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"Sound money means...destroying all these useless quangos and initiatives."
"is not the principal objective",
Labour's plan would have saved £500 billion by 2012-13. Now we are told that the Government's approach will not in all cases save money at all. In fact, it could cost more money than it saves at the Audit Commission, the RDAs, the UK Film Council, Standards for England and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. I am afraid that the Minister has become the most expensive butcher in the country. His friend the Chancellor will no doubt be delighted.
Will the Minister, first, set out the total cost of implementing the plan this year and next? He should have those figures at his fingertips now that the review is almost complete. Secondly, can he explain the impact on jobs and unemployment? Organisations such as the UK Film Council help to strengthen industry and tax revenues. What estimate has he made of the impact of his announcement on growth and jobs?
Thirdly, the principle of independence is sometimes important, and I am glad that he acknowledges that, but it is not clear how he has applied it in all cases. For example, we need to hear a little more from the Minister about the Football Licensing Authority. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport infamously had to apologise for blaming Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough tragedy; now the Government are scrapping the organisation
established to ensure that a Hillsborough never happens again, without being clear about what will be put in its place.
Finally, in March I introduced a new principle whereby quangos would be set up only as a last resort. The Minister's statement confirms his presumption that state activity should be undertaken by bodies that are democratically accountable. His party's manifesto promised 20 new quangos-one third of the extra quangos that he has abolished today. Will he confirm that those quangos will not go ahead?
Mr Maude: It is very good to have such a consensual approach from the man who famously told the world on leaving government that there was no money left. There will be savings as a result of the process, and there need to be because the right hon. Gentleman was a prominent member of a Government who left office spending £4 for every £3 of revenue. They were having to borrow £1 out of every £4 just to keep the lights on, the teachers in the schools, the pensions being paid and the doctors and nurses in the hospitals. This Government have to clear up the mess that his Government shamefully left behind, and there will be savings from the process.
Mr Maude: We became used to the previous Labour Government bandying around large numbers in respect of the savings that they proposed to make, but we know that when the National Audit Office went around after those much vaunted efficiency exercises over which he and his colleagues presided, it found that in most cases they had not saved money at all. It was all about the optics and trying to make a point; it had nothing to do with reality.
I am sorry to say that jobs will be lost as a result of this process, but, in order to clear up the fiscal mess that the right hon. Gentleman's Government left behind, that is sadly an inevitability. Savings will be made as a result of the exercise, but, as I said at the outset, it is not principally about saving money, although it will do so. It is principally about increasing accountability-the important presumption that when an activity is carried out by the state, and there is no pressing need to do so at arm's length from government, it should be carried out by someone who is accountable democratically, either a Minister who is accountable to this House and, through this House, to the public, or a local authority that is accountable to local residents.
It is very good that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with our approach and thinks it sensible. He tried to claim credit for it himself, actually, so, as the various bodies that we have discussed today start to complain, as some will, and as some vested interests will with a very loud voice, I shall be able to tell them that our approach is a consensual one-that the Labour party wants to play its full part in responsibility for the whole exercise.
The answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) is that some functions will not be carried out at all. The key point is that the presumption will be that where there is a state activity, at least he and the rest of the House will be able to hold a Minister to account for what is done. What people find so irritating is the sense that there has been incontinently set up, in large part by the previous Government, this huge amount of activity by bodies that are in no way accountable: no one can hold them accountable for what they do. That is what we are seeking to change.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I first invite the Minister, in the spirit of consensus that we certainly want on this, to show just a tiny bit of humility in recognising that the high point of the unaccountable quango state was under the Major Government, of whom he was, I think, an adornment? At that time, outrageously, as I found when I became Home Secretary, having endured it in opposition, even parliamentary questions to the Secretary of State about prisons were being answered not by a Minister but by the chief executive of the agency concerned. That was preposterous and it happened under a Conservative Government, but we ended it very quickly. I hope that he recognises that the history goes right back to the Major Government.
Secondly, may I ask the Minister a specific question about the Youth Justice Board? I set that up; I accept that it does not have life eternal and that there is a case for reviewing its future. However, will he ensure that as its future is reviewed, its key functions of delivering effective youth justice are preserved?
Mr Maude: It is a pleasure to welcome the right hon. Gentleman into our big tent; it is open to all-comers, and it is a delight to have him as a resident. I think that he confuses the role of Executive agencies with the function of a quango. It seems to me perfectly proper that when Members of Parliament inquire about an activity they receive a reply from the Executive agency's chief executive. That does not mean that that agency is not accountable to Parliament through what a Minister says and does. The right hon. Gentleman will have found himself, as Home Secretary, directly accountable to this House for those functions.
Some of the functions performed by the Youth Justice Board will continue to be very important, but we take the view that the need for independent oversight of the process has now outlived its usefulness.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that overall costs will be reduced. A Local Government Association publication of December last year outlined 790 quangos costing £43 billion. How can he ensure that more quangos will not reappear as some disappear?
I am sure that there will occasionally be a case for new independent bodies coming into existence, but they will need to meet rigorous tests. They will need to show that they are needed to provide a seriously technical function, or that the function has to be carried
out in a way that is demonstrably politically impartial, or that they are measuring facts in some way that requires independence. The Office for Budget Responsibility, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set up early in the life of this Government, is one such body that meets all those tests. They will have to go through a rigorous process before consent is given to their creation.
Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that some of these bodies were set up almost as debts of honour? I particularly mention the Football Licensing Authority and the Human Tissue Authority, which were set up respectively after the Hillsborough stadium disaster and the scandal at Alder Hey hospital. Does he accept that a lot of people who were affected by those events will be aghast that that debt of honour has now been reneged on by this Government?
