Motion

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords am 1:46 pm ar 23 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Earl Howe:

Moved by Earl Howe

That the Bill do now pass.

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

My Lords, certain noble Lords wish to speak to this Motion.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to raise some issues that have arisen since the publication of the framework and tariffs for the new infected blood compensation scheme on Tuesday afternoon. I thank the noble Earl and John Glen for providing the details to make that possible, and the usual channels for ensuring that the work done so far is not lost but carried through.

However, over the last 24 hours, we have heard from a substantial number of members of the infected blood community who are distraught by the detail that has come out in the framework and tariffs, which seem to be at complete odds with the schemes that have gone before. I have a long shopping list of over 20 points; I will not detain the House with them, but I forwarded them to the Minister in advance of this debate. I will raise two or three as illustrations.

Under the new framework, there will be no distinction between chronic hepatitis B and C in calculating infection. There is no consistency about other diseases; for example, variant CJD has been left out of the new scheme but was included in the old one, as has Hodgkin lymphoma and possibly other cancers. Many people believe that the Government’s proposals still mean that the current schemes will be closed down, leaving them worse off, and that the Government have an incentive to wait longer to pay compensation. They need great reassurance and clarity that that will not be the case, because that is not evident in what was published on Tuesday afternoon.

Can the Government provide a breakdown of how the core route awards examples have been calculated? That would be helpful, even if only to say that there will be further information published online. There are concerns about the illustrative awards being worded as

“for a living infected person” and not simply an “infected person”. Given that your Lordships’ House has debated a great deal of the wonderful news that estates will also be able to claim, does that mean that estates will be excluded from this part of the scheme?

Noble Lords can see that there is a lot of detail here. A community that thought, on Tuesday morning, that everything was going to be all right are now very concerned that there are a large number of anomalies that need to be corrected. I will not go on, except to say that I am really grateful for all the help that the Minister has given, and I hope that he can provide some reassurance.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench

My Lords, I will be brief because I know that time is of the essence. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her sterling work on this Bill. She has given great comfort and strength, as well as enormous amounts of information, to the infected blood community, so that they can keep up with what we have been doing in this House up until today. She is right that there is now confusion in the community.

At the end of a very long day on Monday, I had thought that I might just get a day off, but by Tuesday my phone was ringing off the hook, and I became a helpline to many in the infected blood community who have the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, just described. I urge the Minister to give a little more clarity, if he can today, so that we can go back and continue to give reassurances to a community that has been campaigning and working towards this week for probably 35 years. I thank the Minister for his open door, because we have been going in and out of it for weeks. I, for one, really appreciate his support and help.

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

My Lords, I add the thanks of these Benches to the Ministers—the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy—and the Bill team as a whole for the way they have handled the Bill. It has been a real example of co-operation and cross-party help, leading to a number of amendments, not only on this particular issue but on all the issues that we have faced. We have not always reached agreement and there have been Divisions; nevertheless, I think everybody here agrees that the Bill will leave this House much improved.

I also very much wish to associate these Benches with everything that has been said by my noble friend Lady Brinton, speaking from these Benches, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. I pay tribute to the noble Earl for the way he has handled the infected blood issue, particularly by meeting with the community and noble Lords in a way that has been utterly helpful and completely sympathetic. We all know that it has devoured an enormous amount of his time, and we all respect and admire the care he has given to handling this issue. I hope that he will be able to give the reassurance today—to my noble friend Lady Brinton, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and the House—that is sought by the infected blood community; it would be a great relief to them.

Many of us had telephone calls yesterday in which extreme concern was expressed about what was happening in view of the calling of the general election, the fear that the Bill might be lost and that further improvements or reassurance on the scheme might not be possible. I add that it would have been a crying shame if this Bill had been lost and had not got through the wash-up. That seemed a real problem yesterday; there was concern that it would happen. It has got through, and for that we are extremely grateful.

It is also a great shame that the Arbitration Bill and the Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill look as if they are under threat. That is ridiculous. The Arbitration Bill is a Law Commission Bill. It has to start in the House of Lords, it went through a long Special Public Bill Committee procedure, ably chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and there is no opposition to it. Similarly, the Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill has no opposition. These are two Bills important to the British economy because of the contribution that the legal services sector makes to it as a whole. For the progress of those Bills to Royal Assent before Prorogation to be stymied by an absurd convention that, if it has not already been introduced in the other House, a Bill will necessarily fail, is wrong. In those circumstances, I profoundly hope that the Whips in the Commons can come to an agreement. As I understand it, there is all-round agreement in the Lords that these Bills should go through. They must be taken through, just as this Bill has been taken through.

