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Infected Blood Inquiry: Compensation Scheme

Volume 838: debated on Wednesday 22 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when the compensation scheme recommended by the Infected Blood Inquiry will be established.

My Lords, the Government’s priority is to deliver compensation as swiftly as possible and with the minimum possible delay, as advised by Sir Brian Langstaff and the inquiry. The infected blood compensation authority is up and running in shadow form already and will be formally established in law as soon as the Victims and Prisoners Bill receives Royal Assent.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. As a former Minister for Public Health, I offer my apologies to the victims of this health tragedy—I am very sorry indeed. Can the Minister clarify the Statement he made yesterday and explain what steps the Government are taking to ensure that people who have not received the first interim payment do so as soon as possible?

My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness’s long-standing interest in this very vexed area during her time as a Minister in the Treasury and the Department of Health. On that particular category of claimant, there is a GOV.UK page where those who have not already received payments in an interim form can register their interest. We have also said that we will pay interim payments of £100,000 to the estates of deceased infected people who were registered with existing or former support schemes, and that would apply where previous interim payments have not already been made.

My Lords, yesterday in the Commons, John Glen, the Minister, said that there are

“a couple of categories in which there is a potential risk”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/24; col. 759.]

of claimants being worse off. Some of the widows have been in touch because they are concerned that the Government’s proposals will repeat the problems relating to top-up payments from the Macfarlane Trust. Sir Brian’s recommendation 13(b) to keep regular payments and merge them fully into the new scheme, supported by Sir Robert Francis, already seems to be different from what the IBCA helpline is telling these widows. Will the Minister agree to meet and to make sure that this does not happen?

Yes, most certainly. That should not happen. We are determined that no eligible claimant should lose out as a result of the transition from the support payments to compensation payments; I am concerned to hear that different messages are being propounded on that. I announced yesterday the plans for the support scheme payments, but those who are legitimately in receipt of support payments have an expectation of receiving a certain sum of money over their lifetime and that expectation will be honoured.

My Lords, something really rather terrible has been going on, because it is not just the infected blood scandal that we are suffering from. We have the Post Office scandal that has gone on for 25 years and counting, and the Hillsborough Stadium disaster lingered on for 35 years. We have the Rotherham grooming scandal, which is another three decades; the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, with the family requiring two decades to get justice; and the Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash—another two decades. Something has gone very badly wrong with our system of justice; these scandals have become endemic in our system of government. I ask my noble friend to reflect on that and to perhaps propose what we are planning to do to stop our fabled system of justice becoming junk.

My Lords, I have no doubt that the same thought has occurred to many of your Lordships. The systemic moral failings exposed by Sir Brian Langstaff in relation to infected blood raise profound questions about the defensive culture of government and the public services at every level. The findings of this recent report undoubtedly have a resonance with a number of findings in other reports on high-profile calamities, and this issue merits deep reflection and honest thinking across government and the public sector.

My Lords, as a former Secretary of State for Health, I associate myself completely with the expressions of regret and apology issued by the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and, indeed, my noble friend Lady Primarolo today. As far as compensation is concerned, as Secretary of State I managed to give some financial assistance to those suffering from hep C, but only by reversing a very long-standing policy against huge resistance. It has been noted that civil servants are sometimes unwilling to change. What has not been noted is that one institution in government has the right to prevent such things being done but does not carry responsibility if there is a mistake: the Treasury. I warn the Minister now, if he is here after 5 pm today, that the Treasury will always try to find a way, because it does not recognise moral compulsion—but that should be as important to us as legal liability.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord’s words will resonate with anyone in this Chamber who has had the privilege of ministerial responsibility. Having said that, I do not think we should necessarily point the finger solely at the Treasury when it comes to the responsibility that lies at every level of government in this terrible disaster.

My Lords, I declare my interest. As this House may know, my nephew, Nick, was a haemophiliac infected with hepatitis C and exposed to CJD and died aged 35, leaving a 10 month-old baby daughter, Niamh. Compensation should be first on the list to alleviate immediate suffering, but can the Minister tell your Lordships’ House whether the Government will seek prosecutions for those who Sir Brian’s report indicates are culpable in this most terrible of tragedies?

My Lords, I do not think it is for me as a Minister to opine on potential criminal liability. All I can say at this early stage is that the Government will make all relevant information available to those conducting any future criminal investigation.

My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s comments about the awful circumstances and the apology. Yesterday, after the repeat of the Statement, I reassured the Minister that what was required to implement all the recommendations of the report was cross-party working, and that we will continue to do that whatever the circumstances. He gave a commitment about the other 11 recommendations of the report; the Commons were due to debate it on returning from the Recess. I hope that we can keep that firmly on the agenda so that we properly address all the issues that the report raises.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am personally keen that we should have that opportunity. I am aware that discussions are ongoing with the usual channels to enable us to have a debate not too far from when we come back from the Recess. Clearly, it is important that these findings be given the most thorough consideration by government. They are very grave indeed. As I said yesterday, the wrongs that have been done are devastating and, in many cases, life altering. A comprehensive response will be given in due course, but that should not prevent us debating the report in the meanwhile.

My noble friend the Minister has said there is more information available on the website for victims and their families. Has his department considered how those who are digitally excluded and not very digitally proficient or able to access digital services can get more information?

Yes, indeed. I know that Sir Robert Francis, the interim chair of the shadow compensation authority, has this very much at the top of his agenda in his engagement with the infected blood community.