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Contaminated Blood

Volume 788: debated on Monday 29 January 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by the Minister for the Constitution to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“The contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s was an appalling tragedy that should never have happened. Victims and their families have endured so much pain and hardship and they deserve answers about how this could have happened. I am grateful to the honourable Lady for bringing this issue to the House today, and for her leadership, alongside the honourable Member for Worthing West, Sir Peter Bottomley, of the all-party parliamentary group, which has done such consistent and constructive work on this issue.

As honourable Members will know, following the Prime Minister’s announcement in July last year that there would be an inquiry into these terrible events, the Department of Health launched a consultation on what the form and scope of that inquiry should be. I would like to thank all those who contributed to that process: we understand how difficult and painful describing these events must have been. The responses to that consultation were carefully considered by Cabinet Office officials. As a result, we confirmed that the inquiry would be statutory, established under the Inquiries Act, and we moved the sponsorship of the inquiry from the Department of Health to the Cabinet Office.

Before Christmas, we announced that the inquiry would be chaired by a judge. We have asked the Lord Chief Justice to provide us with a nomination. We hope to announce the name of that judge very soon. Once the appointment has been announced, the Cabinet Office will have early discussions with the chair about setting up the inquiry, and will encourage the chair to quickly hold further consultation with the affected communities over the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Finally, I want to reiterate again that I, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and the Prime Minister are determined that those affected by this appalling tragedy will get the answers they deserve”.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that Answer. I remind the House that I did have some ministerial responsibility for this area some years ago. It has now been over six and a half months since the Government first committed to an inquiry into this tragedy. It is disappointing that we are still waiting for an inquiry chair to be appointed, but I have noted with a great deal of interest what the noble Lord said today. I echo, if I may, his tribute to the two co-chairs of the all-party group that he referred to.

The noble Lord said it is hoped that a chair will be appointed to the inquiry as soon as possible. Will he set out whether there is an outline timetable as to when the terms of reference will be agreed with the chair and when the formal setting-up date for the inquiry is likely to be decided? We know how important it is to get the terms of reference right. I understand that the people affected would like the chairman of the inquiry, and not the Minister, to consult with them on the terms of reference before they are formally set. Will the noble Lord give consideration to that? Will he also confirm that the terms of reference will cover the aftermath of the tragedy, as well as the run-up to it?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that very constructive response, and I endorse what he said about the all-party group. The Haemophilia Society has also been very active in this area for many years. I expect the chair to be announced in days rather than weeks; that is how I interpret the “very shortly” commitment that was given in another place.

It will fall to the chairman to determine the terms of reference. Before he does so he will, as the noble Lord suggested, want to consult the affected community on those terms of reference. Once he has done so, and has made a recommendation to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, I anticipate that there will be another Statement to the House setting out the scope of the inquiry. The noble Lord asked a final question about whether the terms of reference will include what happened afterwards, as well as what happened before. As I said, we expect the chair to consult on the terms of reference, and I am sure he will take on board the point that the noble Lord has just made in drawing up the terms of reference that he will submit to the Government.

My Lords, sadly, I have to declare an interest. Some noble Lords will know that my nephew died; he was a victim of the contaminated blood scandal. Concerns have been voiced over the timing of this inquiry, and I want some assurances from the noble Lord. He mentioned the Haemophilia Society, but I do not know how aware he is of some disquiet and concern among the haemophiliac community about the society. Can he assure me that the Haemophilia Society will have no special status in this? A vast number of victims feel that the Haemophilia Society contributed to the scandal, rather than alleviated it. That does not reflect on the noble Baroness who is now president of the Haemophilia Society. This scandal has gone on for 40 years, but it is still very important that those who are affected do not feel that the Haemophilia Society has the special ear of the chair or the Government. I want also an assurance that the terms of reference will be broad enough to catch the harms that were done, and that the victims will have the ability to input to those terms of reference.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and I am very sorry to hear that she lost a nephew as a result of this tragic sequence of events. I looked at the Haemophilia Society website earlier today, and I did pick up the controversy that she has just referred to. I think it will be an important, but not exclusive, witness and giver of evidence to the terms of reference, and I am sure that the chair will be aware of the anxieties that the noble Baroness has just referred to. We want to ensure that all those who want to give evidence are able so to do. I hope that the chair will take the advice of many of those who gave evidence that there should be a regional dimension to this inquiry. People should not have to come to London if they want to give evidence.

My Lords, will Scotland and England be treated the same? Will the inquiry cover all of the countries involved, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England? There have been some problems in the case with which I was dealing with regard to compensation if you lived in Scotland and were contaminated in England, or vice versa.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. This is a UK inquiry. The problem affected the whole of the UK. There are provisions under the Inquiries Act for consultation to take place with the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies, but it is a UK inquiry. There is a specific issue about the arrangements made for helping those who suffered. It is a devolved responsibility. Those particular responsibilities may differ in Scotland from the rest of the UK.

My Lords, while I welcome the Government’s initiative in this matter, may I ask about an inquiry that was conducted about 10 years ago by the late Lord Archer, a former law officer? It was privately commissioned, but published thereafter. I think that the recommendations were accepted by the Government of that day. Can the Minister tell us something more about that, which was apparently a searching and revealing study into this matter?

The noble Lord asks a question that is right at the extremity of my familiarity with the subject, but I looked it up and the noble Lord is quite right. There was an independent inquiry in the early 2000s by the former Solicitor-General for England and Wales, Lord Archer. I understand that it held no legal or official status at all. It was unable to subpoena witnesses or demand the disclosure of documents, but it looked at some of the issues and discovered that some important documents had been destroyed. There were issues of missing evidence. After he reported, Lord Jenkin, who was also a former Secretary of State, voiced his difficulties about obtaining documents for the inquiry. That inquiry is available and will be available to the statutory inquiry. I hope that it will be able to build on some of the work that Lord Archer undertook.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the different groups of sufferers within this community will all be consulted by the chair and the panel? There are widows, people who are still suffering, people with HIV and people who do not have HIV and they have all been treated differently and in many cases grossly inadequately over the years. This is one of the concerns. People do not want the Haemophilia Society to be the one group that is consulted, because people from these different situations want to speak for themselves. I would like to think that the Haemophilia Society reflects everyone’s interests, but I absolutely respect the wishes of the different groupings. That assurance would be very helpful to them.

I am very happy to give that assurance to the noble Baroness. As she may know, there were more than 800 responses to the consultation that we launched in July, which concluded in October, so it is quite clear that there is a substantial body of people who take an interest in the subject and have already made representations. I am sure that the chair will want to consult with a wide range of people—survivors and relatives—before he or she finalises terms of reference.