what is reflected in the report, but it does require work to go through it.
We had the report set out by Sir Brian Langstaff, which says how the compensation should be delivered and the framework for delivering it. The Minister said that the Government are considering this recent report “at pace”. He also said that he wants to come back and update the House. If we are moving at pace and we have all the detail in place that we need, when will he come back to the House?
It will be a great pleasure to return to the House with more substance when I can. It is important, even though we received the comprehensive report only eight working days ago, to give Members an opportunity to share their views on that interim report at the earliest possible opportunity, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that it does require work to come back substantively to say which recommendations are being accepted and how we will be progressing them.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, but does he agree that, notwithstanding the complexity he outlined in relation to the compensation scheme, two things should happen? First, the Government should move urgently to the design of the compensation scheme. Secondly, in the design of the compensation scheme, there should be engagement with victims or the groups representing them to ensure alignment between the compensation scheme and the expectation of victims.
I totally understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. It is critical that the answers we produce in response to the report are readily understood and have the buy-in of all those who suffered so grievously as a result of these scandals. I am very keen to engage with the victims. Sir Brian has been doing an exceptional job in ensuring that he fully understands, listens to and takes on board the comments made by the victims and engages with them. It is, I think, impossible for any of us who have not suffered from this personally to understand fully the anguish the victims have been put through. Sir Brian has done his utmost to reflect that in the report he has produced.
I, too, would like to thank the Minister for coming here today, and pay tribute to Sir Brian for the work he has done. Not long after I was first elected in 2017, I received a letter from a constituent whose family had suffered as a result of the infected blood scandal. What they have been through is heartbreaking. Although progress has been made and we have the interim report, we are now six years further on and they are no further on in receiving compensation. As others have said today, can we please get on with it and ensure that the suffering of families is put to an end?
I totally understand where the hon. Lady is coming from. We all have constituents in that situation. There are tens of thousands of people who are affected across the whole of the UK. We want to do so at pace. Any scheme we adopt must be effective, must work and must be appropriate. There is work ongoing. We will get there and report back to the House on our response to Sir Brian’s recommendations.
I welcome the Minister’s intense focus on this matter, but I join Members from across the House—not on a personal basis, because I think the Minister is one of the best in the Government—on behalf of my constituents in saying that this has taken a long time. Of course, it has to be thorough—I put on record my thanks to Sir Brian and Sir Robert—but can the Minister assure the House that their difference of opinion on how the compensation may be delivered, whether nationally or through the devolved Administrations, will not cause further delay? Post the final report being published, can he reassure the House that there will not then be a further consultation on whether it is devolved or national?
On children affected who have lost their loved ones and parents, could there be quicker interim payments? Some of them are really suffering financially, let alone from the loss of their parents. On the five categories, the Minister mentioned social impact; clearly, the loss of a parent is the biggest social impact of all.
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that although I referred in my statement to areas where Sir Robert and Sir Brian presented different nuances and views, I would not wish that to be overstated. Sir Brian had the benefit of Sir Robert’s report; I think he would say that he found it extremely useful that that study was undertaken, to enable him to consider Sir Robert’s report when coming up with his own recommendations. We must not allow any difference between the two—mainly of nuance—to get in the way of our proper and full consideration of Sir Brian’s report.
My hon. Friend referred to interim payments, as did other hon. Members. All I can say is that there is a clear recommendation from Sir Brian. We are working through all that, and we will return to the House in due course, having had an opportunity to review fully those recommendations.
My constituent’s father died following an infected factor VIII treatment. The family did not feel that they could grieve openly because of the stigma around HIV and AIDS at the time of his death. My constituent has told me that although a compensation payment would not bring back their father, it would finally give the family a sense of closure. Does the Minister accept the symbolic importance of compensation payments? Will the Government now commit to including children who have lost a parent in the scope of the compensation scheme, as recommended by Sir Brian Langstaff?
One of the worst of the many dreadful aspects of the scandal is the stigma to which the hon. Lady refers. For a child to go through the circumstances of parents being extremely ill and worried about the stigma and moving house, school or work, is deeply shocking to read now, and in many cases we are 20, 30, or 40 years on from the circumstances. These people went through absolute hell, with the stigma laid on top of dreadful circumstances. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding us of that. I am afraid that I am not in a position to make piecemeal comments on Sir Brian’s recommendation. As I have said, it was vital that he produced the report—a comprehensive report that we need to go through thoroughly, and it is important that we produce our response in due course when we have had a chance to do so.
The length of the scandal can be summed up by the fact that my predecessor spent 18 years pursuing cases, and I have spent the last eight years pursuing the same cases, to try to bring them to resolution. The Minister rightly says that there is work to be done following the recommendations, but what timescale has he set to prepare a response? What work has been done to prepare for the potential recruitment of people to deal with cases via the structure proposed? I know from experience with another complex compensation scheme stretching over decades that that is far easier said than done.
