I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Infected Blood Inquiry.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, ensuring that this important issue is considered on the Floor of the House. Over the years, it has been incredibly generous in allocating time to Back Benchers in our attempt to hold Ministers and the Government to account on the infected blood scandal. I also thank the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for working with me to secure the debate and with whom I am proud to co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who are here today and who have fought so hard for their constituents who have been infected and affected. I know of many other MPs who are not able to attend the debate today but support our work.
In opening, I want to say a few words about three individuals among the thousands who have been affected by this scandal, to remind the House of the people at the heart of this debate. First of all is my constituent, Glen Wilkinson. In 2010, he came to see me at my last surgery before the general election. He told me how he had been infected by dirty blood given to him by the NHS. Along with thousands of others, he wanted to know how that was allowed to happen and he wanted a public inquiry. I promised to try to help him if I was still an MP after that general election. It was a very close run thing and I ended up with a majority of just 641, so I was fortunate to be returned. I joined the all-party group and have been very proud since then, with Glen, to fight for truth and justice, not just for him but for all those who have been infected and affected. Of course, we did secure the public inquiry in 2017. Glen is still campaigning for justice despite his health problems, but I know that, as the years have dragged on, the need to keep fighting has exerted enormous pressure on him, his wife Alison and his wonderful family. At this point, it is worth remembering all those family members and pay tribute to those who have been caught up in this scandal.
A few nights ago I could not sleep—it is very hot—and I ended up going online. I read the witness statement to the public inquiry by Nick Sainsbury, whom I had met through Glen and who lived in East Yorkshire. Nick attended the Lord Mayor Treloar College as a child and was one of dozens of children at the school infected with HIV and hepatitis through infected blood products. We know that 72 of those pupils later died. After school, Nick worked as a civil servant and then at the Land Registry, which he said was his dream job, until his mid-30s when he became ill from multiple viral infections. He had to give up his job. He said:
“It was just too much. I was going to work bent double on crutches.”
I want to quote what he said about being HIV-positive in his statement to the inquiry:
“The knowledge that I was infected with arguably the most feared infectious disease since the bubonic plague of the middles ages was hard enough to deal with. The constant reminders on TV and in the newspapers made it very grim.”
Nick campaigned for years for justice. He travelled to many meetings here in Parliament, and attended and contributed to the public inquiry. But just two months ago, Nick sadly died, never having seen justice.
I also want to mention Michele, who currently is not represented in Parliament by a Member of Parliament, but wanted me to raise her case. Michele Claire was given a contaminated blood transfusion following childbirth and consequently developed hepatitis C. She now has stage 6 liver disease. After people in her village found out about Michele’s infection, she received letters through her door saying things like, “We don’t want your type round here”. On compensation, Michele told me:
“Money can cure nothing. It will, however, bring about some dignity and ensure peace of mind going forward.”
My message to the Minister is this: it is time. Action to fully compensate those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal must start now. The Government have accepted that compensation should be paid and that there is a moral case to do so.
I am sure the whole House will agree with me that my right hon. Friend has done a sterling job in campaigning on this issue for a number of years. Will she join me in paying tribute to Della Ryness and her husband Dan, who sadly passed away last month, who fought the good fight on behalf of their son, who died from this very awful thing, and in thinking about the beautiful granddaughter who he left behind?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, first, for securing the debate, and, secondly, for the determined way in which she has pursued the issue over so many years. She is right that it is about people. I have been contacted by a number of constituents. One of them is Robert Cardwell. He says that the people who are experiencing this problem are investing a great deal of hope in the debate today. Does she agree that a lot of progress has been made but, if we are going to redeem the need to honour those who have been victims, we need to go that bit further now so that a proper compensation scheme reaches them all?
Absolutely. I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. Progress has been made. The interim payments last year were very welcome—absolutely—but we need to do more. As I was saying, victims and their families have waited far too long. The 30,000 people who contracted hepatitis C after being given dirty blood by the NHS have waited too long. The parents of the 380 children infected with HIV have waited too long. Too many of those infected and affected are no longer with us and they will never see justice. They will never hear the Government say that what happened to them could and should have been prevented. They will never receive a penny in recompense for the jobs lost, the relationships destroyed and the life lost.
The right hon. Member is truly to be congratulated on behalf of all those people who have complained for so long, including Judith Thomas and Ruth Jenkins, the wife and sister of Christopher Thomas from Penllŷn, who died of the effects of contaminated blood in 1990. They want us to emphasise that there should be no further delays, given that we know from the interim report what the recommendations are. They particularly want me to emphasise that the infected blood scandal happened before the devolution of health to Wales. Consequently, the financial powers and responsibility to deliver a compensation scheme must remain with the Westminster Government.
I hope that the Minister will respond to that particular point when he speaks later.
I want to go back to those who have been infected and affected and are still alive. I hope that today they will witness the Government atoning for what went so systematically and catastrophically wrong. There is simply no excuse for dragging out the process of justice any longer.
It is not as if the scandal has just been discovered, with those in power hearing about it only recently. It is now five years since the infected blood inquiry was launched, and three years since the then Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), wrote to the Chancellor saying:
“I believe it to be inevitable that the Government will need to pay substantial compensation… I believe we should begin preparing for this now”.
Since then, we have had three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors and five Paymasters General. Today, I ask the Minister for the result of all their combined efforts to prepare for paying compensation.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all her work and for securing the debate. I am sure that she understands the frustration of my constituent, who was a young teenager nearly 40 years ago when he was infected and who has HIV. He just wants justice now.
Absolutely. The House is probably united in that view. We want justice now.
We know that the report of Sir Robert Francis KC, which the former Paymaster General commissioned, on a framework for what compensation would look like was presented to the Government at the start of 2022. The former Paymaster General understood that preparatory work could start, ready for the Government to act quickly, when Sir Brian reported—which he did, on 5 April 2023. I am therefore hopeful that the Minister can set out, in detail, all the work that has been undertaken to date when he speaks later in the debate.
The story of how successive Governments responded to those infected and affected by contaminated blood is a story of how a disaster became a scandal.
The right hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, which will mean a huge amount to my constituents, Linda Cannon, who lost her husband to hepatitis C from contaminated blood, and Vera Gaskin, who I met recently and has cirrhosis of the liver. The re-victimisation of our constituents is one of the key issues. They have had to wait so long, and the longer they wait, the deeper the trauma becomes. Does the right hon. Lady agree that swift action is crucial and that we need to ensure that Governments do not behave in the same way with other scandals?
I could not agree more.
The biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS turned into a scandal. Prevarication, obfuscation and delay—that is what victims met for decades. They have had to fight every step of the way. I want to quote from the statement that Sir Brian Langstaff, the chair of the infected blood inquiry, made when he took the unusual step of producing his second interim report on compensation before he had published his final report, which is due in the autumn. His words are powerful:
“I could not in conscience add to the decades-long delays many of you have already experienced due to failures to recognise the depths of your losses. Those delays have themselves been harmful… My conclusion is that wrongs were done at individual, collective and systemic levels… my judgement is that not only do the infections themselves and their consequences merit compensation, but so too do the wrongs done by authority, whose response served to compound people’s suffering.”
So today we say, “No more. It is time.”
Any further delays to the delivery of compensation are unconscionable. I have lost count of how many times I have told the House that a person infected with contaminated blood dies on average every four days. Sir Brian Langstaff said,
“this compensation scheme should be set up now. It should begin work this year.”
He also stated:
“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress.”
Does the Minister accept Sir Brian’s recommendations on compensation and redress in full? What progress has been made on setting up the compensation scheme? Has the Minister started registering people for it? Can he make a commitment that the scheme will be up and running by the end of this year? Will the compensation scheme be run by an arm’s length body, chaired by a senior judge and accountable to Parliament? Will each affected and infected person be able to make a claim in their own right? Will he pay interim compensation payments to bereaved parents and bereaved children? If so, when? Will a bespoke psychological service be provided in England, as already exists in other parts of the UK? Will he ensure that people who were infected with contaminated blood and blood products are meaningfully consulted and involved in the process of establishing the new mechanisms for redress?
Before Nick Sainsbury died, he told the infected blood inquiry that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Nick was right. Justice was delayed and, as a result, it was denied to him. It must not be denied to another single person. It is time to launch the compensation scheme and finally deliver justice, not in a few months, not after the next report, but now, now, now.
It is difficult to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and I will not try to match it. As the Minister may say, it is helpful to think of what we can do in future, the situation we are in now and what has happened.
I commend to those who have not read it Richard Titmuss’s book, “The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy”, which was published in 1970. He made it clear that it was better for people to give rather than sell their blood. The collection of blood in other countries was the biggest problem.
When people were given factor VIII made from contaminated or infected blood, it was done with the best intentions of trying to provide a prophylactic to avoid the dramatic treatments that were needed by people with haemophilia when they started bleeding.
However, that is not the point of the inquiry or of this debate. The point of the debate is to give the Minister an opportunity to update the House in the same way as he kindly met the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and me recently and followed up with a helpful letter. We ask him whether, before the summer session ends, it is possible to give further information, by a written or oral statement so that we can follow that up. Between now and the autumn, a payment scheme should be possible. We want to ensure that the Government are given the most effective, co-operative encouragement and that pressure is put on them.
I speak as someone whose mother had major blood transfusions during the peak period and so, it is on record, did my wife. My mother was the first person in our family to have an HIV test. She was clear. I take an HIV test four times a year, when I give blood. The contamination issue has now been addressed, so the question facing Sir Brian for the remainder of the report is how we got to where we are. This debate is mainly about compensation and the system being brought forward.
The Minister will be able to explain how co-ordination with the other Governments of the United Kingdom and the permanent secretary of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland is coming together. It is accepted that a national scheme will be needed, but are we sure that the names of those affected and infected are being gathered now? It should not start in the autumn, when the scheme is agreed.
Some believe that the scheme’s details are not clear, so it would be helpful if the Minister could make plain how the Government intend to fulfil the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff’s second interim report, based on Sir Robert Francis’s specially commissioned study.
One of our closest friends was HIV-positive, having received infected blood, at a time when people thought they should not associate with those with AIDS or HIV. We did not believe that, and we spent our time socialising as best we could. We also understood the devastating impact on families. I have constituents who are survivors, and I had constituents who did not survive, and I know from all of them what it is like not to be able to get insurance, what it is like not to be able to save into a pension, what it is like not to be able to continue with their job, what it is like not to know whether they have infected their partner, and what it is like to go for treatment and have to explain that, no, they are not an alcoholic—that they do not have that illness—to every person in every hospital or clinic.
