Amendment 133A

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords am 3:45 pm ar 26 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede:

Moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

133A: Clause 40, page 37, line 15, after “must,” insert “on behalf of the United Kingdom Government,”

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I too have signed Amendment 133A, which is a probing amendment and states that the Secretary of State will be acting on behalf of the United Kingdom Government when they establish the body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal.

Amendment 133B stipulates that payments made under Clause 40 must be fully funded by the Treasury. In anticipation of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, Amendment 134 is intended to probe how and when compensation payments will be made to victims of the infected blood scandal.

I acknowledge the letter that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, sent to us—and the constructive meetings we have had—advising that there may be future amendments coming forward on Report. For now, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I start by recognising that one of the people who wanted to speak to this amendment is not in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, told me he was going to speak, and his death over the weekend leaves a large gap, not just in Parliament but for the victims of the infected blood scandal and their families, whom he supported.

He said in the Commons on 13 November 1989:

“No one can give back to these victims the hope of a normal life that was once theirs. No one can remove the uncertainty with which they and their families live from day to day—the uncertainty of when the bell will toll. If any group of people live in the shadow of death, they do. It is no wonder that their story has been described as the most tragic in the history of the NHS ... I hope that we shall have a full and good answer from the Minister, but whatever he says, unless he agrees to our request, the campaign will go on and we shall not go away.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/11/89; cols. 153-55.]

Patrick, we shall go on. May you rest in peace.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his letter, and for the meeting we had to discuss this amendment and Clause 40. I hope he will have better news for your Lordships’ House today. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on Amendments 133A and 133B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which talk about payments for the infected blood scheme being arranged on behalf of the UK Government and paid from the UK Treasury. It is right—this scandal has been going on for approaching 50 years, since long before devolution, and therefore it is inappropriate for Scotland and Wales to have to foot the bill for something that is clearly the responsibility of the UK Government.

Clause 40 of the Bill was an amendment laid by Dame Diana Johnson MP in the Commons and it won cross-party support in a vote. It requires the Government to establish a body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal. The clause is the original wording of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s second interim report, recommendation 13, and incorporates recommendations 3 and 4.

My probing Amendment 134 was also laid in the Commons, but, unfortunately, there was no time to debate it. It would ensure that an interim compensation payment of £100,000 is made in respect of deaths not yet recognised—specifically ensuring that, where an infected victim died, either as a child or as an adult without a partner or child, their bereaved parents would receive the compensation payment. Where an infected victim has died and there is no bereaved partner but there is a bereaved child or children, including adopted children, the compensation should be paid to the bereaved child or children, split equally. Where an infected victim has died and there is no bereaved partner, child or parent, but there is a bereaved sibling or siblings, they should receive the compensation payment.

It should be noted that the wording is the original wording of recommendation 12 of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s second interim report. It is also very helpful that both the Welsh and Scottish Governments have written to the UK Government to support the compensation in advance of the inquiry reporting in May. On 18 December last year, the Paymaster General, John Glen, made a statement raising expectations, but unfortunately provided no information on when a compensation body would be established, let alone when interim payments in respect of unrecognised deaths might be made.

Both Clause 40 and this amendment are only the latest attempts to move government—not just this Government but many Governments of differing political parties—into sorting out and paying the compensation that is due to these groups of people, whose lives over the last four decades have been severely affected or destroyed by acts of the NHS, and therefore also by the Government, which used infected blood to treat haemophiliac patients through factor 8, as well as for those receiving whole blood transfusions.

The numbers are grim. Just under 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis through the use of contaminated clotting factors. Some unknowingly infected their partners. Since then, 3,000 have died. Of the 1,243 infected with HIV, fewer than 250 are still alive. Many thousands who had full blood transfusions in the 1980s and 1990s were infected with hepatitis. Some people may not even know that they were infected as the result of a transfusion.

I thank all the victims and family members who have written to me. I cannot do them and all the different campaigning groups justice in the short time today. They have been victimised time and again by the NHS and by Governments fighting them and all other victims over the years—sometimes, I am afraid, with lies and prevarication. I pay particular tribute to two indomitable women who are still campaigning after 30-plus years. Colette Wintle and Carol Grayson were part of a small group that in 2007 sued four pharma companies—Bayer, Baxter, Alpha and Armour—in the US, who had used contaminated blood from prisoners to make factor 8, which the NHS bought and used without any warning to patients and their families. The American judge acknowledged that the pharma companies had used infected blood but disallowed the case on a technicality, saying that the duty of care for patients in the UK lay with the NHS and therefore the UK Government. But the Government did nothing.