My hon. Friend raises a good point. Work was undertaken prior to the release of the second interim report, based on Sir Robert’s original study, which helps us considerably. We are now working at pace to go through the changes and what the Government’s stance will be overall. I will not say the timeline for that, but we are working at pace.
My hon. Friend raises a good point about recruitment: if an arm’s length body is the way forward, no time should be lost in finding a route for good people with expertise to be brought into the process prior to the formal establishment of an ALB, if that is the route we go down.
The gut-wrenching truth of the matter is that people are decaying and dying while this Government dither and delay. The people concerned in this scandal will have heard nothing new today from the Minister. For their benefit, so that they know he is fighting for them, can he confirm that the recommendations to widen the scope of the payment should be agreed? Will he fight for those compensation payments to be made this year to the people affected?
It would be wrong to characterise the circumstance today as one of no progress. The fact that Sir Brian Langstaff has produced this report is a huge step forward. It is fantastic that he has come forward with a second interim report specifically on compensation. I speak on behalf of the Government and, on their behalf, I accepted the moral case for compensation back in December. We now need to go through what Sir Brian has written, which has been the culmination of many years of work, take decisions on that and come back to the House.
I welcome the Government’s clear determination, as shown by the Minister today, to move faster towards a just resolution to this sad and terrible scandal. As an MP representing a Huntingdon family devastated by this affair, who were long concerned by the inability to engage with Ministers, will my right hon. Friend confirm that ongoing engagement with victims’ families will take place with proper understanding of their tragic plight?
I can confirm that. Most of us in our constituency capacities have been aware of the victims of this dreadful scandal. Through the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and her APPG, I had the privilege of meeting representatives of those affected, and I am more than willing to do so again as we continue to progress our work.
The Minister is absolutely correct—tens of thousands of people are fixed to their televisions today, expecting a resolution to this inquiry. I will tell him why they are disappointed: because they do not have time on their side. Hundreds have already died and more are dying on a week-by-week basis. They do not have time on their side. We need to ensure that the Government respond fully to this report and set out a clear timetable on actions from the report. Remember, people are dying as the Government are dithering and delaying.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, alas, the victims continue to die. Sir Brian makes a comment in his second interim report that we do not know the full scale of the medical impact of what went on in the ’70s and ’80s. Conditions are, in some cases, worsening. The point is well made. The hon. Gentleman says that we must respond fully—we must and we will do so when we have done the work required.
On behalf of my constituents affected, I welcome the sensitivity with which the Government have been dealing with this situation. However, the lack of urgency is undermining the good will of victims and their families, and it is letting them down every single day. How long will it be between accepting one of these points and implementing them? Would it not be easier to implement them now? Listening to Members today, I think that the best thing to do would be to implement them and work on getting the support to families as soon as possible.
I can assure my hon. Friend that there is urgency in our response. The report was produced eight working days ago; we are working at pace to go through it and we will continue to do so. We need to determine our view on all the recommendations, but that does not necessarily preclude us taking individual steps between now and the conclusion of the inquiry, and we will continue to work.
Please do not delay any longer. The Minister will say that it is complicated, as he said at the last statement. The Government have known about this scandal for a long time and should have been preparing. Bereaved families such as the Smiths in my constituency, whose case has been waiting for 18 years, need interim payments now. Does the Minister really get that those who have waited years for justice and redress cannot afford to wait any longer?
I am familiar with the hon. Lady’s constituency case, which she has raised many times. I am familiar with the sad story, which is one of so many around this House. I cannot add to what I have already said. I recognise the strength of feeling in the House and in the infected and affected communities. I am grateful that in Sir Brian’s report we have really thorough analysis for us to work through.
Does the Minister accept that the uncertainty of when the Government will fully respond to this report risks damaging people’s mental health? I am thinking about a number of constituents who have contacted me to say that there is a real impact on mental health. Can the Minister set out a timetable, or does he have a timetable in his head, for action? Does he accept the principle of making interim payments to bereaved parents and children, many of whom gave up their working careers or did not meet their educational and academic potential because of the years they spent caring for their loved ones?
On the timetable, we are determined to be in the best possible place to respond to the inquiry when it concludes. As I have said to other hon. Members, that does not preclude us taking other steps earlier, if that is what we determine to do, as a Government. We are working at pace to go through all the implications of the report.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, he will appreciate why I cannot go through individual recommendations at this stage, but I recognise the extremely strong case that Sir Brian has made for a number of those who have been affected, including carers who have given up a great deal to support others.
One of my constituents contracted hepatitis C from a botched blood bag in the 1980s. Her daughter wrote to me last year:
“I am furious that you have grudgingly decided to pay interim compensation after she finally could fight no longer, seven weeks after she died…In the meantime, I’m left with grief and nothing else to show for all the misery.”