Mr Maude: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I know how deeply he, and many people, feel about that. Those two events caused a deep scar in the lives and memories of very many people, and they were scars on the life and history of this country. I would simply make this point to him: we should not be setting up bodies, or retaining bodies in existence, merely for symbolic purposes. It will remain important that there is expertise about safety measures in football grounds. That function does not disappear, but it does not necessarily need to have its own separate, unaccountable organisation to dispense it. Similarly, the functions of the Human Tissue Authority can be carried out perfectly properly within the plethora of regulatory bodies in the health sector, to which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is rightly applying some reforming rigour.
Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Liberal Democrat Back Benchers welcome the statement on the grounds of cost, improved efficiency and, above all, embarking on dealing with the problem of democratic deficit. However, behind the names of these organisations there are many people genuinely fearful for their jobs. Will the Minister emphasise this line in his statement: "For those bodies that we are abolishing, I should stress that in many cases this does not mean the end of the function"? That is very important, and that reassurance needs to be made to many other people.
On the ending of Consumer Focus and the passing of its responsibilities to citizens advice bureaux, the Minister is aware that there are many concerns about funding for Citizens Advice at a central level. What discussions has he had with his colleagues about enhancing the role of CABs and, indeed, increased funding-
Mr Maude: My hon. Friend makes a perfectly proper point about staff. We hope that jobs will not be lost, although some will be; we recognise that every single one is a personal disaster for the family involved. The chief executives of all bodies affected by the changes I am announcing should have communicated with staff this morning to give them as much certainty as possible about the future.
As regards Consumer Focus and consumer activities, the funding implications are being considered by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, and results will emerge in due course. We recognise that we cannot just hand these functions over to outside bodies without any resource implications.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In pursuit of his body count, did the Minister consider the role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which has upheld absolutely no complaints against the security services and has never offered any reason? Its existence is merely a deceit of scrutiny to mask the conceit of unaccountable, secret powers. Has he found any more faceless, toothless or spineless creatures in the ecosystem of government?
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): In Gosport, we face the prospect that our outstanding Navy engineering training school at HMS Sultan will move to St Athan in Wales under a massive and unnecessarily expensive private finance initiative. What will happen to some of the other outrageous PFIs that quangos have entered into, such as the National School of Government?
Mr Maude: As we spend more time in government and pick up stones, we find quite a lot of contracts in place that make one wonder a bit about the diligence that Ministers took in exploring them at the time. Going through the detail of contracts is not necessarily the most amusing way to spend one's life, but it is rather important because there is a lot of public money involved; the body to which my hon. Friend refers is one such example.
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Will the Minister say what will happen to the functions of the Football Licensing Authority and who will give its world-class advice on safety? That issue is of high importance to my constituents and to many others around the country.
Mr Maude: The FLA does not license football grounds, of course. That responsibility rests in all cases with local authorities, which will continue to exercise that incredibly important function. The central expertise to support the licensing activity could exist in a number of bodies, such as the Health and Safety Executive, or the Football Association could provide it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport will explore all those options.
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on the speed with which he has taken forward the review and this activity. [Interruption.] Well, it was completely ducked by the Labour Government. What further steps is he taking to give the remaining public bodies an increased focus on effectiveness and value for money, which is much needed as part of the culture changes set out in his statement?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. In my written statement and the list attached it, we have identified 40 bodies that are still under review, in many cases because a formal review has been launched but has not yet reached its end. The Chancellor's
comprehensive spending review, which I believe he will announce to the House next Wednesday, will set out the spending envelopes for all remaining bodies and place them under considerable financial rigour. For those that remain independent bodies there will be more transparency, which we have already started with the disclosure of higher salaries above £150,000. That has raised a number of questions about how those bodies are run.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Some of the most vulnerable people in Wrexham work at the local Remploy factory. What kind of Government is it who include two words-"under consideration"-about their jobs, and what consultation is the Department for Work and Pensions undertaking with people whose jobs the Government are threatening?
Mr Maude: To put it bluntly to the hon. Gentleman, it is a Government who are having to clear up an appalling mess left by his party, which left office spending £4 for every £3 in revenue. This coalition Government are having to reduce and eliminate a budget deficit that was created by his party with gross irresponsibility. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is undertaking a serious review of the future status of Remploy, and is very much aware of its good work and the valuable employment that it provides for many disabled people.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Quango is not a description usually associated with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. If it is not on the Minister's culling list, will he please consider putting it in there? This morning, IPSA refused to refund the cost of an advertisement for an advice bureau for my constituents. Is that not an affront to the House? Perhaps the Minister would like to invite Sir Philip Green to take over IPSA. I am pretty sure that the backroom staff of Topshop could do a far better job.
Mr Maude: I have been invited to go down that path before, and I am a cautious fellow so I shall resist the temptation to do so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his endorsement of the approach that Sir Philip Green has taken in helping the Government pick up a number of stones to find out exactly what is crawling around underneath.
David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): The Minister is proposing to merge UK Sport and Sport England, which do quite distinct jobs-there is a clue in their titles. From his existential ruminations, will he tell me how he proposes to guarantee that elite athletes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are getting magnificent support from UK Sport in the run-up to the Olympic games, are not disadvantaged by what is effectively a takeover by Sport England, which understandably has a quite different focus?
Mr Maude: This is cross-Government activity, and the review has taken place across the Government. The hon. Gentleman will find that my right hon. Friends in charge of other Departments will make statements publicly today, and then he can pursue the matter. Of course the two organisations have different focuses, but they none the less cover a lot of the same ground. Having two separate lots of unproductive overheads when one set could do the job just as well does not seem a good way to spend taxpayers' money.
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I commend the Minister for his statement. Does he agree that the problem with quangos is not just their cost but their effectiveness? Competition law is vital for a free market, but having three regulatory bodies-the Office of Fair Trading, the Competition Commission and the European Commission-has made business more bureaucratic and regulation less effective. When Lloyds bought HBOS, the OFT's competition concerns were brushed aside with a wink and a nudge from the last Prime Minister at a cocktail party. Does the Minister agree that that is a good example of how less overlapping bureaucracy can mean more independent and robust regulation?