That chimes with me profoundly. When I sat down with my constituent Vera Gaskin, she talked about exactly those things. She talked about not being able to get insurance to go on holiday, and so not being able to leave our beautiful country of Scotland, and about being asked repeatedly whether she is an alcoholic, even though she does not take a drop of alcohol. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that these people have lived with these things for a lifetime, or since they had those transfusions? Will he also pay tribute to the many people watching today from the Public Gallery?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The difficulty with where I am standing is that I cannot see the Public Gallery, but I do, of course, pay tribute to them. Those of us who have spent a lot of time with the real campaigners can be their mouthpiece. We have the microphone, but they are the ones Sir Brian rightly listened to at the beginning of his inquiry. Successive Ministers have also listened to them, for which I give them credit.
I think the health service could have done better by giving people a tag, so that they are not asked these difficult questions three or four times a year. I will not take up more time, but I associate myself with what the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said about Glen, Nick and Michele. It is for them that we rely on the Minister, his advisers and the small ministerial group to make an impact in putting right the things that can be put right and in acknowledging the mistakes that cannot be put right.
I associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). I agree that it is important to keep the victims and their families at the heart of this debate. We should all take a moment to remember and to pay our respects to those who lost their fight and are no longer with us.
It is only due to the persistence of activists that the scale of the disaster and the cover-up began to be revealed in 2017. I pay tribute to their determination not to give up, despite some of them being in poor health. I particularly thank Sean Cavens and Bruce Norval, who have provided me with so much information and support over the years. Their effort meant that there was strong cross-party support for a public inquiry before the emergency debate on 11 July 2017.
In that debate, I explained how, as a young surgeon, the revelations of the early to mid-1980s shocked me to my core: to think that in transfusing a patient, I might have exposed them, while trying to save them from trauma or surgery, to HIV or hepatitis. It led me to totally change my surgical approach, and to use every technique available that could reduce blood loss and minimise the need for transfusion. That was 40 years ago. My entire surgical career has passed while the victims are still seeking justice.
My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on this matter, and she is right to refer to Bruce Norval and his work. Bruce Norval has pointed out that up to 100 people affected by this scandal are dying each year, and they have not been able to access compensation. It is time to get on with this, isn’t it?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
I pay tribute to Sir Brian Langstaff and his team for their meticulous, forensic and dogged examination of all the evidence, and for their sensitivity to the witnesses. They have helped reveal the truth about 60 years of disastrous policy decisions and individual decisions, including the failure to ensure blood transfusion services are self-sufficient and the failure to switch to safer treatments more quickly. In particular, the inquiry exposed systematic attempts to cover up the scandal.
I am not sure whether the Minister attended any of the hearings but, if he did not, he should watch the video recordings, and maybe he would get the merest hint of the suffering of those infected by contaminated blood and their families. I attended a couple of sessions in London and Edinburgh, and it was harrowing even as an observer, let alone for those who had to recount their experiences and relive their pain. Their bravery and determination were humbling.
The inquiry staff did an incredible job of providing support to the victims who came to bear witness, while Sir Brian ensured that they and their representatives were involved in steering the inquiry to its conclusion, with the final report due in the autumn. While that report will seek to ensure that the lessons from this disaster are learned, one of the key aims of the inquiry is to achieve just compensation for the victims and their families.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent contribution. I spoke this morning to my constituent Robert Ross, whose young life has been blighted and ruined. It struck me hard that it feels so desperately unfair that this happened to somebody. In recent times we have seen a mixture of emotions in this place about the way we do things, but one of the undying principles of British and Scottish politics is a sense of fairness. Let us hope that an equitable solution—one that is seen to be fair to these people—can be found.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. The support right across this Chamber is clear.
Money cannot redress the loss of lives and loved ones, nor the reduction in quality of life caused by illness, stigma or caring responsibilities, but it can at least ease the hardship and financial worries that many families face, particularly at the moment. The Leader of the House, when she was Paymaster General, was the first Minister to accept that responsibility for this disaster lay with the UK Government and that financial compensation was inevitable. She commissioned Sir Robert Francis to develop a compensation framework, which he duly delivered last March. The Government refused to publish it, saying they would only publish it along with their formal response. It was finally published three months later, when it was about to be leaked, but with a mere covering letter and no real commitments. Indeed, the Government have still not responded.
It was only after Sir Brian published the first interim report last July and directed the Government to pay interim compensation payments of £100,000 that we finally saw action. These payments were, however, limited to surviving victims and their partners who were registered with support schemes. Nothing was provided to those who had lost parents or children, or who had spent many years as family carers. This issue is particularly important for HIV-affected families, as three quarters of the victims have already died of AIDS, as have many of their partners. Appallingly, they were often not told their HIV status and unwittingly passed the virus on to their loved ones. After 40 years of denial, cover-up and obstruction, there is little trust in the Government, and ongoing delays are exacerbating that distrust.
More than 560 victims have died since 2017, including 67 partners. If the Government want to rebuild trust, they must now respond to Sir Brian’s report from April, which includes all the recommendations regarding compensation, with urgency and action. I hope the Minister has come with more than the blather we have had to listen to in this Chamber for over a year, and is ready to make it clear that the Government accept all of Sir Brian’s recommendations.
On behalf of all victims, whether infected or affected, we need to know when the chair of the independent compensation body will be appointed. We also need a commitment that victims and their representatives will be included in its development. Victims need to be reassured that the system will not be adversarial, so that the process does not re-traumatise those who have already suffered so much. We need to hear from the Minister how bereaved parents and children will be registered now, so that they can receive interim payments quickly and be included in the final compensation process.
I would love to think that this will be the last debate that is needed to achieve justice for the victims of contaminated blood; sadly, I fear that that will not be the case. With an average of two victims a week losing their lives since that debate in 2017, the Government must surely accept that time is of the essence for these people—enough is enough.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on securing this debate. As a member of the Backbench Business Committee, I was delighted to agree to their application for it.
The background to this debate is well known, but it deserves to be on the record again. In the 1970s and 1980s, about 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses through the use of contaminated clotting factors. Some of those people unintentionally went on to infect their partners, often because, as has been said, they were simply not aware of the infection they had. Since those times, more than 3,000 people have died, and fewer than 250 of the 1,250 people infected with HIV are still alive. It has to be remembered that they are alive only because of advances in the treatment of that condition, which were simply not available at the time of their original infection. In addition, many people who did not have a bleeding disorder were infected with hepatitis C as a result of blood transfusions during that period. The best estimates we have—of course they are estimates, given that these things were not particularly well recorded—suggest that about 27,000 were infected with hepatitis C. About 10% of them were still alive and seeking justice as of 2019.
It is safe to say that justice has not been speedy or quick for those affected by this scandal. Decades have been spent campaigning for justice, and now it is often being done by a son or daughter, as the length of time that has passed means that the fight is being passed on to a new generation.
I am here this afternoon on behalf of several constituents, but particularly Mr Adam Fleming, who has been adversely affected by this issue and, understandably, feels very passionately about it. May I make a simple plea to the Minister, through my hon. Friend? This has gone on for so many years and a compassionate Government would surely do everything they could to accelerate the payment of compensation. Does he agree with me and many others that now, really, enough is enough?
I am only too happy to agree with my right hon. Friend about that. Some of my oldest outstanding cases—I am sure this is the same for him—ones that I inherited from my predecessor, who had been pursuing them for 18 years before my election, relate to victims of this scandal. It is time to bring this matter forward and to give them the justice for which they have waited so long and that they so totally deserve. Sadly, as I mentioned, in many cases it will now be a son or daughter, or the next generation, who is waiting, given the time that has elapsed since the original infection, the inevitable passage of time and the conditions concerned turning into fatal outcomes.
The establishment of the infected blood inquiry in 2017 gave hope that the long wait for justice was finally nearing an end. Although it is making progress, it is worth noting that more than 500 people affected by the scandal are estimated to have died since the inquiry began, in addition to the thousands we have already lost. Therefore, I have no problem in agreeing with my right hon. Friend that there is no time to waste in delivering compensation to surviving victims and others affected.
On 5 April, the infected blood inquiry published its report on compensation and redress. The key recommendation is that a compensation scheme should be set up now and begin work this year. The inquiry chair has said:
“The scheme need not await the final report to begin work, since this second interim report fully covers the inquiry's recommendations on financial redress”.
The report makes several recommendations, including that each affected and infected person should be able to make a claim in their own right; and, given the passage of time, that people should be able to make claims on behalf of the estates of people who have died. Simply the passage of time should not be allowed to reduce the liability for this scandal.
My friend Steve Dymond died in 2018, and his wife, Su, had had to help him through a very difficult time for 30 or 40 years. He had been infected by blood products and had hepatitis C. I just feel it is time that Su had her compensation.
I could not agree more, and the recommendations are welcome. Many who have waited decades for justice are, understandably, keen to see them quickly accepted. There is no need for the Government to delay in accepting the recommendations from the inquiry and beginning to implement them now. Last summer, the Government moved quickly to accept and implement the recommendations in the inquiry’s first interim report on compensation. They should now do the same for the full and final recommendations on compensation and redress.
Simply stating an acceptance of the recommendations for compensation may end up being the easiest part of that process; actually delivering a compensation scheme will bring many challenges. It will involve looking back over decades to identify the impact on a person and on their family, often including long periods when the person was not aware of the infection and the impact it was then having on them. Inevitably, therefore, they will not have kept receipts or evidence of that impact. We must also be realistic about the sad reality that many involved in their care and affairs in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will have almost certainly have passed on in the decades since. That means that their oral or written evidence cannot now be adduced to assist in a claim. Delivering justice in the face of these challenges, to those who have now waited decades for it, will not be easy.
The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I know from our dealings with things such as the Windrush compensation scheme, which is having to do a similar task and in some cases is looking back over decades to see the impact on an individual, that these are complex cases. They are not easy. It is not simple to go back over someone’s life, see the impact, put it together and then come to a compensation award. We need to find people with the skills required to help deliver justice in a timely way, and that will not be simple.
That means that the Government should be appointing a chair to lead this body, in consultation with infected and affected people and their representatives. I urge the Minister not to wait in doing that. Candidates for such roles cannot be simply taken off a shelf when we decide to do something; they need to be identified and brought on board so that they fully understand the role and can quickly get under way. As soon as it has a chair, the body should start recruiting panels to review applications, build processes for reviewing claims, ensure it is ready to contact eligible people and allow people not covered by the current support schemes to register for this one. It must also ensure the active and relevant involvement of infected and affected people in its work and processes.