An independent and privately funded Archer inquiry, which reported in 2009, was followed by Theresa May setting up the full public inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff. He has issued two interim reports, with the final report due in May this year. In the middle of all of that, Sir Robert Francis also completed a report on the structure of compensation, which was published in March 2022, with which Sir Brian agrees and which he has built into the recommendations of his second interim report. That report, published last year, is an extraordinary read. No Minister or official can ignore the clear language and recommendations, evidenced by witnesses to the inquiry, that show decades of government and NHS wilfully ignoring their responsibilities and lying to victims and their families.

The Government have also recently announced that Sir Jonathan Montgomery, as the chair of the group of clinical, legal and social care experts, will give the Government “technical advice on compensation”. Unfortunately, this has not helped their relationship with the victims. First, there is concern that this group will also slow down any process of compensation, and secondly, the chair, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, a well-respected ethicist, has links with Bayer, one of the four pharma companies that sold infected blood to the NHS.

Disappointingly, Ministers have recently said in Oral Questions that they will not start until the Government have considered Sir Brian’s final report. We know that it usually takes at least six months for the Government to formally respond to an inquiry report when it is published, so can the Minister tell us whether they will now change this and move swiftly to make the compensation happen, as Sir Brian recommends?

I want to end with the voice of these victims. It is too easy to talk about the history of the scandal without understanding the reality of their lives. Sir Brian’s inquiry heard Jason Evans’s experience, who was four when his father died from HIV. He said,

“it just marked every aspect of life. And, you know, I’ve now lived my dad’s entire lifespan and I’m sat here. So it’s blanketed my entire existence”.

When asked whether he had ever been offered counselling or psychological support, he said:

“No, never. And I think the thing that is particularly despicable to me is, okay, now I’m 31. But as a child … a four, five, six year old kid, how did I not have bereavement counselling? How was it never offered?”

Lauren Palmer e-mailed me. She says:

“Growing up I was a little sister to two older half-brothers in what seemed like a relatively normal family. Unknown to us, my father was co-infected with HIV and Hepatitis C via his Factor 8 … but my father had also regrettably infected my mother.

In 1993, when I was just 9 years old, both my father and mother passed away from their infections, within 8 days of each other … I was heartbreakingly separated from my two brothers … and my life and my family were completely torn apart …

It emotionally destroys me on a daily basis that both my parents’ lives have not yet been recognised when others (rightly) have. The children and parents of victims are having to fight tirelessly, for decades to be discarded with countless ‘empty promises’ of responses from the government, which have no course for action, it is degrading and greatly disrespectful!”.

Colette Wintle and Carol Grayson also had to face years of illness and the deaths of their husbands. One reported that they were not told that one of the family victims had died. His mother was not permitted by the hospital to stroke his head. Years later, they found out that was because his brain and body parts had been removed, without seeking permission from the family. His brain was finally buried, with his brother, also infected, when he too died as a result of receiving factor 8.

Colette and Carol, along with thousands of other victims, have been lied to, pushed away and denied justice by officials. This is also coming out in the inquiry. No wonder Sir Brian is urging the Government to ensure that they start right now with expanding the scheme to include affected persons, implementing interim payments and moving as fast as possible to a full settlement.

The noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, had hoped to be able speak today. Like Lord Cormack, he had acted on this in the Commons, and I know he has told the Minister that the Government must follow Sir Brian to the letter or face immense disappointment and dismay.

This Government say they are doing everything at pace for the Post Office Horizon scheme, with most settlements paid in full by August or as soon as possible thereafter. The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve no less.

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:00, 26 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I apologise for not having been in the Chamber at Second Reading.

Thousands of people have died because of Governments’ and officials’ lies and obfuscation about the contaminated blood scandal. This Government, and every Government for the past 40 years, should be ashamed. Perhaps this Government should be more ashamed than all because, when we finally got the long campaigned for and long literally begged for public inquiry—I praise Theresa May for initiating that inquiry—the chair, Sir Brian, said in terms what the compensation should be and that it should be paid swiftly. Unbelievably, the Government are still prevaricating. I hope they are not hoping to limp on to the next election. We need to do better to stop obfuscation and delay, and make the amends that can be made, although nothing will ever make up for what has happened. My noble friend Lady Brinton’s speech was extraordinary and laid this out far better than I can. We can never bring back the 3,000 who have died and those who are dying every single day while this is delayed, nor undo the suffering experienced by this 40-year agonising wait for justice.

I declare an interest. My nephew Nicholas Hirsch, one of my sister’s twin boys, was a haemophiliac and contracted hepatitis C. He died aged 35, leaving a 10 month-old baby daughter. Every family that has lost a loved one is in the same position. Those who are still living need to live to see justice, and the families of those who have died need to see justice. The time being taken is obscene, inordinate and cruel. The rubbish being pumped out by the Government about waiting for the final bit of the inquiry is intolerable. Sir Brian, the brilliant chair of the inquiry, has made it crystal clear that there is no need and no time to wait. Quite frankly, we should not need a TV series and public outrage to be the motivation for the Government to do the right thing.