In addition to all the horrors that my constituent and her mother went through, the daughter is not eligible for compensation as she is not a bereaved partner. Does the Minister think that is fair?
I am very sorry to hear about the loss of the hon. Lady’s constituent. It was a significant and positive step forward that the Government accepted in full Sir Brian’s recommendation about those infected and bereaved partners and brought forward the £100,000 of compensation, which was paid last October. It is tragic that, for the reasons stated earlier in relation to the scale of ongoing loss from this scandal, individuals will have missed out on that compensation because of their death between the announcement and the payment of the compensation. I really feel for the family of her constituent.
The hon. Lady referred to payments beyond the interim payments that were made last year. Sir Brian has made a very specific recommendation on that. We are not responding to that today, but it is one of the many recommendations that we are working through.
My constituent’s father died in England in the late 1970s and she tells me that she is his only surviving next of kin. Will the Minister confirm when my constituent, and many others like her, will obtain the compensation that they are clearly due? What proof will be required to access it, given the notorious related scandal around medical records? Bereaved people in these circumstances do not need more barriers—they need compensation after all they have suffered.
The hon. Lady raises an extremely good point about the evidence to be produced to access any future compensation scheme. There is a minor point of difference between the two reports by Sir Robert and Sir Brian in terms of the evidential test. However, given the history of records not being available and the length of time that has passed, Sir Brian has been clear that an appropriate approach must be taken and a compensation scheme must be established that does not preclude people who have no means of showing their eligibility because of factors completely beyond their control.
As many colleagues across the House have already said, the children of those lost as a consequence of the scandal feel particularly unseen and unheard in the progress that has been made so far. So can the Minister assure them that they will be a focus for the Government not only in recognising their loss but in delivering compensation payments to them through the scheme as a priority?
As I said before, children are a particularly harrowing aspect of the scandal. Sir Brian has made specific recommendations. We are not responding to those recommendations today, but we are working through them and I assure the hon. Lady that we will continue to do so.
I express sympathy and solidarity with my constituents who have been affected. Does the Minister accept, as the questions are demonstrating, that the longer it takes to implement compensation, the more complicated that process will become, not least because the question of estates and surviving relatives will increasingly come into play? Do the Government recognise the need to confirm the individuals who are due compensation and pay them as quickly as possible?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is exactly the process we are going through. We are working through Sir Brian’s report and his specific recommendations, including about the eligibility of estates—he recommends that the estates of those infected should be included in any scheme. The hon. Gentleman is not wrong to say that these are all complicated risks which are becoming more complicated. We want to make certain that we make progress and come to a resolution in our consideration of the report.
When I entered this House, my young constituent was in the nursery and we all hoped the scandal would be resolved quickly. She then graduated to primary school, and now she is about to go into secondary school. The loss of her father to this terrible infected blood scandal was absolutely devastating. I have two questions. First, will she receive compensation? There seems to be a question about whether children will get compensation. Secondly, the psychological research looking at support needs is being done only now. After all these years, how can it be that the research about commissioning a bespoke service is beginning only now? Will he apologise for that delay?
I cannot confirm the details of what will be in the compensation scheme when it comes forward, simply because that is the work we are undertaking now. I recognise the urgency represented by the hon. Lady.
In terms of the psychological needs, different progress has been made around the United Kingdom. There are schemes established in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and there is £900 available every year in England. Work is being undertaken now to ensure that there will be an appropriate tailored scheme. That work is ongoing and we expect to hear over the next few months what the answer will be on the psychological support scheme. That work is being conducted by ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care.
I am afraid that it is simply not good enough. It is like groundhog day for our constituents who have been impacted by the contaminated blood scandal. When there has been so much time and so many reports, it is not good enough to come to the Dispatch Box with so little to say to constituents such as my constituents Vera Gaskin and Linda Cannon.
Linda emailed me last night:
“The consequences for me have been devastating. My life has been ruined beyond belief. I lost my husband of 37 years under horrendous circumstances which were hard to bear.”
Decades have gone by and nothing has been done. Of course we welcome the reports, but the Minister must not use them to hide behind and kick the can down the road for the victims. There is clearly cross-party support for taking interim measures, so why does he not get on and do that?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this has been going on for decades. That is why it was vital that the inquiry was set up in 2017 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. This is a significant moment in the course of that inquiry: an interim report dealing specifically with compensation was delivered eight working days ago. It is extraordinarily important that that has been produced. It is a thorough report and we need to go through it.
I recognise the determination in all parts of the House to see a resolution to the matter. I also recognise the frustration of the hon. Lady, who I know is reflecting the frustrations of her constituents and many others, but it was only during the Easter recess that the report was delivered. We need to work through it, and we need to come back to the House when we have done that work.