Mr Maude: My hon. Friend is completely right. The way in which the competition scrutiny process, which is really important for an effective economy, currently works can be very complex, confused and slow. If we can simplify it by merging competition functions into one place, as we propose, there will be a benefit for the economy and for business and it will assist in creating jobs, which will be really important.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I noted with interest that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission was one of the bodies to be brought back within the Government tent. Of course, it has not been subject to the same lack of public confidence as the Child Support Agency suffered for many years. How can the Minister guarantee that the stakeholders whose interests are put at the heart of the CMEC's functions within Government are parents and, crucially, children, and not primarily the state, as was the case with the CSA?
Mr Maude: I suppose the short answer to the hon. Lady is that this Government believe that Ministers should make themselves available to be held to account for what is done in their name. I understand that the previous Government preferred not to do that and set up independent bodies to carry out important functions. The child maintenance function does not meet any of the three tests that I set out. It obviously needs to exist, but it does not need to be politically impartial, and indeed Ministers should be ready to be held to account for it.
Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) said, I have found that in the case of a quango that I have been dealing with, the UK Film Council, the industry is delighted that in future it will have direct access to Government instead of having to go through a third party. My concern, however, is that the same people who are working in such quangos will simply become Government employees. What measures will he take to ensure that that does not happen?
Mr Maude: I suppose from my hon. Friend's point of view the bad news is that many of them will become Government employees, but in those circumstances Ministers will be held responsible for what they do. I make no apology for restating that the principal purpose of the review is to increase accountability. The fact that someone becomes a civil servant employed directly by a Government Department rather than by a public body will make them more accountable, not less. We will be able to drive value for money and effectiveness much better.
Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): On the same subject, the Minister did not respond to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) asked about the UK Film Council. I declare an interest: I co-chaired with Stewart Till of Universal the review "A Bigger Picture", which led to the formation of the council. I am sure the Minister would agree that since that time, there has been a huge renaissance of the British film industry. How can it be considered achievable and accountable to switch responsibilities from the council to the British film industry, and how can he say that we will have access to more transparency?
Mr Maude: I treat what the right hon. Gentleman says with great respect, because I know that he has a long background in the film industry. He is passionate about it and has done a huge amount in the course of his illustrious career to support it, but I take issue with his central contention. The implication of what he sets forth is that the excellent renaissance of the British film industry is somehow inextricably linked with the creation of the UK Film Council, but the creativity of the people who make films delivered that. I find that there has been a mixed response to the announcement that the UK Film Council will be abolished, which was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport back in July. Very many eminent people in the film industry say that the UK Film Council's work was not central to the great success of the British film industry, but marginal in many cases.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that hard-working taxpayers in my constituency will be glad that their taxes will no longer subsidise regional bureaucrats and quangos in the east of England? Does he also agree that that work could be done much better by local federations of small businesses and chambers of commerce, and that the new local enterprise partnerships should be lean and mean?
Mr Maude: I am confident that they will be, because they will be under much closer local control. Local business organisations will contribute to them and local authorities, which are of course democratically accountable, will influence them. The fact is that regional development agencies did not contribute to narrowing the regional imbalances in our economy. In fact, those imbalances got worse and not better when the agencies existed over the lifetime of the previous Labour Government. This Government believe that support for local and regional businesses that is focused more locally and that is more locally accountable is likely to deliver greater success.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): There is great concern in the field of health about the impact of the changes in loss of expertise, which we will examine closely in the coming days and weeks. Would the Minister today like to give a guarantee on the Floor of the House that there will be absolutely no loss of expertise?
Mr Maude: The number of parliamentary questions generated is not a matter of where functions sit within government, but generally a matter of how many questions my hon. Friend and other colleagues in the House ask. If bodies become more democratically accountable through the House, they will be subject to more parliamentary questions-by definition-but it seems to me that that is a good thing and not a bad thing. That is what accountability is about.
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Now that the much-vaunted bonfire of the quangos has turned into a clammy Sunday afternoon barbecue, may I congratulate the Minister on his plans for British Waterways? He seems to be taking exactly the right approach, but we await information on the allocation of property assets.
What do the Government plan to do with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts? May I also urge the Minister to encourage his right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary to hurry up in sorting out the future of the Independent Living Fund, because that is causing real concern to my constituents?
Mr Maude: I am sure my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary will have heard the hon. Gentleman's last point and I know that he is addressing the matter with urgency. I welcome the hon. Gentleman into the big tent as far as the British Waterways Board is concerned. That is a good route to follow.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the future of NESTA, which will become an independent endowment outside the Government. When the Bill that set it up went through the House, I was the Opposition spokesman, and I urged that it should be set up as a wholly independent endowment that is outside, and not in any way subject to the whim of, the Government.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Although I welcome the proposal for a triennial review of the remaining quangos, can my right hon. Friend confirm that if it becomes clear that a quango no longer serves a useful purpose, it will be abolished immediately, without waiting for the completion of the three-year review?
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
Going through the list of quangos in the Department of Health, I can see the logic of pooling some of their regulatory functions. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority provided more than regulatory
functions; it also provided the forum for some very tricky ethical debates, without which the previous Parliament would have been unable to pass some of the legislation on such matters, because debates would have polarised along political or religious lines. Can the Minister assure me where that function of that authority now lies? Will he reconsider that change? The Health Secretary will have heard that as well because he has just arrived in the Chamber.
Mr Maude: We will end up with a single regulator for medical research. At the moment, such functions are dispersed quite widely. The functions of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority will lie within that single regulator.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): As my right hon. Friend will know, the Oxford canal goes right through the heart of my constituency. Waterway users generally will welcome the opportunities provided by the setting up of a new waterways trust. However, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) made an important point when he asked what happens to existing British Waterways assets. Will they be transferred to a new waterways trust? Presumably, in this as in any other aspect of my right hon. Friend's statement, Secretaries of State for the Departments concerned will be willing to answer written parliamentary questions about the detail of such matters. The changes provide an enormous opportunity for civil society to engage in the running and maintenance of our waterways.