Crucially, an independent appeals and review process will also need to be created. Just describing the process makes it clear that it will take some time to establish, with potentially thousands of cases to consider, and so we need to start now. This cannot simply be announced and then start work the next day, which is why it is becoming all the more urgent that the practical reality of delivering this compensation scheme is engaged with.
The contaminated blood scandal is a tragedy that simply should not have happened. It has seen thousands of people lose their lives, with many facing prejudice as well, given the ill-informed attitudes to the conditions they had. Often they did not find out what had happened to them until many years afterwards. The scandal affected not just them but their whole family, many of whom are now on to the second generation fighting for justice. The final report of the inquiry will be a landmark moment, one that has been awaited for decades. Yet what I say to the Minister is: please do not wait to act where you can, and do so by quickly accepting the April recommendations and coming back to the House with a clear plan as to how you are going to deliver them.
I too pay tribute to the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing the debate and for the work they have done on this issue, on behalf of all of us and particularly on behalf of those who have been campaigning for justice for so long.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the words of Sir Brian Langstaff, who implores those who will make the decisions and respond to his recommendations to listen to the victims. I also warn the Minister that the final report, which will be published in the autumn, will be extremely damning. Just imagine what will be said if the Government have not responded to the interim report when that final report comes out, so I urge the Minister to heed that warning.
I pay tribute to my constituents, Lee Moorey and Mary Grindley, who have been campaigning on the issue over many years and have recently come to see me. Mr Moorey went to Treloar’s School when he was 12 and he wrote:
“I am a severe haemophiliac A sufferer. I attended Treloar’s in 1985 aged 12 years. At the age of 14 years, I was told I was HIV positive and that I had only a few years to live. You can imagine the impact this had on myself and my family. I have watched so many of my Treloar blood brothers pass away, I suffer from survivor’s guilt. From the early 1970s until the late 1980s approximately 130 haemophiliacs went to Treloar’s, of which less than 35 are alive today due to infected blood. I am one of the less than 35 still alive.”
Mary Grindley met her husband in the 1970s and they married in 1980, knowing that he was a severe haemophilia sufferer. She gave up teaching in 1991 to look after her husband, John. He died in June 1994, aged 41. Her testimony is harrowing. Her son, Tim, lost his father at the age of 14. To read their stories, as I have done over the last couple of days, is harrowing. That they have had to expose their private details to the public gaze in order to get justice is shameful.
I have been reading about those people’s experiences. They suffered prejudice; their relationships suffered; they suffered harassment, both where they lived and from work colleagues; they were threatened by people they knew, who were upset when they found out; they were unable to get insurance, so they could not get a mortgage, which compounded the problems of being harassed by neighbours, as they were unable to move away; careers were lost; pensions were lost; education was destroyed; and there were impacts on family.
Lee Moorey talks about how his mother struggled financially, and Mary talks about the impact on her son, who was 14 when his father died. They both talk about the psychological impacts. One of the appeals made by Sir Brian Langstaff is that the Government provide psychological support in England, which is provided in the rest of the UK.
My constituents have some requests of the Government, which echo what has been asked by other hon. Members but I will reiterate. The Government have been intransigent in setting up the compensation scheme and there has been a lack of transparency. What are they hiding? Are they actively looking for a chair now? When will that person be in place? Why are they not willing to preregister affected people, particularly parents and children, with possible claims to compensation in order to speed up the process? On the devolution issue, we do not want devolved Governments to set up different compensation schemes, as the scandal occurred pre-devolution. We want one central scheme.
The time for sympathy is over and the time for action is now. I will finish where I started, with the words of Sir Brian Langstaff. Talking to those people who gave evidence about their personal experiences, he said:
“I record in the report that some of the milestones that eventually led to the Government’s acceptance of a moral case for compensation have been marked by the reactions from individuals in power when they have listened—actually listened—to people describing what happened to them and their families. So the right place to start my report was with some of your voices, and that is where it begins. I urge those responsible for considering my recommendations to start there, listening to you and appreciating the depths of what you have experienced so that they, like me, can understand why compensation is overdue.”1.24 pm
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) on securing this important debate.
The conclusion of Sir Brian Langstaff’s recent interim report is absolutely clear: a compensation scheme must be established to provide appropriate redress to all those who have been wronged over so many decades, and that must be done as soon as possible. That recommendation is clearly correct, and the Government should lose no further time in implementing it. I would like to focus on one issue, of particular importance in Wales, which is whether the scheme should be administered centrally or at a devolved level.
The report has been welcomed by the charity Haemophilia Wales, which supports over 500 of those who have been infected and affected across Wales. The charity has expressed concern that the Government intend to consult with devolved Administrations on the issue of whether the scheme should be administered centrally or locally. The position of Haemophilia Wales is absolutely clear: it believes that a UK-wide compensation scheme should be created, so as to avoid potential inequities in financial support and the danger of political point scoring.
That stance reflects Sir Brian’s own view. In his report, he observes that the scheme he is recommending
“lends itself to administration from one place within the UK rather than being localised.”
He goes on to say:
“The latter is more likely to give rise to disparities of approach.”
It is important to remember that in Wales, devolution was not established until 1999, very many years after patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C. Many of those patients have had their care delivered by hospitals in England.
Take, for example, my constituent Mrs Rosemary Richards. She was born in 1953, and in the late 1970s decided to be tested to establish if she was a haemophilia carrier, before making a decision whether or not to have children. She was diagnosed as a carrier and was referred to the Royal Liverpool Hospital’s haematology unit in 1980 for testing and counselling. She had two sons, who were born with haemophilia in 1983 and 1985. The official regional centre for the whole of north Wales was the Royal Liverpool Hospital. It paid for and provided the blood products for haemophiliacs. Both her sons were under the care of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool, from 1983, and throughout their childhood they attended reviews at Alder Hey. All their factor VIII treatment was funded from Liverpool.
Therefore, patients resident in north Wales had their treatments funded from and delivered by hospitals in England. There will be very many victims resident in Wales with a similar history. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that children from north Wales with bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia, are still, many years after devolution, receiving their treatment at Alder Hey.
Haemophilia Wales also makes the important point that contaminated blood victims were infected prior to devolution. Many live in Wales but were infected in England and therefore, in any event, do not come under a Welsh scheme. Others were infected in Wales, but now live in England. This pattern does not fit neatly into a devolved landscape.
The Cabinet Office has suggested in correspondence that it is the preference of victims that the scheme should be delivered locally. That is certainly not the view of Haemophilia Wales, which considers that a UK-wide scheme is entirely preferable. The question arises: what is “local”? In Wales, ex gratia payments to the infected are made via the Wales infected blood support scheme at Velindre hospital in Cardiff, which is administered by the Welsh Government. It cannot be said that that scheme is being delivered locally unless the patient in question happens to live in Cardiff. It is certainly not local for victims in my constituency for whom Cardiff is more than four hours away. In fact, on journey time, London is considerably closer—considerably more local.
Time is passing and action is called for. Giving consideration to a devolved structure for the scheme is simply protracting matters unnecessarily and is contrary to the wishes of victims and their families. What the Government should do now is ensure that the scheme is set up and implemented without any further unnecessary delay. I would therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to heed the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff and the views of Haemophilia Wales and proceed to establish a UK-wide scheme as quickly as possible.
It is a privilege to be called to speak in this very important debate. It is also a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), with whom I agree wholeheartedly regarding his points on devolution, the settlement and the fact that there is no need for the consultation to delay matters. There should be one central system from the UK Government. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the Father of the House and the important all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood for securing today’s debate and for their tireless work on this campaign.
Like other colleagues, I pay heartfelt tribute to the victims, their brave families and all those affected by this horrific scandal, some of whom are in the Public Gallery today. Campaign organisations such as the Hepatitis C Trust, the Haemophilia Society, Factor 8 and, in particular, Haemophilia Wales have campaigned tirelessly for years. I must also put on record my gratitude for the work of the infected blood inquiry itself. I know the whole House will agree that the inquiry’s meticulous work, led by the well-regarded Sir Brian Langstaff, is to be commended.
Long before the inquiry was finally initiated in 2017, after 30 years of Government refusal, campaigners—often working tirelessly despite their own trauma—had been striving for justice for decades. Ultimately, it is thanks to their courage and commitment that we are here today participating in this parliamentary debate. I hope that we do not require another, and rightly so, because the infected blood scandal is a shameful stain on our nation’s history. At the heart of this unimaginable injustice is the simple fact that we now know for definite that the UK Government ignored the very well-known risks of obtaining blood that had been pooled from high-risk donors, such as prisoners and drug addicts in the US.
We also know that the UK Government chose not to tell people that they had been infected until years later. Many campaign groups say that this is simply because the UK Government hoped that the victims would not remain alive long enough to fight for justice. That is an astonishing level of ignorance and arrogance. Government documents were destroyed and medical records were conspicuously lost. The numbers affected nationally are truly heartbreaking: more than 5,000 patients were infected, and more than 2,500 people have died so far as a direct result. That does not even take into account all of the others affected.
Of those victims infected with HIV, only about 200 people are still alive. Last week, alongside Lynne Kelly from Haemophilia Wales, I met constituents of mine: Meinir Gooch, Owain Harris, Gerald Stone and members of the Sugar family. I sat down with them and they bravely and powerfully told me of their ordeal. They have trusted me with their stories and have graciously allowed me to share details of how this horrific scandal has destroyed their families, and I thank them for that from the bottom of my heart.
Leigh Sugar was a husband, a father and a son. He was a successful businessman from Llantwit Fardre in my constituency. Leigh loved horse riding and the outdoors. Leigh also had mild haemophilia so, after a riding accident in 1980, he was given a treatment of factor VIII —that revolutionary new blood clotting treatment. The riding accident was not life threatening, and the treatment should have been routine, but like so many other victims, Leigh’s dose was contaminated. His dose had not been screened, and he was infected with hepatitis C. It was not until 1994 that he was informed that his illness was due to hepatitis. Like thousands of other victims, Leigh was not told, which meant that opportunities to save him, such as considering a liver transplant, were missed. The infection destroyed his liver and killed him at the age of 44. Leigh’s family—his mother Margaret, his widow Barbara, and his daughter Jodie—told me, “We will never recover. Our family has been torn apart.”