I have been trying over the years to get redress on the issue. I remember going with Lynne Kelly, head of Haemophilia Wales, to meet Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, to show him the proof of obfuscation and lies. He lied to us there and then, and then he lied in writing—a lie for which he later apologised in writing, and which I submitted in evidence to the inquiry. It was shameful how many lies were told by officials to victims, as well as to the parents and families of those who were contaminated. The very least the Government can do is to act, right now, before any more victims die.

Before I sit down, I want to pay tribute to all the campaigners, fighters and families who have sought justice. In particular, I thank the Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, who has been chair of the APPG and fought so hard on this, as well as Jason Evans from the campaign organisation Factor 8.

It is important to be clear beyond doubt and lay responsibility where it lies: at the Government’s door. These amendments make it clear that the Government are responsible for fully funding payments, that they should set up the body that will administrate this on their behalf, and that they must put on the record how and when this will happen, and stop prevaricating that they need to wait for the final report. For decency, for honour and for compassion, I ask the Government to please do the right thing and do it now.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench

My Lords, before I begin, I too pay tribute to the late Lord Cormack. He was a consummate parliamentarian, but he was also my friend, and he taught me so much when I arrived in the House. Equally, he gave terrific support on disability issues; on every occasion, he was very supportive.

I support Amendment 134, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I declare an interest, as my first husband, Graham, had haemophilia and received infected blood products. As a result, he contracted both hepatitis C and HIV. We learned of this only after we had become engaged. Graham died 30 years ago, on 19 December 1993, aged 32. We had been married for only six years.

I apologise that my health prevented me speaking at Second Reading. As I was directly affected by the infected blood scandal and gave evidence to the inquiry, I hope your Lordships will forgive this late intervention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, addresses a matter of profound importance to the thousands of us infected or affected by the shameful events that devastated the lives of so many. Your Lordships will remember that, in July 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a fully funded independent inquiry into how contaminated blood transfusions infected thousands of people with hepatitis C and HIV. She also allocated £75 million to be available for interim payments to victims still living and bereaved families. Yet only two months ago, some seven years on, the distinguished chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, expressed his frustration with delays in setting up a compensation scheme. He said:

The Inquiry’s final recommendations on compensation were published in April 2023. My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency”.

The Government accept the “moral case for compensation”, but these words are meaningless if actioning the inquiry’s recommendations is further delayed.

It was in 1987 that Graham, then my fiancé, and his younger brother Anthony were first told that they had HIV from factor 8 clotting agents. Anthony was first to die, leaving a widow and a one year-old daughter. Graham endured five years of misery, a barrage of associated illnesses, including pneumocystis pneumonia, epilepsy and intermittent blindness. He died 18 months after his brother. It must have been unbearable for him to watch what he knew was in store for him, but his courage took my breath away.

I count myself lucky. I eventually found a way to move on, enough to lead a good, purposeful life after Graham died, but the memory and the flashbacks do not fade. Thousands of other affected families have not been as fortunate, with the personal cost of the past ever present and haunting. Many wives of infected men lost their childbearing years. Parents and countless partners gave up jobs to care for loved ones at a time when HIV/AIDS was stigmatising and isolating. There have been over 3,000 deaths to date, with an average of one more every four days.

The Government have rightly accepted more responsibility for their part in the tragedy, but they have procrastinated in establishing a compensation scheme. Not content with the guidance given by Sir Robert Francis, who was specifically appointed to make recommendations for compensation, the Cabinet Office has now appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair a group of experts to decide who gets what. Not surprisingly, the infected blood community is concerned, given Sir Jonathan’s past links with two bodies implicated in the scandal, and unhappy about yet a further delay.

According to the chair of the Haemophilia Society,

“it has caused huge anger and upset in the community. We certainly haven’t been consulted and neither have any other members of the community as far as I am aware. This is now the third knight to be asked for his opinion on it. First, Sir Robert Francis. Then Sir Brian made his recommendations in his interim report. They are now asking for a third time. It feels like they want to keep asking the same questions until they get an answer they like”.

I hope the Minister will tell us how this latest “body of experts” on compensation will involve members of the infected blood community, whose lived experience makes them experts too. The need for such involvement is a consistent theme of Sir Robert’s report if trust is to be restored. So, in the spirit of transparency, will the Minister let your Lordships have sight of the membership and terms of reference of this new expert group? Can he also give an approximate timeline of when compensation will be paid? As the Government insist on waiting for the final inquiry report to be published on 20 May, will the Minister at least assure this House then that a compensation scheme will be ready to go live afterwards?