Mr Maude: My hon. Friend is completely right on that. Secretaries of State will indeed be willing to answer detailed questions on exactly those issues. On many of the changes, complicated questions arise on the ownership of assets and where they will end up. The public bodies Bill will provide a power by secondary legislation to deal with asset distribution, and I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will have heard my hon. Friend's concerns about British Waterways Board assets.
Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I have heard the Minister say a number of times that if something is important, Ministers ought to take decisions on it and to be accountable. In that context, does he believe that consumer protection and a consumer voice are important? If so, why has he chosen specifically to abolish Consumer Focus and to transfer its functions to Citizens Advice? The latter is a worthy organisation, but it surely has enough to do in coping with the increasing demands for advice that result directly from the Government's welfare reforms.
Mr Maude: The short point is that citizens advice bureaux carry a high degree of trust with citizens. They exist locally and are well supported, and they manage to mobilise very large amounts of voluntary activity. We must get away from the slightly outdated idea that to show that we care about something very much, we must set up a quango to express it.
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con):
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the complete abolition of the Union Modernisation Fund Supervisory Board, which wasted hard-earned taxpayers' money holding secret meetings
in expensive hotels? It effectively handed taxpayers' money to the trade unions. Will he give an assurance that he will take action to prevent such abuses of taxpayers' money from happening in again?
Mr Maude: We have not taken a decision on the future of the Union Modernisation Fund itself, but my hon. Friend raises genuine concerns about the way in which the supervisory body operated. In the previous Parliament, I asked a number of questions about the publication of its minutes, but somewhat to my surprise I discovered that no such minutes were kept. That is the epitome of unaccountability and lack of transparency, which is exactly what I am seeking to address.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The decision to strangle at birth the chief coroners office will be viewed with dismay by many organisations, including the Royal British Legion, which campaigned for it to improve the coroners service. Can he explain why the Opposition supported the proposal during consideration of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, but now they are in government they wish to abolish the office?
Mr Maude: In government, you have to look very carefully at the costs and accountability. Ministers have not been convinced that setting up an independent overarching body of that nature is essential to the proper delivery of this important national function.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I am looking forward to warming my hands in front of the bonfire of the quangos, with 192 on the flames. Can my right hon. Friend confirm how many quangos were abolished under the last Administration?
Mr Maude: I have learned to treat the claims made by the last Government with some scepticism, because they often claimed to have got rid of things, but on closer scrutiny they turned out to be merely resting, not defunct. I do not know whether this is a bonfire or, in the term used by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), a damp Sunday afternoon barbecue, but we should not knock barbecues.
Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister talked, both in his statement and in answer to questions, about exorbitant pay in quangos and the public sector. Would it not add force to his argument if he and his colleagues also talked about exorbitant pay in the private sector? On the transfer of employees from quangos back to the public services, I seek reassurance that their pay and conditions will be protected in that process.
There is a bit of a difference between pay in the private sector and pay in the public sector- [ Interruption. ] The fact that the hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to make the distinction tells us a lot about the mentality behind the last Government. In the public sector, it is taxpayers' money that is being spent and
Ministers have a responsibility to ensure that it is well spent. The fact that they did not is one of the reasons why we are now facing the scale of budget deficit that we are. The transparency that we have applied to pay in the quangos has meant that people have been shocked to find out how profligate some of the pay has been.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): In a previous existence, I was a leader of a local authority, and three things got in the way of effectiveness-an increasing lack of democratic authority; an over-burdensome inspection regime; and a lack of funding. All three of those problems often stemmed from the existence of far too many quangos. I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that functions presently carried out by quangos that are to be abolished will be devolved to the local level.
Mr Maude: Wherever possible, that is our preference. We believe in localism and in trusting local authorities to take responsibility for what they do. Our commitment to localism does not only mean devolving to local authorities. In the case of consumer functions, for example, we think that devolving beyond local authorities to citizens advice bureaux is potentially a better approach. However, I can confirm our preference to devolve powers to as close to the front line of where citizens use services as possible.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Does the proposal to abolish Consumer Focus and transfer its functions to citizens advice bureaux mean that in the coalition's big society a consumer and a citizen are one and the same thing?
Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Current legislation requires Departments to get the best possible price for Government assets such as furniture, computers and other items. As part of the big society agenda, will the Minister consider whether donations could be made or other disposal routes used to support voluntary organisations, charities and other bodies that are being squeezed at the moment and could make good use of those resources?
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The last century has seen changes to this House, almost all of which have been to the advantage of the Executive and the disadvantage of Back Benchers. One change that has improved that situation has been the allowance of time for Back-Bench debates. I know that the Government's amendment on the Order Paper today has not been selected, but it would have had the effect of removing the entire motion except for the first three words, and that would be a very bad trend. Can you ask Mr Speaker to look at this issue, consider what would be appropriate in terms of amending Back-Bench motions and make it clear to both Front Benches that such debates are not a second-class Opposition day?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I remind the House that the amendment has not been selected and that Mr Speaker always considers carefully the question of whether to select an amendment. He takes all the relevant factors into account and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be reassured that Mr Speaker will continue to do that with the vigilance that he has demonstrated to date.
The Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household (Mr Alistair Carmichael): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for your assistance on that matter, but I have had regard to the terms of page 397 of the 23rd edition of "Erskine May" and-while I would of course not seek in any way to challenge the authority of Mr Speaker or the decision that he has made in exercise of that authority today-I struggle to find a precedent for his decision not to select the Secretary of State's amendment today. I am sure that it would be of enormous assistance to the House-
Madam Deputy Speaker:
Order. The hon. Gentleman is challenging the selection decisions of Mr Speaker and that is not in order. I have made it absolutely clear that Mr Speaker has taken the decision on the selection of
amendments today taking into consideration all of the relevant factors, and he does not require prompting from the Front Bench on this matter.