The big thing that the families wanted me to say today was about the stigma, which sadly still exists. Gerald Stone is now 80 years old. He is a proud man from Tonyrefail in my constituency. I have gone back and watched the brave and powerful evidence that he gave to the inquiry. Up until that point, no one knew that Gerald was infected. After he gave evidence, just a few years ago, BBC Wales got in touch and wanted to cover his story. This was the first time that Gerald had gone public with his story. Even then, following his story and that interview, his neighbours, with whom he had lived for his entire life, went to the police and asked them whether it was safe that he was living on the same street as them. That stigma still sadly exists and goes with these victims and their families even now.
The chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, says that
“time without redress is harmful.”
This ongoing suffering is prolonging the torment and mental anguish for families. I call on the Government urgently to publish their timetable for the compensation framework, before the inquiry’s final report this autumn. Fundamentally, I am calling on the Government to do the right thing. Of course, no amount of financial compensation will remedy this horrific scandal, but for those still living with its consequences and their families, they deserve justice. Fundamentally, they deserve a full and comprehensive settlement at last, after decades of fighting for their loved ones.
It is a huge pleasure to speak in this incredibly important debate. I congratulate the Father of the House and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on securing the debate. It has been very moving to listen to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Friends and Members.
I begin by echoing the tributes that have been made to the brave victims and their families, who have been battling and working through personal ill-health, grief and trauma and yet have campaigned tirelessly for justice. I am very pleased that the Government have acknowledged the moral case that victims of blood contamination should receive compensation, and that interim compensation payments of up to £1,000 have now finally been made to some of those who have been infected, or to their bereaved partners.
Last Friday, at one of my regular surgeries in Southend West, Mr David Corroyer came to see me. He had provided evidence as part of the inquiry and that has been published. I wish to put his story on record, although his story is slightly different because he contracted hepatitis C through donating blood, not through a transfusion.
In the late 1970s, the NHS set up a blood donation centre twice a year at David’s workplace. David and many of his colleagues happily went along to donate blood, and he donated blood on four separate occasions—this was before diseases such as AIDS became well known. It was general practice then for nurses to use the same needle 10 or more times. The only precaution taken then was that the needle would be given a quick swirl in sterilising liquid before use.
On one occasion, shortly after donating blood, David became ill, suffering from intense vomiting and diarrhoea. One week later, his condition deteriorated to the point that he was unable to eat anything without vomiting. His urine was bright orange and his skin was bright yellow. He went to see the doctor. The doctor took one look at him and told him that he must have hepatitis C. He then asked him a series of questions. Had he eaten seafood? Was he a drug addict? Had he had a tattoo? Had he had sex with anybody who had hepatitis? Finally, he said, “Have you recently had any injections?” At that point, David told him that he had given blood two weeks previously and he was told, “That’s it: an infected needle from a blood donor and it has happened before.”
After David caught the infection, he was horrendously ill for two years. He was run down, was in a constant state of worry and lost a significant amount of weight. He had to learn to control his diet along with what he drank, because if he did not then the consequences were horrendous. In short, David has told me that his life has never been the same again.
Quite rightly, having contracted hepatitis C through no fault of his own, David believes he is owed compensation by the Government. However, more than 40 years later, he has still not been offered any financial assistance whatsoever. As matters stand at the moment, David believes he may not be included in the compensation scheme being proposed through the infected blood inquiry, because he contracted hepatitis while donating blood rather than receiving it. That cannot possibly be right.
Will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituent David to discuss his circumstances? Will he assure me that the inquiry is looking into claims from people in circumstances such as David’s? Finally, can he confirm that the Government will consider expanding the compensation scheme to include people who contracted hepatitis C through donating blood?
I start, as others have done, by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for obtaining this debate.
The families affected by the scandal have endured unimaginable suffering. They were failed when their loved ones were infected, they were failed by the Government’s subsequent denial and neglect, and now they have been failed by delays in getting the justice they deserve. While the inquiry has been a source of healing and community for some of the families, it has often required them to relive their most traumatic memories, for which they are yet to receive proper closure or justice. I pay tribute to them and thank them for their strength in sharing their stories. Of course, that strength should never have been required of them, but I am truly humbled by it.
I was humbled again recently when I spoke to my constituent Diane, who shared with me her experiences of living with and losing her brother, Graham Fox, and asked me to take part in this debate today. Graham had severe haemophilia. He was treated with factor VIII as a child and became infected with HIV and hepatitis C. Diane told me that as a child and as a young man, Graham never let his condition get in his way. He was a keen cyclist and kept himself very fit.
However, to be told as a late teenager that he had been infected with those diseases was devastating for Graham. The whole family was affected, not only by the knowledge that they could lose Graham, but by the fear, ignorance and lack of information about his condition at the time. Graham died peacefully in a hospice aged just 26 on 23 April 1996. By that time, he and the family were well aware that he had been given contaminated blood products. Diane tells me that before he died he said, “Don’t forget.”
Talking to Diane, the immense betrayal that the family have felt as a result of the scandal was clear. She told me:
“There is a base level of trust that we have in our lives, in our society. And that was breached.”
Like Graham and his sister, many people affected by haemophilia grew up around hospitals and got to know healthcare professionals as though they were family. The betrayal they feel is deeply personal and the inquiry, while also necessary, tortures old scars for many of them. The victims of the scandal are not only the people who have died or suffered immeasurably as a result of being infected. Those who have cared for and loved those people, and in many cases have lost them, have also suffered trauma beyond imagining.
Graham lived with his sister and her young children in the last years of his life. The deep emotional and physical impact of his loss have been felt through three generations of their family. His sister says:
“Our lives shouldn’t have been like this. They were dictated to by people who didn’t know us. Sorry doesn’t cut it—compensation is the only way that the Government will think twice about doing this again. I am frightened that the inquiry will end and it will all disappear. We need recognition for what has happened.”
There has been widespread acceptance across Government of the wrongs done and the need for compensation, but, as the second interim report outlines, the families who deserve this compensation
“do not yet know the nature of the body who will determine it, how that body will assess and deal with their claims, nor the boundaries of eligibility”.
That delay, on top of years of denial and no accountability, places a further toll on victims, more than 500 of whom are estimated to have died since the inquiry began.
Sir Brian Langstaff has recommended that the compensation scheme must start now. If the Government do not meet that recommendation, they are accepting that more victims will not live to see justice—not only those infected, but their bereaved relatives and carers. While some parents and children will be entitled to an interim payment, it has become apparent that that will only apply to those who lost their loved ones in an arbitrary three-month period between July and October 2022. Do the Government believe that the suffering of families of people such as Graham, who lost their lives so early, is not worthy of recognition?
Graham’s sister Diane went into care work to give back to hospice staff who looked after Graham in the final days of his life. From great tragedy, she has worked to make something good. Today she mentions Graham’s name as often as she can, but she has endured years of suffering, with little support for her and her children other than from an AIDS charity. The Government must let people know how they can get compensation. To Diane, I say that we will follow Graham’s request, “Don’t forget.” Across this House, we will not forget.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist); my thoughts and, I am sure, those of the whole House are with the family of Graham, who sadly passed away. We have heard some incredibly moving stories from all hon. Members, and that does not make this an easy debate. I put on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House for securing this important debate.
When I got first elected in 2019, one of the very first constituency meetings I had was with Clive Smith, the chair of The Haemophilia Society. We never forget those first meetings. It was just before the period of the pandemic. Clive kindly explained to me all the complexities associated with the infected blood inquiry and I gave him my reassurance that I would do all I could in my role as his constituency MP to raise that case. I am pleased to take part in this debate; it is important for me to put my weight on the Government to ensure that they are listening, not only to me but to all hon. Members in this House.
Some of the most valuable assets that all of us in this Chamber have are our health and our time. Unfortunately, all those who have been affected throughout these terrible circumstances, going back to the 1970s and 1980s, have had both of those valuable assets impacted or removed from them one way or another. Both their health and their time have been taken away from them.
It is important that we understand the number of people impacted through this terrible situation. Around 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with the HIV and hepatitis viruses through the use of contaminated clotting factors. Some of those people unintentionally infected their partners because they were unaware of their own infection. How must that make them feel? It must be incredibly difficult. Since then, more than 3,000 people have died and, of the 1,250 people infected with HIV, fewer than 250 people are still alive today.
Furthermore, many who did not have a bleeding disorder were infected with hepatitis C as a result of blood transfusions during that period. The best estimates suggest that around 27,000 were infected with hepatitis C, of whom only around 10% were still alive and seeking justice as of 2019. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, those numbers are still declining, which just emphasises why time is of the essence. Those individuals have experienced challenges with education, with the fear factor and stigma associated with going through life, practical challenges in gaining insurance and travel documents, and challenges in dealing with their own doctors.
The inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal was set up after my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) gave it the go-ahead in 2017, when she said that it was
“an appalling tragedy which should…never have happened”
I welcome its first and second interim reports. I hope that the Government accept the recommendations in full.
I will emphasise the key recommendations: each affected and infected person should be able to make a claim in their own right; people should be able to make claims on behalf of the estates of people who have died; and it is vital that an award should be made for injury impact, social impact, autonomy impact, care and financial loss. All the different factors of those individuals’ lives been affected by those challenges. It is right, proper, fair and just that the Government listen to the inquiry’s calls.
The Government’s lack of response should be acknowledged as part of any award. Rather frustratingly, it is being reported to me that, even though the report has been issued—I put on record my thanks to Sir Brian and Sir Robert for their work—there is still no clarity from the Government, from whom a better level of communication is required. It is absolutely up to the Government to meet key stakeholders on a regular basis. As I say, the two most valuable assets to us all are health and time. Time is of the essence, and I call on the Government to act with the quickest of speed, because one person is dying from these challenges every four days, and that is not fair.
We usually say on Backbench Business Thursdays, “It is a pleasure to speak in this debate”, but I do not find it a great pleasure to speak in yet another one on contaminated blood. In my 22 years in this House, no issue has so frustrated or consumed the time of my office, in the hours put forward to support and represent constituents and in our efforts to ensure that they get justice. It is a modern-day tragedy and a health scandal without precedent. It needs now to be urgently resolved, and justice must be delivered for the families and victims of the crisis.
We have now had the two interim reports. We get the full report in the autumn, and we all look forward to seeing it, in the hope that it will more or less conclude the process and, certainly, get the payments established. But things could and should be done now. We know that the compensation scheme could be set up without any further delay, and there is no good reason whatever why it cannot begin its work this year.