Every year, on the anniversary of my late husband’s death, I visit St Botolph’s church in the City of London. It has a remembrance book with the names of hundreds of haemophiliacs who have died from infected blood products. Each year, I see pages of new entries. Surely this example alone should galvanise the Government into compensating those still living as soon as humanly possible. Each delay means countless more deaths without the comfort of knowing that justice has been served for the infected victims, and their affected partners and children.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I express my strongest possible support for all the amendments in this group. I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Campbell, on their powerful speeches. As president of the Haemophilia Society for many years, I have met many of the victims infected in this appalling blood scandal. Many have died before any compensation was paid to them at all. Many others soldier on with the support of their families.

We have all been moved by the Post Office scandal, but in my view far too little has been heard of the very different but equally devastating suffering of the people given infected blood, many of whom were already suffering from a serious condition. As we know, their health-wise suffering was different from that of the Post Office staff. The great thing about these amendments is that they provide clear deadlines and clear government responsibilities.

Amendment 134 provides for the £100,000 interim compensation payment to be made to the nearest relatives of victims

“within one month of the passing of this Act”,

in line with Sir Brian Langstaff’s report—no ifs, no buts. That is what these people need; they have waited too long. Amendment 133A would ensure that the body to administer the full and final compensation scheme will be established on behalf of government and be fully funded by the Treasury. All at the Haemophilia Society will be monitoring the progress of that body, to make sure that it sticks to its brief.

We are talking about contaminated blood imported from the US as early as the 1970s, often having been taken from prisoners with HIV and hepatitis C. It was not checked, yet it was given to innocent sufferers—people already suffering with conditions, as I have said. This was some 50 years ago, yet we are still talking about compensation for the widows and children of these victims. I am sure that we will return to these issues on Report and I really implore the Government, as well as the House, to support the tenor of these amendments.

Photo of Lord Bichard Lord Bichard Crossbench 4:15, 26 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I too speak in support of Amendment 134. I have to apologise, for I am afraid I was unable to attend Second Reading. I speak on this amendment as someone who has spent a good deal of time in the last couple of years chairing one of the expert advisory groups for the infected blood inquiry, looking at public health and administration. As a result, like some other Members of this House, I spent a day at the inquiry giving evidence. That day made a huge impression on me, as I know it will have done on others. It made a huge impression not least because there was an audience of dozens of victims, who had suffered grievously for years and decades. They have shown immense courage, determination and resilience in the face of what the chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, has rightly said were serious failings over decades that

“led to catastrophic loss of life and compounded suffering”.

As chairman of an expert advisory group, it was not for me to draw those wide conclusions but I was able to see from the evidence—and draw my own conclusions—that during that period there had been multiple breaches of the Nolan principles and the conventions that preceded them, and multiple breaches, I am sad to say, of the Civil Service Code. In other words, the state let these people down time and again, and the state should now provide restitution without any further delay.

There is one other reason why I am supporting this amendment: because I feel that not to do so would make me complicit in what now seems to be the way in which the state, in all its forms, responds to failings such as this. We delay accepting responsibility for as long as we can. We defend the indefensible. We place the reputation and interests of institutions and the system above the interests of the people who have been harmed. We set up inquiries, which inevitably delay action. I am not in any way criticising the way in which Sir Brian has led the infected blood inquiry; it has been exemplary, and he has done a fantastic job. We then design unnecessarily complex systems for claiming compensation. We do not do this once; we do all that time and again. It happened with Windrush, Grenfell, the Post Office and, probably most heinously of all, the infected blood inquiry.

We have reached a stage where these responses themselves are a breach of the Nolan principles of public life. Let me remind the Committee that these principles include integrity, accountability, openness and leadership. This amendment seeks to change the responses and rebuild the public’s trust in the way in which we govern. It needs to be done quickly, because the inquiry report will come out in May, and it will receive phenomenal attention. It will either further undermine the public’s faith in government or, if we take this action now, perhaps people will believe that we are changing things through action and not through words.

Photo of Lord Owen Lord Owen Independent Social Democrat

My Lords, 1975 was a long time ago. I am getting on in age now, and I wondered if I would ever see the day when the decision I announced to the House of Commons with money attached—that we would go for self-sufficiency in blood products—would be honoured, at least in a way so that some of the relatives of the many people whose lives have been lost would feel some sense of satisfaction. I could make a very long speech on all those who have fought this fight with honour, dignity and integrity. They belong to all political parties; it very soon became a cross-party campaign.