Mr Carmichael: I wish to place on record beyond peradventure that I do not seek to challenge in any way the decision that has been made. I merely seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, or possibly at some later stage the guidance of Mr Speaker himself, as to what new considerations are apparently taken into account in making these decisions.
Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the selection of amendments is not discussed on the Floor of the House. They are a matter for Mr Speaker, having taken into consideration all the relevant factors, which he is perfectly capable of doing. I am sure that he will note the points that have been made today, but no further points can be made to question or challenge the decision by Mr Speaker on this matter. I intend now to make progress with the business.
Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Mark Prisk, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Justine Greening, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with increasing rates of national insurance contributions and a regional secondary Class 1 contributions holiday for new businesses.
That this House recalls that the catastrophic problems of infected blood supplied by the NHS date back to the 1970s and 1980s, infecting 4,670 patients and causing what Lord Winston described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS; notes that successive administrations only very partially responded to this catastrophe by setting up and funding the MacFarlane Trust, the Skipton Fund and the Eileen Trust; regrets the past refusal to accept the principal recommendation of the Independent Public Inquiry into the supply of contaminated NHS blood to haemophilia patients, chaired by Lord Archer and established and financed by private initiative and funds, relating to compensation for the victims and set out in paragraph 6(h) of chapter 12 of the Archer Report; further notes that earlier this year the reasons for rejecting this recommendation were challenged successfully in the High Court, which quashed the decision; believes that this ruling constitutes an appropriate moment for the present Government, which bears no responsibility for the inadequate and misjudged policies of successive previous administrations, to extend an apology to the surviving 2,700 sufferers, their families and the bereaved; and calls on the Government to alleviate their intense hardship and suffering by accepting and implementing the recommendations of the Archer Report despite the intense financial pressure on the public purse at this time.
I would like to say a few things by way of preliminary background to this debate, some of which may reflect on the interchanges we have just had on the amendment. Opposition Back-Bench Members, and many Government Members, are pleased that the whole idea behind the initiative on Back-Bench business and the excellent Committee established to promote it is that Back-Bench Members should have the ability to move substantive motions on the Floor of the House on which they can vote. That is what, in effect, we have secured today. Not only would the amendment, had it been chosen, have wrecked the whole substance and heart of the motion, but it would have wrecked the intention behind the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), both of whom were good enough, in their wisdom, to select the bid made initially by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who, of course, is now a member of the shadow Government, and is therefore unable to move the motion today. He has kindly asked me to pick up the baton, which I am honoured to do, and we therefore have the opportunity today to debate a substantive motion on the Floor of the House.
The Government have missed a huge opportunity. In drafting the motion, I placed great emphasis on making it an all-party motion reflecting the views of every Member of the House in a balanced way, and it has commanded the support of the victims of what was the
"worst treatment disaster"-as it was described by Lord Winston, whose mother was, I think, terribly hurt in this way-in the history of the NHS. As the motion makes clear, the coalition Government bear no responsibility for the maladministration, the misjudgment and the inadequate judgments of previous Administrations.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does that not make it more significant that the Government, who had no responsibility for this situation, tried to move a wrecking amendment that would have totally sabotaged what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve on behalf of the people concerned?
Mr Robinson: My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. I am very pleased to welcome the Secretary of State to the debate, because it gives it prominence and substance. The Backbench Business Committee has a real role to play-we have had a good debate on Afghanistan too. However, I saw the Secretary of State shake his head to say that the amendment is not a wrecking amendment. None the less, those of us who attended a meeting yesterday with the victims of blood contamination were hoping for an amendment that we could support, and he could have done something about that.
The Secretary of State bears no responsibility for what has happened. The NHS supplied contaminated blood. I will not go into individual cases, except for one in my own constituency, which I have been following ever since the victim first approached me many years ago. This goes back to the mid-1970s, to the Callaghan and Wilson Labour Governments and to the Thatcher Government, and, of course, to the subsequent response to those ill-advised, inadequate judgments, made mostly by officials or under their strong advice-clearly that is the case in these cases-from the last Government principally, although it even pre-dates them to some extent. We are not trying to blame the present coalition Government, but there are things that they could have done, the cost of which would have fallen well short of the £3 billion that will allegedly be the cost of implementing the Archer report.
As hon. Members will recall, the Archer report was set up under the Blair Government-in 1997-98, I think-at which time I was at the Treasury. People put it to me, "You were at the Treasury at the time. Why didn't you do something?" We did not have the report then. We had made papers available. It was a privately funded and excellent report, which I commend to all Members, but we did not know what it was going to recommend. Unfortunately, I left the Treasury before I was confronted with the implications of the report. However, under the last two Labour Administrations, there were ample opportunities for us to respond more fully, generously and comprehensively, in human terms, to the suffering of the victims.
This was an unparalleled disaster in NHS treatment history involving thoroughly blameless individuals. I met one yesterday-a gentleman from Doncaster-who had been knifed, rushed to the accident and emergency department at Rotherham and given two pints of blood, from which he subsequently contracted HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. He is now totally incapacitated, and has been asked to live, after capital payments of £25,000-of great value, of course, but not enormous-on £107 a week.
The Government could have said, "Well, we know there is a problem with, for example, the Skipton Fund, so we will take some steps to move that up towards the level of what the previous Administration made available-inadequate though it was-in respect of HIV/AIDS."
The Government could have done that, but they did not. All we now have is their sad, tragic adoption of what previous Government's did. That is a great pity, a great sadness, and does not reflect well on them. When they reflect on the matter, they will come to think that they should have handled the matter very differently.
Had the Government proposed what I have suggested, which would have cost a minimum amount-nothing like the sums talked about now-we could have voted for it and then, at 4.30 pm, when this debate ends, gone back to meet the victims in Committee Room 14 and told them that this Government have finally broken with the previous, inadequate and ill-judged consensus and reaction. We have never asked them to take responsibility. However, they could also have extended a gesture of an apology, which the victims are also looking for. Sadly, however, the Government have, in effect, done nothing but take on the same old weary mantle that we have seen for the last 20 years. They are already getting tired: they have lost their verve and the ability to respond energetically and imaginatively to situations. It is very sad.