The interim report fully covers the inquiry’s recommendations on financial redress. The scheme does not need to wait for any more outcomes from the final report. What the process needs is leadership. It does not need any more prevarication; it does not need anybody to tell us that progress has been made. It needs progress and it needs conclusion. The publication of the second interim report served a clear purpose: to prevent, or at least minimise, any potential delays in establishing a compensation scheme that would bring financial justice to the victims who have been denied it for decades.
We have heard that the Government have started to make some of the compensation payments, but those payments cover only a third of the families of those infected with HIV. It is shocking that the scheme is available only to those directly impacted, and their widows and widowers, but not to the families, excluding thousands of victims, including those who have lost parents and children. While the prevarication goes on, people are dying—they are dying weekly. Nine more have died in Scotland since the closing oral submission on behalf of the Scottish infected and affected core participants. That takes the total number of those who have died in Scotland since the inquiry was established to 113.
Given the lack of a clear Government response to the second interim report, Haemophilia Scotland, which is chaired by my constituent Bill Wright and has done outstanding work on this issue over the years, has sent via its solicitors a formal legal request for further rule 9 written statements from Ministers to explain the delay. As the Minister will know, rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 entitles the inquiry to send a further request for evidence, which will usually direct the recipient to the issues that need further to be covered. It is not a requirement, as he will know, to reveal who has received a rule 9 request, but let me ask him: has he received such a request, will he go to give further evidence, and have any of his colleagues received a rule 9 request to revisit the inquiry? It is all a bit desperate that campaigners have to resort to such legal tactics to get the Government to do something. Just do it! It should not have to be pursued via such means.
At some point, we will also have to establish what went so badly wrong at the early point of the inquiry. I have been in this House since 2001. I remember going to debates, speaking to Ministers and tabling early-day motions only to be told a pile of rubbish about what was happening. I was constantly fobbed off and told all the time by Ministers that no wrongful practices were employed. We now know why, from what Andy Burnham had to say about all this in the inquiry. He now accepts that he was given the wrong information by civil servants. He did not seek to mislead me or others in the House. He was given information, and he relayed it honestly and truthfully, thinking that it was right. We have to find out why that evidence and information were put in the hands of Ministers. I actually feel sorry for Andy, and for Ministers such as the current Chancellor, who also feels that he was given the wrong information to communicate to Members of the House. We deserve a proper explanation as to why Ministers stood at that Dispatch Box for all that time, while people were dying, halting the establishment of an inquiry. If one had been put in place at the proper time, we might have had justice by this point.
What has to end is the lack of transparency and the failure to deal properly and appropriately with the survivors, victims and campaigning organisations. That is still, unfortunately, a feature of how we go forward, and it now has to end. Make the payments, include all the families, end the culture of secrecy, and make sure that the process is as transparent as possible. Please, please, bring justice to the victims.
And so do I, Sir—every single day.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), on securing this vital debate. My right hon. Friend and others have campaigned unstintingly for justice for the victims and their families. I pay tribute to her for her perseverance and dedication.
My constituent David Farrugia first told me in 2015 of the absolutely appalling manner in which he and his family had been treated throughout this entire sorry affair.
David and his siblings are part of the so-called fatherless generation. Their father was infected with the hepatitis virus in 1977 and with HIV in the mid-1980s. He died in 1986 at the age of 37, and a week later David went into care, where he remained until he was 17. He was separated from his twin brother for three years and from his youngest brother for 13 years. David was not reunited with his other brothers until 2008 and 2010. They have also lost two uncles to this terrible scandal.
Their story—the trauma of losing their father in horrific circumstances and of ending up separated in the care system—and the stigma they have lived with are deeply harrowing. Sadly, their story is not unique, and many of those affected by the infected blood scandal have similarly tragic stories to tell.
Lord Robert Winston described the scandal as
“the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”,
but the scandal and the suffering caused have been compounded by the length of time it has taken victims and their families to receive justice. The wait has had a profound effect on David’s mental health, and yet he continues to fight for justice, like so many others. I pay tribute to David, who is in the Public Gallery today, and to all the victims and their families for their tireless campaign. It has been difficult, but they have never given up.
Let us be clear: this has taken far too long. Thousands have already died, and with each passing day more and more are lost without receiving the justice they deserve. Justice delayed is justice denied, and every day we wait is a day more that justice is denied.
Sir Brian recommended in the second interim report that children of those infected should be admitted into the payments scheme. That report was published in April, but families such as the Farrugias are still waiting to hear about being admitted into the scheme. The Government must act without delay to allow those who are now eligible to receive the interim compensation payments to register with the existing infected blood scheme. Delaying that only prolongs their anguish. Sir Brian has also recommended that an arm’s length body be established to administer the compensation scheme. That work needs to begin as soon as possible, so will the Minister update the House and these families on where the Government are in setting it up and appointing a chair?
Time is of the essence. We simply cannot wait for the final report in the autumn for the Government to respond. Sir Brian has made it clear that,
“The scheme need not await that final report to begin work”,
“The structure of the scheme should be set up as soon as possible, and before the final report of the Inquiry.”
This scandal has caused decades of suffering, health issues, financial loss and stigma for those affected, as we have heard so powerfully from all Members across the House today. The wait for justice has already gone on far too long. My constituents, along with all the victims and their families, deserve better than endless delays. They deserve to see justice delivered, and they deserve to see it delivered now.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
“Oh, make it make sense. Please make it make sense.
Oh, why am I still here? Please make it make sense.
Why was it their turn to die? Please make it make sense.
Why am I chosen to continue this fight? Please make it make sense.
Another victim of this scandal dies without justice. Please make it make sense.
Another day of government silence. Please make it make sense.
An inquiry report full of recommendations. Please make it make sense.
Delays from the government. Please make it make sense.
After all, enough is enough. So please make it make sense.
Do we ever trust the powers that be? Please make it make sense.
Will I be another statistic of this greatest of tragedies? Please make it make sense.”
That was a poem written by my constituent Sean Cavens, a victim I first mentioned in this House back in February 2021, and what a personal, powerful and emotional poem it is. It sums up this entire tragedy in just a few words. Mr Cavens has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of those fighting for the justice they deserve, despite the setbacks he has faced over the years. He, like others, feels that he is not getting any nearer the closure of this great tragedy. Many experienced campaigners, like Sean, feel totally marginalised, and they fear dying before the full settlements are made.
When Sean Cavens first came to see me, we had a bit of an altercation. I invited him to come and see me. He came into my office and threw this contaminated blood tie on to my desk and said, “What’s that, Mr Lavery?” I did not have a clue. He said, “What does it represent, Mr Lavery? You’re the MP!” I said, “I’m sorry; I haven’t got any idea.” He said, “The black is for death, the yellow is for haemophilia, and the red is for HIV.” I promise you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I was taken aback by what happened in the conversation following that.
Mr Cavens went on to explain to me exactly what the situation was with the contaminated blood issue and, to be honest, I was a bit ashamed; I had not really taken it on board as a Member of Parliament, and I dare say I would be one of a majority in this House. Once I was fully aware of the situation, I began to educate myself about this absolute tragedy, which has been explained by many Members across the House. It is unusual to see Members across the House share the same views.
Lots of questions have been asked, and lots of detail has been given. The interim payments are positive, but they need to be full payments. Why on earth are people still dying? Why is it that one person is still dying every four days, many of them in receipt of interim payments, but a lot of them not having received interim payments yet? This cannot happen, man! Minister, it cannot be allowed to happen.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned the rule 9 requests. It would be interesting if the Minister could inform the House who has had rule 9 requests and whether he has received one himself. It has been promised that an arm’s length body will be set up. When will that be put in place? Who will be the chairman? Who is leading on this in the civil service since Sue Gray left? That is another question people are asking.
People are dying as we speak—mothers and fathers, uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters, friends and relations—and we need to get a move on. It is time to stop kicking this can down the road and to deal with compensation for the people who have been the subject of this tragedy.
I became truly interested in the contaminated blood scandal only very recently, after my constituent Simon Taylor told me about his experience. Frankly, I was stunned by how calmly he told me about his harrowing experiences over so many years. Simon has severe haemophilia A, and was co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C through blood products required to manage his disorder. Some 1,243 people with haemophilia were infected with HIV in the late 1980s because of their treatment through the NHS; my constituent Simon is one of 200 who is still alive. Thousands more were infected and died through contracting hepatitis C in a similar manner. I cannot imagine what they all went through. What happened is a true national scandal.
People with haemophilia lack the protein that makes blood clot. Even minor injuries can lead to bleeding that is difficult to treat. Until the 1970s, those disorders were treated by plasma infusions that had to be given in hospital. That treatment was later replaced with factor concentrate, a new product that could be administered at home with an injection. Factor concentrate involves pooling human blood plasma from up to 40,000 donors. That plasma was often imported from paid, high-risk donors such as prisoners and drug addicts in the US. Just one contaminated sample could infect the entire batch.
Haemophilia can affect many family members, and sufferers often form tight-knit communities. For decades, many young people affected were educated together at special schools. That made the impact of HIV and hepatitis C even more devastating. Sufferers watched as family and friends became ill and died, knowing that they faced a similar fate. Simon served for many years as a trustee of the Haemophilia Society. During that time, six of his trustee colleagues died, as did most of his friends from school.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a lot of hostility associated with HIV and AIDS. Haemophilia became a marker for those diseases. Many haemophiliacs lost their jobs, children were stigmatised at school, and families saw their homes vandalised. As a public spokesperson for the Haemophilia Society, my constituent Simon found his own job under threat from prejudiced colleagues. The society has always been convinced that the disaster was caused by inherently unsafe practices and processes. The Government recognised the risk they were taking with paid blood and plasma collection. The former Health Minister Dr David Owen committed to UK self-sufficiency in 1975—that is how long this has been going on—but the failure of successive Governments to implement that commitment led to prolonged reliance on dangerous imported blood.
My constituent Simon was lucky: he has largely recovered from AIDS and hepatitis C, and was able to return to employment after his illness, but many did not. So much misery could have been averted if promises were implemented and action taken. The Government have a clear moral responsibility to support and compensate those individuals and their dependants who died or have suffered because of Government failures—we have heard many such testimonies today. No compensation was paid to UK victims of the contaminated blood scandal until 2022. The chair of the infected blood inquiry recommended that interim compensation of £100,000 be paid to everyone currently registered on a UK infected blood support scheme. That recommendation was accepted by the Government, and payment was made in October 2022.