I also want to make a few things clear. We knew about this earlier than 1975. A very remarkable book, The Gift Relationship by Professor Titmuss, identified the problem of the blood coming into our country from places in which there were absolutely no safeguards and very few questions you could ask about somebody’s past health. At that time, we had no way of finding out whether blood was infected with hepatitis, for example. We had to ask a simple question as a method of trying to find out whether a blood donor was suitable: we would ask if they had ever been yellow—ie, had their liver ever been affected so that they were jaundiced and, as likely as not, had been infected with hepatitis. It was as crude as that.

I want to make it clear that, through the years in which blood products which doctors knew might be infected were being used, they had an agonising choice. They had to explain the risks to the patients. Sometimes there were children who were not able to understand it, so the issue was put to the parents, who had to juggle these very difficult and complex medical facts. The paediatricians and haematologists had to do their best to explain the risks to them, without really knowing.

When I first began to look at this question, I wondered whether we could get away with having a complete ban on blood products. It soon became clear that, if we did that, we would not be able to give blood products that might well not be contaminated to a very substantial number of patients. Let us remember what the situation is. Eventually, we got a product that parents could inject at home. That meant that, if a child had fallen and was bound to bleed into their knee, arm or elsewhere, they could give the injection straightaway and the child would likely not suffer any serious damage—but that was actually one of the worst products to give. These choices were being made against this background of a lack of knowledge—but nothing explains the refusal of successive Governments to pay compensation to those affected. Nothing explains the delay, which meant that, when AIDS came, we still had no blood of our own—we were not self-sufficient with blood very likely not to be contaminated, although even then we could not be absolutely sure that it would not be contaminated.

What I would have said would have been much stronger, more vehement and angrier if not for the circulation of a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to us about this debate. I have known him in many different guises, and I know him to be a man of honour. Frankly, when I read this letter, I do not need any more assurances that there will not be any unnecessary delays. I believe his words are carefully chosen, and I think he understands, like many people from his own party and people who have been responsible for healthcare, that there can be no more ducking and weaving, and no more appeals from the Chancellor to delay it for another year or anything like that. This time, we have to honour it—and we have to do it this year.

The report will be available on 20 May, and everybody will be able to read it. Judging by the day’s evidence I gave, I think that it will be a searching and honourable report. Given the device in the House of Commons of attaching it to the Bill—of course this was a device—and now given the Government responding to this device by trying not to dismiss it but to make it more precise and effective, that battle seems to be over. We can be sure that this year—in a matter of months—payments will be made. I hope that can be made clear from the Front Bench. Nobody comes out of this with a lot of distinction, but I only say: let us read the report. I suspect a lot of people will feel very ashamed.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, the Committee listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the honourable part he played in this tragic situation. I was a Minister of Health much later, between 1995 and 1997, and I had to struggle with problems with the Treasury and getting reasonable compensation for the victims—the infected and the affected—as he said. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for raising this issue today so that we could have a debate of this kind. It is necessary, and we should keep pressing.

I was appalled by the Statement by John Glen before Christmas in the other place. It was one of the emptiest Statements I have heard from a Minister in that situation. It was as though the Government were just going through the motions of giving a Statement because they had committed themselves to doing so, without having anything at all to say, which is extremely disappointing. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for having much more sensible and positive things to say in his letters so far. We hope he can follow those up.

The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put his finger on something very important: namely, the way we handle all these sorts of problems, not only the tragedy of this particular case, and the length of time taken by these inquiries. This inquiry was actioned in 2017 and started in 2018, so it has been going for over six years—we won the Second World War in less time—and we still do not have an end date, although we hope it will be this May. The Swedes took one year to do a Covid inquiry; we will take God knows how many years on ours. How long are we taking on Grenfell? How long did we take on Chilcot? It is ridiculous that we take so long on these things. The Government should pay attention to how we handle their length and complexity. At maximum, we should take two years to deal with these issues. That is long enough to come to some clear conclusions and get positive evidence. I hope the Government will take that into account as well as all the other important issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Ceidwadwyr 4:30, 26 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee that I was not available to speak at Second Reading. I had not intended to speak and will not delay the Committee long, but I add my plea to my noble friend the Minister that this is finally resolved. The speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the examples given by the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Campbell, should speak for themselves. As a tribute to Lord Cormack, who campaigned on this issue for so many years, it would be fitting if my noble friend could give us concrete reassurance from the Front Bench that this injustice will, finally, be properly remedied.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, this group of probing amendments, which have the aim of ensuring decent and necessary payments to all those bereaved in this disastrous scandal, has given the Committee the chance to consider the appalling plight of the victims of the infected blood scandal.

We welcome Clause 40, in particular Clause 40(3)(a), which says that:

“In exercising its functions, the body must … have regard to the need of applicants for speed of provision, simplicity of process, accessibility, involvement, proactive support, fairness and efficiency”.