Charlotte Leslie: I appreciate the tone, spirit and intended outcome of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. As a newcomer to the House, however, may I ask what, over the past 13 years, he did to encourage the previous Government to deliver payments I believe should have been made? At that time, the public finances were not in such a diabolical state and compensation would have been much easier to give.
Mr Robinson: Unfortunately, the hon. Lady is trying to inject a party position into this debate, which those of us who have been involved in it have tried to exclude from it. We have said that past responses were inadequate and ill-judged-it says that in the motion. I regret that we did not deal with the matter, and I like to think that had I remained at the Treasury, I could have done something. I am open about that too; we all ought to be open here. However, those who say that I, as a former Treasury Minister, should appreciate our legacy are missing the central point: there will never be a good time to do something like this. There will always be bureaucratic arguments, and precedent arguments, and arguments we cannot foresee now but which will one day be made, for why we should do nothing, and the Government have caved into them. That is the reality.
Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble) (Con):
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that this is a horrendously tragic occurrence. Many haemophiliacs have been affected
by this as well, both mentally and physically, and we need to work together and all recognise the dreadful situation that these people find themselves in.
Mr Robinson: I am pleased that the hon. Lady has joined the debate and agrees with us. Of course, haemophiliacs have also been affected. The ironic tragedy there is that the treatments given were meant to deal with the basic underlying condition of the haemophilia. I will mention the name of one victim, given that he is a constituent of mine-I am sure that many other Members will mention constituents of theirs too. Given that 4,670 initial cases were affected, and given that there are 650 constituencies, nearly every constituency must have had at least one tragic occurrence. I will therefore mention Joseph Peaty. He is a haemophiliac who went for treatment to correct his underlying condition, but because of the contaminated blood products, he acquired both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. He is watching this debate and looking for us to offer victims something more. There is no way we could accept the amendment.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the real tragedy, especially for haemophiliacs, is that it is not just individuals who are affected, but whole families? The condition runs in the family, so two or three family members could be affected. The fact that people are living with such stress as a result of failure of successive Governments to tackle the issue is something that this House should totally condemn. We must take a decision today, and not allow the issue to slip further down the agenda.
Mr Robinson: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who makes a most poignant and correct intervention, if I may say so. We had a unique opportunity. The issue had moved right up in the public's awareness. The sort of thing that we get in these debates is everybody saying how terrible it is, but then heaving a sigh of relief that they have not been affected, and on we go. The months and years drag by, and so the number comes down, from 4,600 to 2,700. Perhaps not many will be affected, but as my hon. Friend said, the nature of the diseases is that they spread, and the suffering will continue long after most of us have left this House.
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. At the end of the 1980s, I worked with someone called Colin, who had been injured abroad, had a blood transfusion and got haemophilia. He then returned to the UK for ongoing treatment, but ended up getting contaminated blood and dying from HIV at the beginning of the 1990s. It is for people such as Colin that we are here today. This is not a partisan issue; it is an issue that we should have dealt with in the past 13 years-it should have been dealt with before that-but let us deal with it now.
Mr Robinson: The hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) has been very persistent, so I will give way to him and then to my right hon. Friend, but if the House will forgive me, thereafter I want to get on, because we have limited time and I have agreed to keep my opening remarks to the minimum
Mr Syms: This is an important issue for so many families and people affected. I am not sure whether the motion will be agreed to today-that depends on the vote a little later-but the important thing is to make progress. The Government have said in their statement that they will undertake a review of the Archer report, which is good. However, we ought to be pressing them a little further, so that hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman and I can be part of that review, lobbying Ministers and having meetings with them. Should he not be suggesting to those on the Treasury Bench that some of us ought to be in the Department of Health discussing the matter further?
Mr George Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and congratulate him on the measured way in which he is conducting this debate. Does he agree that in every generation there are two or three major injustices that have to be addressed? They cannot always be pinned on to a given Government, but this issue is one of those injustices, and we have to put it right now.
In passing, let me make a positive reference to a former colleague in the Government at the time. As I understand it, the previous Secretary of State for Health-my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)-opened up one aspect of the issue, through the Skipton Fund in particular, although if I am wrong and the Minister wants to correct me, I should be only too happy to take an interjection from her. He did that last year to see whether there was any way of increasing Skipton to the levels of HIV/AIDS compensation-that proposal was put to me forcefully at meetings with the victims yesterday, and I am sure. that it will be again when we meet them at 4.30 pm If we could do that, it would be a step forward and we would feel that we were going in the right direction. If the Minister wants to tell me that that is the case, I would be very pleased to hear that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): I have to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has read the written ministerial statement, because at the end it points out that we will be reviewing certain aspects.
Mr Robinson: That is my whole point: "We will be reviewing." This has been going on for a year already. Who can put his hand on his heart and honestly say that anything more will come out of the review than we have already had? Nobody with any experience of this House or how Government works can say that. Today is the moment.
Anne Milton: I have to ask again whether the hon. Gentleman has read the written ministerial statement. I have said that I will look at certain aspects and I will report by Christmas, because I am acutely aware that campaigners on the issue have been left hanging for far too long.
Mr Robinson: Very good, but let me say this to the Minister, who is obviously genuinely concerned about the issue, as all Ministers have been. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley said, there are always two or three big issues, and this is certainly one of them, so we wait to hear. [ Interruption. ] The Minister should not tell us that we have not read the statement; we spent all yesterday trying to get a copy of the amendment, which seemed to be in the ether somewhere. Indeed, I asked her to e-mail me a copy yesterday at about 6 pm, but we could not see it even then. I have referred to the statement, which I think is useless, but why is it not referred to in the wording that is before the House? She did not want it there because it would carry more weight.
Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): If the hon. Gentleman has read the ministerial statement, before coming here and pouring scorn on the Front Bench, can he say which of the recommendations in the statement he agrees with?
Mr Robinson: I am not terribly interested in a statement in the Commons Library; I am interested in what is said- [ Interruption. ] I will tell hon. Members why: we have been through that already. It was clear what was said at questions- [ Interruption. ] I am amazed that hon. Members can behave like that. Do they not realise that it is what is said at the Dispatch Box that counts, and that what counts is what the Government are prepared to do? We have had umpteen statements about reviews, and so have the victims. I invite the hon. Gentleman and the Minister to join me immediately after this debate, at 4.30 pm, in Committee Room 14 to meet the victims and see what reaction they get. Let us just see. Let him wave his hands at them and say, "We're going to review this." The victims want closure. They are fed up: they have been sentenced to long, lingering and wretched death sentences by successive Administrations.
This Government had an opportunity to make a new start and bring closure to this great human tragedy, but they have refused to do so. For that reason, we are very pleased indeed-I am particularly pleased, as the mover of the motion-that Mr Speaker has called the motion and that we can vote on it. I urge Government Members to vote with us, in an attempt to shame all those, in all parts of the House, who have had sufferers in their constituencies, yet will not stand with us in this important Division. We will therefore press the motion to a vote in due course, and I hope that all Members present will vote for it.
Madam Deputy Speaker:
Order. May I remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker has set a time limit on speeches of five minutes? That does not mean that every Member has to take all their five minutes. Some 24 or more Members wish to participate in this important
debate, so I ask you all to help your colleagues out by making your points succinctly, so that we can get in as many speakers as possible.
Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that if Members take interventions during those five minutes, they will be given penalty time?
Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on bringing this important, sensitive and emotive issue before the House. I congratulate him also on the tone-until perhaps the last couple of minutes of his speech-in which he moved the motion. He was absolutely right that this is not a question of the coalition defending its record; it is a question of the hon. Gentleman bringing a substantive proposition before the House for it to decide on.
In those circumstances,I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman and the House that it is more than usually important that Members who vote on the motion understand precisely what its implications are. He had a lot to say-all of which I agree with-about the human tragedy, the system failure and the slow response of successive Governments over 25 years. That is not in dispute. Sadly, however, I shall not be supporting the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby, because of the part of the motion that says that this House
"regrets the past refusal to accept the principal recommendation of the Independent Public Inquiry...relating to compensation for the victims and set out in paragraph 6(h)...of the"
"We suggest that payments should be at least the equivalent of those payable under the Scheme which applies at any time in Ireland."
Let us be clear what has actually happened in the evolution of policy on this subject. The previous Government accepted many of the other recommendations in the Archer report, but they explicitly refused to accept the recommendation that the compensation payments should be aligned with at least the level payable in Ireland. We are advised by the Government that payments at such a level would cost the Treasury about £3 billion. There is no controversy around the history of these matters or the emotion involved, or about how we got to where we are, but the House is being asked to accept that we should commit the Government to spending £3 billion on aligning our compensation payments with those currently payable in Ireland.
We set out the motion in those terms because that was very much what the victims wanted. However, the Government had the opportunity to respond with a constructive amendment, rather than a wrecking amendment that has no substance and takes not a
single step towards our aims, even in relation to the Skipton Fund. We cannot accept that. We wanted a good amendment that we could vote for and unite around, so that the motion could have stood, as amended, in a progressive way that would have allowed us to step forward. Because the Government did not give us such an amendment, however, we are back where we were. We could not, in all honesty, let the victims down, which is why I was forced to move the motion as it stands.
Mr Dorrell: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is not for me to comment on the way in which the negotiations between him and the Government proceeded, but unfortunately, that is not the question on which the House is being asked to decide. I return to the proposition that today is different from normal political days in the House, because the House is being asked to make a decision. It is being asked to decide whether the Government should be committed to align compensation payments with those currently payable in Ireland, and I do not agree with that proposition. I shall vote against it-albeit with a heavy heart, because I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the context and the history of these matters. The motion is not about the context and the history, however; it is about what happens next. In the week before the comprehensive spending review, it would not be sensible to agree to the commitment of £3 billion to align our arrangements with those in Ireland.
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman, with all his ministerial experience, accept that the House-individual Back Benchers and Ministers-is being asked to consider the human impact and the ways in which that can be alleviated? Individuals and families have been devastated by the impact of contaminated blood-not only the medical impact but the social impact and the undermining of family confidence. Can we focus on that in coming to a decision in the debate?
Mr Dorrell: I absolutely agree with a huge amount of what the right hon. Gentleman says. That is why I believe that the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Minister offers a sensible way forward. I said earlier that I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Coventry North West said, until he got to the last couple of minutes of his speech, when the Minister asked him whether he was prepared to sign up to the terms of reference of what the Government propose to do if, as I hope, the House rejects his motion. The Government are proposing to set up not a committee to think about this matter in the abstract, but a specific inquiry to report before the end of the year. The inquiry will review
"the level of ex gratia payments made to those affected by hepatitis C"
"the mechanisms by which all ex-gratia payments are made",
which was a specific recommendation in the Archer report. It will consider the provision for insurance-which has also been widely discussed in this context-and the issue of prescription charging, which Archer also recommended. It will also review the provision of and access to
"nursing and other care services in the community"
I assume that Government are not asking the House to reject the motion and simply carry on as though nothing had happened; I certainly will not do so. We all accept the context, but I would ask the House to consider carefully whether, instead of committing £3 billion to aligning our payments with those of Ireland, a better proposal would be to set up the review that the Minister recommends in her written statement, with the terms of reference that I have just outlined, in order better to meet the pressures that the hon. Member for Coventry North West rightly says are a human tragedy to which the House should respond.
Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I have a great regard for the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), but if there had been an alternative to the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), that would have been helpful to us in the debate.