At the time, Ministers claimed that the payment would help to “right a historic wrong”. However, many of those affected by the scandal have been callously excluded from that payment, including bereaved parents and children, who could receive the payment only if the infected person died in a strict three-month window between July 2022 and October 2022. Why have the Government drawn that arbitrary line in the sand? All bereaved parents and children should be treated equally—this is not the time for penny-pinching. Factor 8, which advocates for victims of the scandal and their families, described the Government’s actions as a “massive betrayal”, and said that it only compounds the sense of unfairness for affected families. It truly adds insult to injury.
This tragedy still takes lives. Since the Government announced in 2017 that a statutory public inquiry would be held into the contaminated blood scandal, more than 500 people have died, and more will die before the inquiry reaches its conclusions this autumn. We Liberal Democrats propose that the Government act on the recommendations of the inquiry to ensure a just settlement for victims and their families as quickly as possible. After so long, it is time that the Government act without delay to help those devastated by this tragedy. Nobody directly in contact with those affected by the disaster can be left unmoved by the bravery of the survivors. They have fought for justice for so long—they deserve justice now.
I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on the immense amount of work that she has done over so many years; the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley); my constituent Nigel Miller, who is himself a victim of this scandal; and the many others who have campaigned on this issue.
As we know, Sir Brian Langstaff has recommended that the new compensation scheme be set up now, and that work should begin this year. The Government, however, have not responded to Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations on a framework for compensation, which he presented to them 15 months ago. Sir Brian has issued his second interim report, which supports Sir Robert’s recommendations with a minor adjustment for the inclusion of hepatitis B and the extension of cut-off dates for infections.
Rather than repeat what hon. Members have said, I would like to quote my constituent Nigel Miller:
“I am frustrated at the suggestion”
by the Minister
“that there is a need for further meetings with the infected or affected for Government to hear our experiences, as this has happened numerous times in the past. Everyone’s evidence is on public record and is available as written and oral evidence on the Infected Blood Inquiry website. It is to my mind purely a time wasting measure in order to delay any payments being made.”
He goes on to say:
“I and others like me want the UK government to implement Sir Brian Langstaff’s 2nd interim report by providing interim compensation for previously unrecognised deaths”,
and states that the compensation scheme should be delivered
“by an arms length body which is independent of Government and is centrally funded not funded through the NHS. Sir Brian has said that work must begin now on delivering the interim compensation via the 4 existing support schemes. This is not as complex a task as the Government is suggesting—for example Haemophilia Wales is in touch with the families…across Wales. I strongly feel that there is no need for Government to have further meetings with victims as all the evidence is on public record and this will be used as another excuse to delay and do nothing as has happened so many times before.”
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North has said, this is a desperately urgent situation: every four days, another victim dies. Not only do we want the compensation scheme to be implemented as quickly as possible, it should be able to work as efficiently and speedily as possible. I have raised these matters with the Minister before, but I would be very grateful if he could update us on progress on identifying a big enough team of staff—whether through secondment or recruitment—to deliver compensation quickly, providing staff with all the training they need, setting up the processes for the identification and verification of all those who may be entitled to compensation, and setting up the necessary IT systems. We all know the frustration of websites that crash and phone switchboards that are overwhelmed, leaving phones unanswered. I ask the Minister to please do everything he can to speed up the delivery of compensation and ensure that victims and their families get paid compensation as efficiently and quickly as possible.
First, as others have, I pay tribute to the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood—the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson)—for securing the debate. As a vice-chair of that APPG, I thank them for all their work. I also thank my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), a former chair of the all-party group, who set up a meeting last week with groups such as Haemophilia Scotland and the Scottish Blood Infected Forum. I pay tribute to those campaigners, as well as to my constituents Cathy Young, Nicola Stewart and Paul Gallagher, who are regularly in touch with me about this issue.
I am very grateful to the Father of the House for those kind words, and I am sure campaigners in Scotland will be very grateful to hear them. Those campaigners are driving us all on. They are driving us on to continue to fight on their behalf and to continue to seek justice, because they have been met for far too long, in my view, with prevarication, procrastination and delay, and as a community, they have often been subjected, marginalised and ostracised.
The hon. Member is quite rightly pointing out the Scottish dimension to this. Earlier, I mentioned Mr Robert Ross, who lives in the north highlands, and of course this problem is all over the UK. That is the point. In the four corners of the UK, it is a huge issue, and it matters to people whether they be in the highlands, London or Cornwall.
I absolutely agree with that, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing it out. If I led him down another political path, I apologise for that.
I want to make it clear that there are far too many people who have been marginalised and ostracised as the result of this scandal, and that includes those who suffer from hepatitis B. I have had to write to Sir Brian on behalf of the Scottish Infected Blood Forum, because on page 31 of his second interim report, he shows that hepatitis B has clearly been found to be one of the infections passed on by contaminated blood products and should therefore be included in the compensation scheme, but that recommendation did not appear among the actual recommendations of the report. I have written to Sir Brian to seek clarification on that issue, because I believe that clarity should be provided. However, that should not delay what we are asking the Government to do.
Those who either watched or were in the Chamber this morning for Cabinet Office questions will know that I took the opportunity to ask the Paymaster General whether the Government accept the principle of the arm’s length body overseeing compensation payments. I see that the record is now up online for those Members who want to view it, and it has the Minister saying that the “Government have not yet” made any final determination on that particular issue. I have to say that I was very disappointed to hear that from the Paymaster General, because I do believe that the principle of an arm’s length body to oversee the compensation payments must be agreed today.
There seems to be a suggestion in previous statements from the Government that they are looking at alternative ways of doing this. I hope that they are not going to look at things such as, for example, how they administer personal independence payments in dealing with this, because if that is the way they want to look it—and I will be polite about this, Mr Deputy Speaker—the Government should jog on.
The Government need to agree the principle of an arm’s length body. Why is that important? It is important for a number of reasons. We know that there are issues to do with death certificates. The Father of the House has raised consistently for a number of years the fact that we know that some people’s death certificates do not really reflect what happened, because of stigma and because of other issues. That is something that an independent arm’s length body would have to determine. It would have to look at death certificates and those issues.
Such a body would also have to look at the fact that there are people who, as I understand it, have not been getting interim payments because they are in a cohabiting couple relationship. The Government have already conceded this point when it comes to bereavement support payments for cohabiting couples. I know that because I am one of the Members of Parliament who have been pushing for the Government to accept that principle. They have now accepted the principle in law that people can apply for bereavement support payments if they are in a cohabiting couple relationship.
An arm’s length body could also determine the issue of carers, which I feel passionate about. We know that there are carers and family members who have looked after loved ones for decades. They have had to give up their careers and educational opportunities, and they had to do that to care for those loved ones. I want a statement from the Government today that recognises the whole issue about carers and those who have had to care for their loved ones.
I am going to make a prediction. I know that is very dangerous in politics, but I am going to make a prediction that we will hear the phrase “working at pace” when the Paymaster General rises to his feet. I already have a £5 bet with another hon. Member on that. Can I say that it does, I am afraid to say, look like a snail’s pace, rather than anything else? The fact is that there have now been suggestions that rule 9 requests from the inquiry have been given, as I understand it, not just to Government Ministers, but to the Leader of the Opposition. He may very well have received a rule 9 request on the simple basis that the Leader of the Opposition is in the unique position that he could be sitting on the other side of the Chamber at some indeterminate point in the future. I think the Minister does need to answer the question whether rule 9 requests have been given, because there is a very real concern about Government statements saying they are looking at alternative schemes.
I want to join the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) in asking this question, which seems a very simple one: who is the lead civil servant in the Cabinet Office dealing with this? We know it was Sue Gray, and we know that she applied for some other job and may or may not be in that job, but who is the lead civil servant for Members of this House to contact about what is happening on this issue and where the Government are on it? I hope the Minister will be able to tell us.
I join others in this House in saying that all we are asking for is justice—a simple ask. We want to see those who have suffered through this scandal receiving the justice they so rightfully deserve.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for giving us this opportunity, on a cross-party basis, to have this debate, which is really important—there is much support for this, as we have seen—and for their campaigning work on this issue through the APPG.
As has been apparent from the many debates we have had in this House over the years, the infected blood scandal is a deeply personal issue for constituents of ours. We are all, across this House, saying the same thing today: “Please do not delay, Minister. Please act with urgency lest we continue to compound this massive injustice.” I say that for my constituent Linda Ashcroft, who lost her husband, Bill Dumbelton, at the age of 49, after he contracted HIV and hepatitis C from NHS blood products he was given to treat his haemophilia. Bill lost his job at BT because of his HIV status, and lived his final years under a cruel cloud of uncertainty. His death in 1990 left Linda to deal not only with the emotional trauma of his loss, but with a huge financial burden. Linda tells me that, after 33 years, she is still looking for closure. She asked me to relay this to the Minister: “Please do not leave victims begging for compensation—it’s inhumane”. So please could he hear her?
In the same year that Bill passed away, my constituents the Smiths lost their seven-month-old son Colin to AIDS and hepatitis C. It was a tragic case, which I have repeated often in this place. Colin spent much of his short life fighting illness contracted as a baby from factor VIII blood product, sourced from a prison in Arkansas, with his family having to fight to discover that fact. The indignities that the Smith family suffered beggar belief, from the bullying and abuse of their children to the loss of Mr Smith’s employment. Like other bereaved parents, they were excluded from the interim payments scheme. Bill and Colin should still be with us today, and I pay tribute to Linda and to the Smiths. I do not know how such families have maintained such dignity through all of this, fighting for all these years. I am in absolute awe of them. I imagine how we would have felt if any of this had happened to us personally. The best tribute we can pay after all they have been through is to make sure there are no more delays.
It is right that the Government have accepted the moral case for compensation, and not just for those directly infected, but for those affected. We talk about the contaminated blood scandal in a singular sense, but we are really referring to injustices in the plural: the intertwined tragedies of lives lost and lives ruined.
I know the Paymaster General says that he understands and respects the gravity of the situation. We all appreciate the complexities of the long-term compensation framework for victims and know that requires careful attention, but I also reiterate what everybody else has said this afternoon: time is of the essence, and the continued wait for redress just adds to the layers of pain, frustration and injustice that the infected and affected feel.