It is only to be hoped that the Government live up to the promise of that clause in future, because they have signally failed to do so in the past.

If this Bill has taught us anything, it is that all victims of crime, major incidents and appalling and deeply shocking medical errors such as this, as well as other administrative disasters such as the Post Office Horizon scandal, have so many needs that resemble each other. We need early admissions of responsibility and culpability. We need government and administrative bodies to face facts. We need to ensure that victims have early access to the services and support they need and that such services and support are in practice provided in full and in good time.

Of course, one of the tragic aspects of this scandal is that the need for speed is particularly severe. It is worth reminding ourselves that, since Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report of April 2023, more than 70 victims have died. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, gave evidence to that inquiry, as did the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Both spoke eloquently of its conduct, and it is worth remembering the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, that the state let people down and should accept responsibility. He spoke of defending the indefensible, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, echoed his words. Delaying compensation is denying responsibility. As all noble Lords who have spoken have said, there is no reason at all to wait any longer—certainly not until the Government have digested at length the contents of Sir Brian’s final report. Any such delay would be a travesty of Sir Brian’s principal call, which was for urgency.

Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations, in his report in June 2022, on the way that compensation should be handled, along with Sir Brian’s report, now need urgent implementation. It is to be hoped that the work of the expert panel—established under the chairmanship of Jonathan Montgomery, who is the chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which was not a mile away from involvement in the crisis—does not delay or water down the recommendations of the two reports. It is right to say that the campaigners are deeply concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, stressed.

In opening the debate, my noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out the strength and determination of this very long campaign. We mourn Lord Cormack, whose involvement in the campaign was also extensive and long lasting.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke of the difficulties facing doctors, and the lack of political will needed to ensure self-sufficiency in blood products in this country. We can only hope that the noble Lord’s optimism in expecting the Government now to react quickly and finally, following the report due in May from Sir Brian Langstaff, is justified. My noble friend Lady Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, added their accounts of personal tragedy, and thereby movingly added to the demand for urgency.

We know that the Horizon case led to definitive action only following ITV’s television drama. It should not be the same with the infected blood scandal, but we understand that ITV has commissioned Peter Moffat to write such a drama, so perhaps public opinion will come to the rescue once again. The burden of my speech, and the speeches of all noble Lords who have spoken today, is that this should not be necessary in a civilised and compassionate democracy.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, in arriving, as we now have, at Part 3 of the Bill, I should like to begin by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully and movingly on a set of events which many regard as constituting the worst disaster in the history of the National Health Service. The story of those who received infected blood as part of their NHS care and treatment is one of unimaginable suffering and terrible tragedy over more than four decades. It is a story that is still not yet over. The victims’ suffering has been made even worse by an absence of full justice for those individuals and, alongside that, a failure to reach—as far as may be possible—a sense of closure.

The official public inquiry currently under way, under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Langstaff, is the start of delivering the justice that is needed. The inquiry has been informed by the expert work of Sir Robert Francis, and Sir Brian has so far published two interim reports on his findings, with his final report due on 20 May. Meanwhile, in the other place, Clause 40—as it is now—was added to the Bill to speed up the delivery process.

The Government accept the will of Parliament that arrangements should be put in place to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the victims receive justice as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, my desire—and, I trust, that of all noble Lords—is to see the Bill added to the statute book as soon as is reasonably practicable. The Government are well aware that every passing season sees more suffering, death and bereavement. We are therefore eager to avoid more needless delay.

Ministers have already taken action and given a number of undertakings. First, we have promised that within 25 sitting days of Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report being published, we will make a Statement to Parliament setting out the Government’s response. The period of 25 days is not a target but a deadline. We will issue our response as soon as we possibly can.

Secondly, in response to a recommendation from Sir Brian, we have made interim payments amounting to £440 million to infected individuals or bereaved partners registered with existing infected blood support schemes.

Thirdly, in readiness for Sir Brian’s final report, we have appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair an expert group whose remit is to advise the Government on some of the legal and technical aspects of delivering compensation. I realise that some have questioned Sir Jonathan’s appointment because of his former connection with Bayer. Noble Lords may wish to note that Sir Jonathan ceased to be a member of the Bayer bioethics council on 31 October 2023. The council was an independent advisory group which had no role in the day-to-day operations of the company. It has had no executive power in the operational business of Bayer.

I emphasise that nothing in the work of the expert group is intended to cut across the conclusions of the inquiry or the advice of Sir Robert Francis—quite the opposite, actually. The expert group is there to enable Ministers to understand certain technical issues and thus enable decisions to be taken more quickly.