We are very grateful that this Bill has gone through. However, if the other Bills that are non-controversial and agreed cannot get through, the procedure on the wash-up needs a radical shake-up.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has absolutely nailed it, and I absolutely agree with him about the Arbitration Bill, although my pay grade is much too low to do anything about any of those things.

This is one of those times when we are allowed to say “Thank you” and “Didn’t we do well?” Thank goodness we have this Bill and that it did not fall with the call of the general election. Between us in this House, we have improved the deal for victims across the country. We have given powers to our Victims’ Commissioner which she needs to do her job. I thank everybody we have worked with: my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, who is of course in court today—I do not think he has done anything wrong—the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the ministerial team. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, has been a model of what you need in a Minister in your Lordships’ House in that he is always prepared to listen, to discuss and to hear what might be needed, and when something is just, he seems to be able to act on it. You cannot ask for much more than that. I thank the Bill team, because I know what hard work it is to be a Bill team. I also thank my own people in our office, who have been backing us up on this Bill. I am just very glad that it has made it through wash-up.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee)

I will briefly add two sentences. In respect of the provisions dealing with the Parole Board and the IPP parts of the Bill, I pay a special tribute to the Lord Chancellor and Minister for Justice, and—although I know he will disclaim any responsibility—the Minister in this House. It has been a great pleasure to see the way in which, although we do not agree on everything, we have made huge reforms to the IPP system, and for that we all ought to be truly grateful.

Speaking of what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, it is of the utmost importance that we should find a means—I do not believe it is precluded by precedent—of at least getting the Arbitration Bill forward, for all the reasons that he put forward. However, I pay tribute to the Minister on that Bill as well—he has worked so hard on it—and to the teams on both Bills for what they have done.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Ceidwadwyr 2:00, 23 Mai 2024

It is not the Oscars ceremony, but I just wanted to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in relation to the Arbitration Bill. I am precluded by the rules of the House from mentioning the other, uncontentious piece of legislation—but I quietly agree with him.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I just want to say that it is the Victims and Prisoners Bill and it is very important that we acknowledge the work that has been achieved for IPP prisoners. I thank the team for that. Even though I wanted it to go further, I understand when progress has been made.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, will not mind me saying that the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have also been very receptive and very helpful. For the first time since I have been here, I have had meetings with officials—it has all felt very grown up—in which I felt that they were listening and that things were being done. So, on this Bill at least, I felt that it was a very constructive engagement. Even though sometimes we have to be antagonistic and critical of the Government and the Front Bench, because they do not do exactly what we want them to do, that does not mean that we do not appreciate the work that has gone on and goes on. I for one will now be contacting the IPP prisoners who, like the people who have been mentioned in relation to the blood scandal, have been, with their families, contacting me all night, saying, “Please don’t let this drop”. Leaseholders are less happy, but that is a different story. Anyway, in this instance, I say thank you on behalf of both victims and prisoners.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, the ministerial team and everybody across the Chamber from different teams. It has been heartwarming to see everybody trying to get the best result for victims and their families and make sure that the system understands what their journey is about. I also thank the Bill team, whom I have worked with not just on this Bill but as Victims’ Commissioner. I am very proud to be able to work my way round in that role as well.

Most importantly, it was not very nice to have “victims and prisoners” on the Bill, but we are where we are. However, to understand what victims go through is very important. I give huge congratulations on not throwing the baby out with the bath-water in all the politics. This is about people and this legislation is so important. It is a driver for getting other things on to it, whoever gets into power. It is important never to forget that victims have a voice and that voice must always be listened to. That is, as legislators, how we make legislation far better as it goes through these Houses.

I thank the ministerial team and everybody else who has joined in support of these amendments.

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

My Lords, mindful that this is somewhat exceptional procedure at this stage of a Bill’s passage, I shall first address the points and questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to whom I am grateful for the opportunity to provide some clarity on various aspects of the infected blood compensation scheme.

On Monday, as the House is aware, the infected blood inquiry published its final report. By any standards, this was a very significant day. As the Prime Minister said, the report shows a decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life. So the importance of ensuring that we provide a clear commitment from all sides of the House, as I believe there is, on doing what is right for the infected and affected victims, cannot be overstated. We must progress this legislation and we must continue to engage with the infected blood community on the details of the proposed scheme, ahead of those details being set in regulation. I hope that all parties join me in that sentiment.

I turning to the specific questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. On the issue of interim payments, I reassure her that this legislation still provides for the duty of interim payments to the estates of deceased infected people where payments were not previously received. In addition, a further interim payment of £210,000 is being made to living infected persons in recognition that this will meet the needs of those most likely to be disadvantaged by the passage of time. This payment will be delivered separately by the infected blood support schemes.