After all, this is a group of people who have had more than enough experience of waiting. It has been 40 years since the information on the dangers of the contaminated blood products was published, and 35 years since the Government agreed funding for the Macfarlane Trust to assist haemophiliacs who contracted HIV from contaminated blood products. It has been over 30 years since my constituents lost those they loved most, eight years since the Scotland-only Penrose inquiry, and six years since the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) launched the infected blood inquiry—something for which campaigners had been calling for decades—and next Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of the inquiry officially getting under way.
It has been two years since the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), told the infected blood inquiry that the Government had a “moral responsibility” to address the issues, and a year since Sir Robert Francis produced his study on options for the compensation framework, which was intended to guide the Government in preparation for Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report, but the Government have still not formally responded to that study. We are a now just a few months down the line from Sir Brian’s second inquiry, and I join other Members in urging the Minister to tell us now how advanced the work is and to update the House on whether the Government will respond and accept its recommendations in full, and if so, when.
The Paymaster General has spoken previously about the Government working “at pace” on this. I hope the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) is wrong, but we need those commitments and we need to hear them today. I was very moved by the party and the briefing we received today from the campaign groups, and by hearing the campaigners talk about what is decided about them, calling for “Nothing about us is done without us.” That is still hugely important now.
I also echo fellow Welsh Members’ comments about the remarks by Haemophilia Wales. I would be grateful if the Paymaster General acknowledged for the record that although health is devolved, this issue is not, and that it is related to a scandal that pre-dates devolution and therefore responsibility for compensation rests solely with the UK Government.
Reference has been made to the article in the Daily Mail about one-off interim compensation payments for people who must have died within a strict three-month period last year. Will the Minister respond to that, too?
Ultimately, with all of the matters discussed today, the key issue we keep coming back to is time—time that is fast running out. More than 500 people affected by the scandal are estimated to have died since the inquiry began, in addition to the thousands of people already lost far too soon. There is simply no time to waste in delivering compensation to surviving victims and others affected. I urge the Government again today to end the uncertainty, end the delays, and act swiftly to do what is right. Victims, families and the British public deserve nothing less.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said when opening the debate that it was about truth and justice—
I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), on securing this debate, and I add my thanks and those of the SNP for the commitment and leadership they have shown on this issue over so many years, particularly through the all-party parliamentary group. It is also right to recognise the considerable personal and professional experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) brought to the debate right at the start.
Between 16 Back-Bench speakers and nine different interveners, many tributes have been paid to those who have lost their lives because of the infected blood scandal, and our condolences go to all those who have been bereaved. We have heard many moving stories this afternoon, and that perhaps is one of the most important points to take away: that this is not some abstract policy debate; this is about people, individuals and families whose lives have been completely transformed—often shattered—as a result of this scandal, and for many of whom time is now running out.
The impact has not just been living, and indeed dying, with the consequences of being infected or affected by contaminated blood products; it has also been the fight for justice, which itself has become all-consuming and a life-changing experience for so many people. So we also thank those campaigners, and we must now resolve to make sure that justice is delivered.
Among those campaigners is Joyce Donnelly, one of my constituents in Glasgow North, who is the convenor of the Scottish Infected Blood Forum. Her husband, Tom Donnelly, lived with haemophilia and received contaminated blood products at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a result, he contracted hepatitis C and lived with that condition for 35 years until his death in 2015. Joyce has campaigned passionately and tirelessly for justice and recompense for all those whose lives, in her words,
“were similarly blighted by a disaster that should never have been allowed to happen.”
I also want to thank other constituents who have been in touch and shared their stories in recent years and assure them of my support and solidarity.
When I met Joyce a couple of weeks ago, her frustration—like the frustration expressed by many Members today on behalf of their constituents—was palpable. The forum that Joyce convenes supports many people who have struggled and are struggling to cope with the impact the scandal has had on their lives and their families. We have heard examples of that across the Chamber today: people accused of being alcoholics; the pain and fatigue they suffered as a result of disease; the stigma they have had to put up with; and the survivor’s guilt, which a number of Members spoke about passionately. Now they are looking for justice and compensation before it is too late.
In some cases it is too late: even if the person infected is still alive, they have lived all these years without the financial support that could have made it easier to deal with the effects of their conditions. The interim compensation payments that have been made to many are welcome, but in many cases they are not enough. It is now estimated that around four infected people are dying every week; as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, nine people in Scotland have passed away since the interim report was published. So the need for urgent action by the Government could not be clearer, and the lack of action only adds to the frustration, and even anger.
There is action that could be taken now. Indeed, it is action that was recommended by the inquiry, especially on the appointment and even interim formation of the recommended arm’s length body. Everyone accepts that compensation must be paid, so the process of establishing how that will be paid and beginning to compile who will be paid could have already started, even if what or how much they will be paid still has to be calculated. The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) articulated that issue clearly.
Yes, that has come through very clearly in all the contributions.
Sir Brian also recommended that interim payments should be made now—not “at pace”, not at some indeterminate point in the future, but now—to recognise deaths that have otherwise not been recognised: bereaved parents and bereaved children who have lost their parents, where these have not already been recognised by an interim payment.
It is also important to recognise, as the right hon. Members for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and others have said, that ultimate responsible for this lies at UK Government level, because the infections took place before the establishment of devolution; before control of the health services was devolved.
The Government say that they accept the moral case for compensation, as they should. The current Chancellor’s testimony to the inquiry described the scandal as
“a failure of the British state”.
Sir Brian Langstaff’s report concluded that
“wrongs were done at an individual, collective and systemic levels.”
The Paymaster General has the opportunity to answer some of these key questions today, many of which have already been asked by Members, but which I repeat to make clear that the SNP shares those concerns. When will the Government appoint a chair and interim members to serve on the arm’s length body and advisory board that will administer the compensation scheme? What engagement have the Government had with Sir Brian Langstaff since 5 April? Have they been asked for or provided written statements in response to the report? I echo the questions about rule 9 inquiries that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked.
Where does responsibility lie within the civil service on bringing forward Government action? Has a named senior civil servant been appointed since Sue Gray moved on? Above all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said, what on earth does “at pace” mean? The Government keep saying they are working at pace, but Members who have spoken in this debate, our constituents and the campaign groups can see no evidence of that whatsoever. The Paymaster General said again at questions this morning, in answer to my hon. Friend, that it was all terribly complex and the Government had to take time to get things right, but surely the inquiry was set up in the first place to make those recommendations so that the Government could take them forward without having to do even more additional work?
As Joyce put it to me, people are fed up waiting for jam tomorrow from this Government. Perhaps the Government are worried about the total bill, which will not necessarily go down even if more people pass away, because they will have families who are entitled to compensation. Perhaps they are worried about setting a precedent for future scandals, or perhaps they just do not see this as a political priority. Today’s debate should make it clear that this is a priority. The price that our constituents have paid is higher than any financial price that the Government might have to pay. The best way to avoid this being a precedent is to avoid future scandals. The use of contaminated blood was totally avoidable. This scandal should never have happened, and the inquiries have made it clear, and will continue to make it clear, that plenty of lessons are to be learned so that something similar does not happen again. The key lesson from this debate is that people have waited long enough. It is time for compensation and justice to be delivered.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this hugely important and timely debate, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and to the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for securing the debate and for all their campaigning on this issue for so long. I send my condolences to all those who have been bereaved by this scandal.
This has been a powerful and powerfully painful debate. I thank all Members who have made contributions today from both sides of the House. We heard some incredibly moving speeches, putting the stories and lives of those affected at the forefront. So many Members have paid tribute to those constituents and stayed with them. They came to see them one time in a surgery, but those Members are still speaking up for them. We are doing what we can.
The whole theme of the afternoon has been that we want justice now, but I start by paying tribute to the victims and their families, who, while working through their own personal ill health, grief and trauma, have been campaigning tirelessly for justice. Instead of listing the Members who have spoken in the debate, I will list those victims, families and advocates to whom they have paid tribute: to Glen, Nick and Michele; to Sean and Bruce; to Robert and Adam; to John, Mary and Tim; to Rosemary and her sons; to Leigh, Margaret and Barbara; to Gerald, Diane and David; to Graham and Diane; to Clive; to David, his brother, his father and his uncles; to Bill; to Sean; to Simon; to Cathy, Nichola and Paul; to Linda and Bill; and to Colin and Joyce. Those are just some of so many stories, and that is why we are here today.
I give special mention to those organisations that have been campaigning on this issue: the Scottish Infected Blood Forum, Haemophilia Wales, Haemophilia Scotland, the Hepatitis C Trust, the Haemophilia Society, Hepatitis B Positive Trust, the Sickle Cell Society, Factor 8, the Terrence Higgins Trust and all other organisations. If they did not already know it, I want them to know that we on the Opposition Benches are listening carefully, and we want to continue to partner with them to make sure that justice is done.
I also pay tribute to Sir Robert Francis, Sir Brian Langstaff and their teams for their reports, which have been so instrumental in bringing us to where we are today. I thank the Paymaster General for meeting me and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), yesterday on this issue. This awful scandal has already needlessly claimed the lives of 3,000 people. Statistics from the Terrence Higgins Trust show that between the start of the inquiry in July 2017 and February 2022, more than 400 people died. In fact, while we await the conclusion of the report and the inquiry, one person is dying every four days. Every day that we delay the compensation is justice denied to those people and their families.
Waiting for that justice and compensation is adding to the trauma and pain of the victims and their families. The continued work of the infected blood inquiry is crucial to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I had the privilege in March of meeting many victims of the scandal. Their stories will stay with me forever. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish that they have faced and are still facing. For too long the contaminated blood community has been failed—failed by the state in a dreadful way to start with, failed by health workers, failed by successive Governments, and ignored by those who have let the demands of those affected fall on deaf ears, leaving the community without justice. It is heartbreaking that so many members of the infected blood community will not live to see the outcome of the inquiry.
The Minister has agreed that there is a strong moral case for compensation, which is welcome. The inquiry has recommended an interim payment of £100,000 to victims of the contaminated blood scandal and bereaved partners, and the Government have committed to delivering those payments, which Labour also strongly welcomes. However, questions remain about those affected by the scandal, such as family members who have been left out of the compensation scheme. The report of Sir Robert Francis KC on the compensation and redress scheme was published in June last year, but the Government have still not responded to any of its recommendations. Sir Brian Langstaff published an interim report in April this year, which recommended, among other things, that the compensation scheme that is to be set up begin its work this year, and be ready to deliver before the final inquiry makes its report in the autumn, but families are disappointed and angry that there seems to be no commitment from the Minister to respond to that second report until the final report is published in the autumn.