Today’s statement is incredibly light on substance and actual commitments. There is no reason why the Government could not begin verifying and registering those affected in preparation for the publication of the final report and for the swift delivery of compensation. The Minister’s statement reiterates the need for pace, yet there is no commitment to even beginning that work, nor is there a vague timeline for when it might begin. At a time when victims are dying every week and we are in a sustained cost of living crisis, justice delayed is justice denied. Why are the Government causing further unnecessary delays with their inaction? Have the victims and their families not already suffered more than enough?
I recognise the determination of the hon. Lady. In respect of the registration of those who may be eligible for a future compensation scheme, it is fair to say that they would have varied between the Sir Robert Francis study and the report produced by Sir Brian Langstaff. We need to do the work: we need to ensure that we have absolute clarity on the approach we are taking, ensure that that is announced and ensure that there is clarity for the victims. There will be no unnecessary delays, as the hon. Lady puts it; there is, however, a necessity to do the work to make certain that we have an effective, proper and appropriate response to what is a very thorough report.
I have a constituent called Brian Ross; I have his permission to use his name in this Chamber. His family have been known to mine for generations. He received contaminated blood in the 1980s and, like so many others, has been left susceptible to cancer. I have sat down with him and talked about the stress and the fear—the really black fear—that surround him and his family. For Brian Ross’s sake, may I ask the Minister to make sure that nothing impedes a scheme for him? We do not know how long he has got. In working with the victims and their legal representatives and with the devolved institutions, which the Minister mentioned, let us make sure that there is no glitch. Please do this, for Brian Ross’s sake.
The hon. Gentleman speaks from the heart. I totally recognise the issues that he raises on behalf of his constituent, Mr Ross. I can only reiterate that we have come a long way. The inquiry was set up in 2017; we now have a thorough report that is specifically on compensation. That is a major step forward from where we were at any stage prior to eight days ago. We will do all the work and ensure that we come back with a proper, full and appropriate response.
My constituent’s son received infected blood in the ’80s. The trauma and cost for the family are incalculable, as many hon. Members have described today. Time is not on the side of many of these families. I ask the Paymaster General a specific question, because he seems to have avoided giving any specific facts about what is going to happen now: is it not unreasonable to have a compensation scheme up and running by the end of this year?
That is what Sir Brian recommends. Sir Brian believes that it is possible to achieve that; we need to work through and produce our response to Sir Brian. I am not in a position as yet to confirm timings or what our response will be, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right: Sir Brian Langstaff recommends that we should be in a position to get a scheme in place by the end of the year. We need to do the work and come back to this House.
First, may I argue in favour of the importance of the independence of the compensation scheme? Many people here, although perhaps not all, would argue that the Windrush compensation scheme, for example, was hindered by not being at arm’s length from the Home Office.
Secondly, in anticipation that the Government will accept the recommendations about the scope of the compensation scheme, will the Minister look to use information from the infected blood support schemes right now to start registering and verifying those who will qualify, to save time further down the line?
As part of the work to which I have alluded, we are looking at a whole range of compensation schemes that come in different shapes and sizes. The hon. Gentleman refers to Windrush; there has also been the armed forces compensation scheme from the Ministry of Defence, and there has been tribunal work. The solution of having an arm’s length body, wholly separate from the Government, to pay out the schemes is an innovative approach to an unprecedented issue. It would have the independence to which he refers, but would also have consequences in terms of accountability for expenditure. We are working through all those issues, which he is wise to raise.
On the point about registering potential beneficiaries, I believe that the current infected blood schemes were the basis for the interim payments made last year to those infected and to bereaved partners. Sir Brian is very clear in saying that to widen registration we would need a new scheme that goes further and recognises others who have been infected but who are not included in the infected blood scheme. The hon. Gentleman raises a good point.
I thank the Paymaster General very much for his statement. I especially commend the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for her dogged determination at every stage: every one of us whose constituents have suffered because of contaminated blood owes her many thanks. We thank her publicly in this Chamber today.
I am very pleased that, ahead of the final report, the chairman has issued the recommendation that compensation be given. On compensation for health issues, the reality for many people is that each week that passes means worsening health and more care needed. Compensation would greatly enhance the quality of the end of life for some people who are coming to that stage. The Paymaster General is a Minister with compassion who understands the issue, so while we await the rest of the report, I respectfully ask him to consent to fast-tracking that recommendation, particularly for end-of-life claimants.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members who have contributed today. He makes a powerful point, as he does so often, and the same point comes out from Sir Brian Langstaff’s report. We will do the work and will come back to this place having done so. Sir Brian is making a powerful case, but the work needs to be undertaken. We need to do that properly, and I look forward to coming back to the House in due course when we have made more progress.