On the amendment passed by the House of Commons, which we are now considering, noble Lords will understand that the provisions of any Bill need to be legally coherent and should not cut across the integrity of the statute book. There are two principal defects with Clause 40: first, its coverage does not extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government are clear that infected blood is a UK-wide issue. For that very reason, the infected blood inquiry was set up on a UK-wide basis. In March 2021, we announced uplifts to achieve broad financial parity across the UK’s infected blood support schemes, increasing annual payments to beneficiaries across the country as a whole. Maintaining a commitment to parity across the UK is extremely important.

We also need to agree on a set of arrangements that are workable and, above all, work for victims. It is therefore essential for the UK Government to engage with all the devolved Administrations with those aims in view. That is what we are now doing. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office met counterparts from the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive earlier this month to discuss this matter; those discussions will continue.

The second principal defect of Clause 40 is that in proposing the establishment of an arm’s-length body, as Sir Brian recommended, it does not also propose any specific functions for that body. The Government’s intention, therefore, is to bring forward an amendment on Report which will correct these two deficiencies and add further standard provisions to ensure a more complete legal framework when setting up an ALB. I plan to engage with noble Lords in advance of Report to discuss the content of the government amendment once it has been drafted.

That drafting is not yet complete. One of the main reasons for this—which I personally felt strongly about—was that we should use this Committee stage as an opportunity for a general debate on the infected blood scandal and, in advance of Report, for the Government to be made aware of the views expressed by noble Lords from around the Chamber. I hope the Committee will agree that this was a reasonable approach.

My remarks thus far, have, I hope, given some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as regards Amendments 133A and 133B. I listened carefully to the noble Lord’s speech, and I entirely appreciate the concerns that he has raised. I have already made it clear that it is our aim is to achieve parity of treatment across the entire UK. However, in the light of what I have said, I hope the noble Lord will understand why I cannot at this stage say anything about the funding of compensation. In regard specifically to Amendment 133B, it would not be appropriate for the Bill to seek to override the existing processes that are in place to secure His Majesty’s Treasury funding. I cannot provide further reassurances at this stage, other than to say that the UK Government have accepted the moral case for compensation.

I now turn to Amendment 134, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I am grateful for this amendment, which seeks to probe—as she made clear—how and when interim compensation payments will be made to affected victims of the infected blood scandal. Many noble Lords will, I am sure, share the noble Baroness’s sense of urgency—expressed equally powerfully in the other place—on the need to deliver justice swiftly to the victims of the infected blood scandal.

Victims of infected blood have suffered terribly over many years, and that distress has been compounded by the financial uncertainty that they have faced. The Government recognise the imperative of providing justice for these victims as soon as is reasonably possible, and we are well aware that many have short-term needs. Interim compensation of £100,000 to those infected, or their bereaved partners, registered with the existing infected blood support schemes was paid in October 2022 for precisely that reason.

I realise that the noble Baroness would like us to go further, faster. The need to move quickly and provide certainty is being taken very seriously. In advance of the Government’s formal response to the inquiry—which, in turn, depends on the publication of the final report—regrettably I cannot commit to specifics as regards the cohorts of those individuals identified in the amendment, or provide answers to questions around eligibility generally. I wish it were otherwise.

I cannot yet overcome a legal impediment either. The interim payments made from October 2022 have been made through the current infected blood support schemes, which are run separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The schemes can make payments only to people registered with one of them. To extend interim payments to the cohorts identified in this amendment would not be possible across the UK as a whole, because the legal powers to register, and make payments to, the new cohorts do not exist.

Indeed, the alternative to registering individuals with existing schemes is making payments through a new arm’s-length body, as defined by Clause 40. I heard the concerns around a delay and procrastination, but Sir Brian has recommended setting up an arm’s-length body. Establishing such a body is a significant undertaking for the Government; unfortunately, there are processes that cannot be expedited, including the appointment of staff, the procurement of any required IT systems and ensuring that there is proper accountability to both the Government and Parliament for expenditure of public funds. That takes a certain amount of time to achieve, with the best will in the world.

Against that background—again, I wish that matters were otherwise—I regret that I cannot commit to a timetable or comment on the scope of any further interim payments at this time. However, I come back to what I emphasised earlier: the Government’s twin priorities are certainty and speed. With those aims in mind, I assure the Committee that the government amendment on Report will have the desired effect of speeding up the implementation of our response to the inquiry’s findings. To provide further reassurance to the noble Baroness—