The Government are working to deliver these payments to the living infected as a matter of urgency. This morning, the Department of Health and Social Care laid a Written Ministerial Statement to seek a contingencies fund advance to make these payments in England and the Minister for the Cabinet Office met the relevant Health Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss these operational details. We are working with the devolved Administrations to make these payments swiftly across the UK and I am assured that we share a joint determination to make them as swiftly as possible. Once we have finalised the process with the devolved Administrations, those due to receive these payments will receive details of the date of payment directly from the infected blood support scheme that they are registered with. All interim compensation payments will be deducted from any final payment.

The noble Baroness raised questions on the definition of hepatitis C and related matters. In line with the recommendations of the infected blood inquiry, those infected with hepatitis C will be eligible for compensation, and this includes those whose infection lasted less than six months and those whose infection became chronic—by which we mean it lasted more than six months. Those who had a chronic hepatitis infection that has now cleared as a result of successful treatment will still be eligible to claim compensation.

On the questions that the noble Baroness raised on how the core route has been calculated and the other conditions which indicate hepatitis C progression, let me reassure her that, as announced by the Minister for the Cabinet Office in another place, Sir Robert Francis will now conduct an engagement exercise with the community before regulations to establish the scheme are made, and further details on that will be released shortly.

The noble Baroness also asked why the illustrative tables provide figures for living infected persons only. This is because awards in relation to deceased persons with an infection have a much greater degree of variability depending, for example, on the duration of their illness before they passed away. Publishing an illustrative table for deceased persons, given that awards will differ quite markedly depending on individual circumstances, would not be very helpful.

Compensation with regard to a deceased individual will be distributed to the estate, as the noble Baroness mentioned, and bereaved partners and other affected dependants. The Government are also providing a technical briefing with key representatives of the infected blood community to explain the Government’s proposals, as set out on GOV.UK, and I am confident that will be a useful discussion.

The noble Baroness asked a further question about financial loss incurred by affected dependants of a deceased infected person. Where an infected person has, sadly, died, those who were reliant on them at the time of their death—for example, a partner or child under 18—will receive a financial loss award under the scheme to recognise this loss. On the duration of the blood support schemes, let me reassure the noble Baroness that the establishment of the scheme will not have any immediate impact on the support payments received through the infected blood support schemes and there will be no gap in the payments provided to beneficiaries.

The support schemes are delivered separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and decisions on individual schemes will be for the devolved Administrations. No one will be worse off under the final compensation scheme than they would have been under existing support schemes. However, the infected blood compensation scheme will compensate for both past and future losses suffered as a result of infected blood.

Once assessed under the scheme, the applicant will be able to choose how to receive their compensation, as either a lump sum or periodic payments. This means that those who value the security of a regular payment will be able to receive compensation in this way. I hope that clarification is helpful.

In the event that the infected blood compensation authority assesses that a person is entitled to less compensation through the compensation scheme than would otherwise have been paid to them through continued infected blood support scheme payments, an additional top-up payment will be provided to bring the compensation they receive up to the level of the support payments. Any top-up payment awarded will take into account other compensation payments that a person has received through the scheme, either in their own right or as an estate beneficiary. This will ensure that no one will receive less compensation through the compensation scheme than they would have received through the payments to which they would otherwise have been entitled through existing support schemes.

I hope my words have provided reassurance to the noble Baroness, and, more widely, to the infected blood community, many of whom have followed the passage of this legislation with close attention. As we have seen throughout the passage of the Bill, and following the announcements this week, there is cross-party agreement to progress work on infected blood, and the Government will continue to deliver what was set out on Tuesday.

As we reach the concluding stages of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, I express my gratitude, and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy and my noble friend Lord Roborough, to noble Lords on all sides of the House for their amendments, engagement and collaboration throughout the passage of this Bill. Through its stages in this place, between us we have made vital changes to strengthen code compliance measures for victims, establish the body to pay compensation to victims of the infected blood scandal, and bring forward a package of reforms for those sentenced to imprisonment for public protection sentences. I am confident that the Bill leaves this House as a package that truly delivers for victims and the public.

In expressing my thanks to noble Lords, I am mindful of the difficulty of singling out colleagues by name, but I extend particular thanks to the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Newlove, whose expertise has been vital throughout these stages.

Lastly, I express my deep gratitude, and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy and my noble friend Lord Roborough, to members of the Bill team and all officials in the Cabinet Office, whose hard work and professionalism have been exemplary. Were it not contrary to custom and practice, I would mention them by name.

This is important legislation, and I am pleased that it will make it to the end of its parliamentary passage ahead of Dissolution. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Sitting suspended.