The victims and their families, who are also victims, wait for justice and clarity. The Government could be setting up the compensation body now, taking action to track down and register those infected and affected for future compensation, and looking at ways in which the current scheme for interim payments could be expanded, or whether a scheme could be set alongside it, or how else it might work. The overwhelming feeling of the victims and their relatives on hearing of the scandal is one of heavy hearts, disappointment and anger. We understand the complexities of the scandal and of delivering this process, but I hope that the Minister can see that many individuals directly affected still feel angry and unrecognised. They need more communication, and above all action.
I will end with more questions for the Minister. There have been many questions that I hope he will respond to today. The Langstaff interim report of April recommends that a publicly funded compensation scheme be set up. How advanced is the work to set up that scheme? Will it be an expansion of the existing scheme for interim payments? Does he agree with the Langstaff interim report that the scheme should avoid legalistic or adversarial concepts of the burden and standard of proof, and not add to the trauma already experienced by victims and their families in the way that it is set up and delivered, and the way that assessments are carried out?
Has the Minister begun approaching people to chair the compensation body? Will he involve people from the affected community in that process, and are additional staff being sought so that the payments can be delivered quickly? Will the scheme be run by an independent body, and will legislation be required for that? If so, will Government time be ensured to enable the legislation to be expedited, so that that is not another reason for being slow? Will he repeat his commitment to start making compensation payments before the next Budget?
This scandal should not have happened. It should not have been covered up. Politicians should have acted. There should not have had to be a campaign by victims, who have had to work so hard to get justice. It should not have taken so long. There must not be any more delays.
I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for a debate. She referred to Glen, Michele, and to Nick Sainsbury, who as she said never lived to see this concluded. She said that it is all about people, and in doing so set the tone for the rest of the debate.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, and I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position. I have a lot of ground to cover, and I apologise if I cannot be as generous allowing interventions as is always my preference.
The victims of the scandal are at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. We heard this afternoon the deep and tragic circumstances that led to the inquiry, of which many if not all of Members of this House will be keenly aware, either through personal experience or that of their constituents, of whom we have quite rightly heard a great deal this afternoon. I have the utmost sympathy for the plight of every individual who has been infected or affected.
In March, I met members of the infected blood community, facilitated by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and the Father of the House in their roles as chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. They have been such powerful and effective advocates on behalf of victims throughout the scandal, which left a profound impact. We are all keen to ensure that the process of resolution for those impacted—which has taken decades and which so many have not lived to see—is brought, in the words of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), to a fair and equitable conclusion.
The emotions surrounding the dreadful plight of all those caught up in this appalling scandal is vividly apparent in the words said in the House this afternoon. As the whole House knows, the Government have agreed that there is a moral case for compensation. I welcome the publication of Sir Brian Langstaff’s second interim report. His wide-ranging and innovative approach, building on the study conducted by Sir Robert Francis, has provided thought-provoking focus for ongoing work on compensation. However, this remains in practical terms an extremely complex and demanding issue that requires a huge focus to resolve. No final decision on compensation has yet been made.
I would like to share with the House some of the complexities that we are working through and the process that we have adopted. In order to progress the work on the issue and to build on the work of officials—including my own permanent secretary who stepped up when the second permanent secretary departed, among others who are devoted to working on this important issue— I established earlier this year and I chair a small ministerial group, to bring together the expertise of different Departments. This small ministerial group enables in-depth discussions with all interested Departments about the Government response.
Members will understand that, due to collective responsibility, I cannot go into the details of the deliberations, but the SMG is an important tool for taking this issue forward. Representation at the SMG usually includes but is not limited to His Majesty’s Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care. I appreciate that some hon. Members and members of the communities affected would not wish to see any involvement from the Department of Health in this process. However, I am sure that colleagues will recognise that the DHSC and NHS arm’s length bodies hold vital relevant clinical expertise and can bring to bear their direct experience of the England infected blood support scheme. Their insight is invaluable.
Sir Brian’s far-ranging report sets out recommendations for compensation that go well beyond what would be expected from the courts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) pointed out. He explains why he has come to that view. The Government have not made a final decision on compensation, but I want to share with the House the complexity of the work in which we are engaged. Just as it is critical to ensure that any scheme works effectively for the victims, the House should expect the Government to work through the estimated associated costs to the public sector. Those estimates have not yet been finalised. Much work continues to be undertaken, but that is work in progress.
In line with the terms of reference, Sir Brian’s expert statisticians did their utmost to come to a conclusion on the numbers of those impacted. However, given the sheer complexity of the question and the lack of readily available data, they were still forced to produce a very wide estimated range of potential applicants. I am afraid that speaks to the tragedy itself and the history, of which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and many others are acutely aware.
Ultimately, the form and the extent of the compensation scheme come down to the decisions that have been made by Government. Sir Brian has helped enormously in bringing forward what he says are his last words on compensation, and I thank him for them. As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North pointed out, it is unusual to take this route. Sir Brian set out clearly why he had done so. I am certain that Sir Brian’s full report will put his compensation proposals into further and—I fear in many ways—deeply upsetting context.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) commented, Sir Brian’s preference is for an arm’s length body to be established in which the precise level of compensation under his framework would be determined by independent, legal and medical expert bodies. Sir Brian proposes that—I believe this is unique for anything like this scale—the ALB should report directly to Parliament rather than via a departmental accounting officer. While no decision has been made, were the Government to go down that route it would, as I alluded to in my previous statement, be a very significant step. It would also be extremely likely—the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) referred to this—to require primary legislation, although I should also say that the same may well be required for other compensation routes.
Turning to the delivery mechanism of any scheme, the mechanism favoured by Sir Robert Francis’s study was an expansion of the existing mechanisms in each of the four nations. The reasons for that are that they have established expertise, they understand the needs of the applicants and they are able to facilitate non-financial support more efficiently at a local level. Sir Brian supports a new single delivery mechanism for the entire UK to prioritise the speed and centralisation of resource for expedient delivery and the processing of applications, an approach very much favoured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) speaking on behalf of his constituents.
Sir Brian recommends a UK-wide arm’s length body to deliver one-off compensation payments, with the existing schemes continuing to deliver ongoing support. That would have the benefit of simplicity, protect ongoing support for those on existing schemes and ensure parity across the UK, but it would mean creating a new delivery mechanism. I have raised this issue with the devolved Governments. I recognise both the huge challenges inherent in us all putting on to the established schemes a task hugely more complex and substantial in nature than that which they have previously undertaken, and the difficulties in establishing a brand-new single mechanism. Whatever route is chosen—we are discussing that with the devolved Governments and will continue to do so—I absolutely recognise the point made by the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire and for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) that we have to ensure any compensation scheme brought forward avoids unnecessary stress and duplication for the victims who have already experienced quite enough trauma.
Having mentioned devolved Governments, we are mindful that health is a devolved matter. We are committed to working with those Governments to develop an effective response that delivers across the UK. I recently met Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland Department of Health to discuss Sir Brian’s report. It was a helpful meeting. We shared a common determination to provide appropriate redress to the victims of infected blood. It was agreed that we would continue to meet as progress is made. That is not, for a minute, not to recognise the point made by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), that this is a decades-long issue that predated devolution by many years, and so the UK has a unique responsibility in coming to a proper conclusion.
The Government have made clear that they want the work to be done to ensure it is ready to respond to Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report as soon as possible. I have also made clear that that does not preclude us from making an earlier statement if we are in a position to do so. However, at this stage I want to share with the House and thereby the community some of the complexities with which we are wrestling to come to that fair and equitable conclusion.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the case of my great friend, constituent and long-serving councillor Dr David Tibbutt, who lost his wife and his brother-in-law to this scandal. On his behalf, may I urge my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the precedent of the legislation we put through this House in a single day for victims in Northern Ireland? That was a very complex issue which also engaged with devolved issues, but we were able to make progress. Will he do everything he can to expedite the compensation that victims need?
I am aware of the background to Dr Tibbutt’s case, as my hon. Friend has discussed it with me. I was not aware of the legislation to which he refers. I would hope that if a conclusion could be brought to bear on compensation which required legislation and space was found for that legislation, it would have the support of the House to seek a resolution. I think today’s debate proves that there are so many hon. Members who are keen to bring this matter to a conclusion when it is possible to do so.
There were many powerful contributions to today’s debate, with some 16 Back Benchers speaking. I apologise for not being able to cover all the points that were raised. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke with great emotion, which was matched by many others, including my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Southend West (Anna Firth), and the hon. Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—he is not his father, but he spoke eloquently—and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) read a powerful and moving poem that one of his constituents had written.
I am acutely aware of the House’s interest in the issue. We are all determined to take it forward to make certain that we produce a just and equitable settlement. I am sorry that I am not in a position to say more to the House at this stage, but we will continue to update hon. Members as we go through the work on an extremely complex issue—I know hon. Members recognise that—which, above all, we need to get right for the victims.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. They described so many individual cases, so many lives and so much suffering. The Minister has set out the Government’s position, but I respectfully say to him that it is not good enough. He said that the issue is complex—and yes, it is—but putting a man on the moon was complex, and we managed that. It seems to me that real political leadership to get this done is lacking.
As I said in my opening remarks, the time is now. We are not going away, and Parliament spoke with one voice today. It is not good enough; action is needed now.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Infected Blood Inquiry.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is with great sadness that I inform the House of the passing of Winnie Ewing. Winnie served in this House after a spectacular by-election win in 1967. She served Hamilton between 1967 and 1970 and was re-elected in 1975 to serve the constituency of Moray and Nairn until 1979. She went on to serve in the European Parliament, where she became affectionately known as Madame Écosse, before serving in the first term of the Scottish Parliament, where she proudly chaired the opening session. She famously said,
“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
Since her by-election win in 1967, there has been a permanent Scottish National party presence in this House. To us on the SNP Benches, she was a friend, a mentor and an inspiration. Our condolences go to her children, Fergus, Annabelle and Terry. We will miss her immensely. We will not see her like again.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As one of the people who served here with Winnie Ewing, may I say that the words of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will be echoed by many others?
Winnie was a formidable politician in three separate Parliaments— I do not know whether that is unprecedented. She was a formidable voice for Scotland and her passing will leave a vacuum in the world of politics, not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom and, indeed, in Europe. I ask the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) to pass on to her family the deepest condolences of the British Parliament.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think that I am the only Member present who served with Dr Winnie Ewing in Holyrood. It was a great pleasure and an honour to know her. On a personal level, she showed me tremendous kindness when I was a new Member, first elected in 1999. I am very grateful for that and I will never forget it.