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 4:45, 26 Chwefror 2024

The Minister mentioned that there will be government amendments on Report to address the deficiencies in Clause 40 that he has identified. Does he envisage having the opportunity, between now and Report, to prepare amendments to address some of the other legal impediments—for example, to widening the cohorts—that he has identified? That could accelerate clarification and speed up the process.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I anticipate using every opportunity available to engage with noble Lords on not only what the amendments will comprise but what we intend to do thereafter. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there is a wealth of regulations in this space. I venture to say that quite a lot of the detail of the arrangements will be contained in regulations, which will be laid as soon as possible. To the extent that I can go into detail on what those regulations will contain, I shall be happy to do so, but I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I am not in a position to do so today.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I apologise for interrupting the Minister. He referred to the payment of £100,000 to a lot of people in 2022, but is he aware that the whole point of Amendment 134 is to fill the gaps for all the people who did not receive an interim payment? When he referred to speeding up their response to the Langstaff inquiry, that was a verbal commitment, as I understand it. The point is that these people need an urgent payment of £100,000; as I understand it, they have not received any compensation, so it is urgent. We are talking about something that happened 50-odd years ago. The idea that we still need more time cannot be right, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us that absolutely everything will be done to get a payment of £100,000 out to the groups of people who have not yet received compensation—immediately and within a month of the passing of the future Act, as the amendment says.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I perfectly understand the noble Baroness’s strength of feeling on this long-standing scandal. It may be of some reassurance to her if I repeat the words of my honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in the other place, who said in December:

“The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve justice and recognition. Their voice must be heard, and it is our duty to honour not only those still living and campaigning but those who have passed without recognition”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1147.]

I met the Minister for the Cabinet Office to discuss these matters. My right honourable friend assured me that this is indeed his highest priority, and I undertake to the Committee that I will continue to work closely with him ahead of the next stage of the Bill.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and for highlighting so compellingly the issues that bear upon this appalling human tragedy. Ministers will reflect carefully on all that has been said. I hope my response has provided the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, with enough by way of assurance—although I wish I could reassure them even further—about the Government’s intended course of action to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and for the other amendments in the group not to be moved when they are reached.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him a couple of questions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marks, who asked exactly the question I wanted to know about: what is going to happen between Committee and Report?

In other instances, it has been quite speedy to set up a shadow body—after all, the Government now know how to do it. Is there any capacity to start setting up a shadow body that will be ready to go?

We do not yet know the timetabling for the Report days, but clearly Members of the Committee are going to need to see the Government’s amendments in enough time, particularly—to pick up the point raised just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—to try to address the deficiencies if those who are not currently included remain so.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

On the noble Baroness’s latter point, I hope to have extensive discussions with noble Lords about the Government’s amendments and their intended and literal effect.

On setting up a shadow body, I myself asked that very question. There are some issues here. I am advised that it would not save any time. There are still a number of decisions to be made on the government response to infected blood, and clearly we cannot pre-empt those decisions by establishing an arm’s-length body without clarity on what its precise functions or role would be. As I have said, our intention is to table amendments on Report that will correct the defects in Clause 40 and have the desired effect of speeding up the implementation of the Government’s response to the inquiry.

However, I will take that point away to make sure that there really is no advantage in not having a shadow body. The Government have done that before in other circumstances and it is worth thoroughly exploring as an option. I think I will be told that any idea of a shadow body would need to be considered alongside its interaction with the passage of the legislation and the Government’s response to the recommendations of the second interim report, and indeed the report as a whole, but I hope the noble Baroness will be content to leave that question with me.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, this has been an important debate. In fact, I go further: it has been a historic debate, because in a relatively short debate we have had the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Campbell, who spoke about very close relatives who have been affected by this tragedy; we have had the two noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Owen, who gave evidence to the inquiry; and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his speech, went back the furthest, if I can put it like that, to 1975. There are Members who have spoken in this short debate who have tracked this issue for the many decades that it has lingered.

Nobody is questioning the best intentions of the noble Earl, Lord Howe; he has been involved in this issue in a number of ways over many years. My amendments are essentially probing amendments, and I acknowledge the letter that the noble Earl has sent to us. We will not press the amendment, but I was going to ask the same questions as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about process. The Government have said they will table amendments on Report, and the Minister said there will be an opportunity for noble Lords to see the amendments before then and to discuss them, but we may want to table amendments to his amendment and we will want to make sure we have ample time to do that. I know the noble Earl understands that point, but I repeat it from these Benches as well.

This has been a comprehensive discussion of the issues. The essential point is that all noble Lords want to reach a conclusion and start distributing funds as soon as practicable. It is for a sense of decency that the Government, aided by all opposition parties, must achieve this. As a number of noble Lords have said, it is the worst scandal in NHS history. It is incumbent on us all, on all sides of this House, to make sure that the matter is concluded as quickly as possible. I beg to leave to withdraw Amendment 133A.

Amendment 133A withdrawn.

Amendment 133B not moved.

Clause 40 agreed.

Amendment 134 not moved.