Mr Geoffrey Robinson: On that point, if the Government intend to do what they have outlined in their written statement, why did they not table an amendment to that effect? Why did they squirrel the information away in a statement in the Library? The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) is long enough in the tooth to know that they have not deliberately done it like this, but had they tabled such an amendment, incorporating their statement, we would have been very inclined to vote for it-
Mr Clarke: I feel that there ought to be more humility on both sides of the House as we debate this matter, and I hope that I shall be able to exercise some myself. This issue has not been properly dealt with by Governments of all shades for a quarter of a century. It is amazing, but this is our first debate on the subject in a quarter of a century. I welcome the debate, and as the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West is the only practical proposal before the House, I shall take pride in voting for it. I have held a number of responsibilities myself, including that of shadow spokesperson on disability. The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) asked earlier what had been done so far, and the answer is: not enough.
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this Government came into office only about five months ago, and that they are trying to get a lot of things sorted out? I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, but I am trying to explain what is happening. To wait for two or three months longer for this important decision is a small price to pay, and I do not understand why he and the hon. Member for Coventry North West are worried about waiting for three months, because that is the difference between the proposal in the motion and what the Government are proposing.
Mr Clarke: Indeed, a lot of people in the Haemophilia Society and other supporters of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West are genuinely looking forward to what the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) is going to offer them before Christmas.
That said, I want to go on to talk about one of my constituents, with whom I had a discussion yesterday. The House has to accept its responsibilities on these matters, including its responsibilities for delay after delay, even though evidence has been available. We have not given a response to the people who are suffering very gravely. We are talking about a number of people dying, families bereft of their members and the impact of not having acted previously. There is the issue of not having proper regard to the blood we are using. Then there is the use of American blood from we know not where, and now the decision taken not to use UK blood because we think there might be an element leading to new variant CJD. Frankly, a degree of incompetence is evident, which people interested in our debate will find hugely unacceptable.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): My right hon. Friend talked about American blood from we know not where. The tragedy is that we do know where much of it came from. It was from paid donors, many of whom were prisoners and drug addicts, leading to consequences about which we all now know.
The kind of information that we have-and we have had interventions year after year-in terms of giving us the facts and the evidence, quite apart from what our constituents are drawing to our attention, was embraced in Lord Archer's report, to which the motion refers. That report, which I very much welcome, led to Lord Morris of Manchester-both our noble Friends have done a commendable job in bringing these issues to our attention-attempting to deal with the problem through legislation. A Bill came to this House at the beginning of this year, but where did it go? Nowhere.
That brings me to what this issue means for our constituents. I spoke yesterday to a man in my constituency-I will not name him-who is now 36. He described the bizarre experiences of his case. He talked about the secrecy surrounding these matters. The excellent Yorkhill hospital in Glasgow has a very good reputation, but a large number of papers pertaining to it have simply gone missing. My constituent talked about the stigma of having hepatitis C; he had been told for many years that he did not have hepatitis A or B, and was lucky not to have AIDS. His doctor withheld information on his particular case for more than a year. He told me only yesterday what the real problems were-for example, the difficulty of getting life insurance and a mortgage for himself and his partner.
My constituent also talked about the increased premium he faced in getting travel insurance. People are clearly being penalised again and again because they had the
misfortune to find themselves with this condition of haemophilia and then found, as they approached the national health service, that their condition was made unacceptably worse.
I want to thank the organisations that have helped. With particular reference to Scotland, I want to thank Mr Philip Nolan, who spent several hours with my constituent and me, and who, it seems to me, has been in London almost every week for years, preaching to us the necessity to act.
My constituent referred yesterday to the position in Northern Ireland. I do not want to open up yet another party political debate, but the truth of the matter is that even with its economic difficulties, Ireland-if I said Northern Ireland yesterday, I should have said Ireland-has not abandoned its scheme.
If the scheme means getting earlier acceptance on to the waiting list and getting problems recognised, and if our constituents should not be doubly penalised for something that is not their fault, I am with my constituent in saying that justice delayed is justice denied-and we have denied justice for far too long. Today provides us with an opportunity to put that right.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): It is good to have this debate today on an issue that I worked on throughout the last Parliament. Last year we managed to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject in Westminster Hall, but we have sought a debate in this Chamber for a very long time. I believe that the last debate on this issue was in 1990, and much has changed since then. A great deal has already been said about the figures. The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) talked about how many people have been affected: 1,200 infected with HIV, 4,670 infected with hepatitis C, and so far more than 1,800 people have died.
I got involved because of the human side to the issue, and I would like to pay tribute to my constituent, Haydn Lewis, an absolute stalwart of the campaign. He was one those infected, and he had hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, and was lately told that he was potentially exposed to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as a result of the contaminated blood products that he had been given. He finally developed liver cancer because of the hepatitis C, and tragically, he died this summer, after spending 20-odd years campaigning on behalf of the people who had been infected. He was a superb campaigner. He galvanised people across the country. He came to the most recent lobby earlier this year, even though he was extremely ill. He also did a huge amount of research into what happened in the '70s and the '80s. He came to see me almost as soon as I was elected to try to get me involved in the campaign.
As has already been said, it should be made clear that this is not a party political issue. This has happened under Governments of all colours and all Governments did something, but in my opinion we still have a long way to go. I am really glad that the Government have announced their intention to review some of Archer's recommendations. That is good news.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): My constituent Sarah Vergopoulos came to see me when her brother died because of infected blood just last year. She was most concerned to ensure that something would actually happen as a result of this debate. It seems to me that this debate-I commend the Backbench Business Committee on it-has already been a success, because something has already happened. The review has been announced and a timeline has been given to ensure that something will come forward this side of Christmas. I can thus report back to my constituent that just by holding this debate, something has already moved, which might not have moved without it.
Jenny Willott: The hon. Gentleman is correct. This debate on the Floor of the House is something for which many of those affected have called for a number of years. For them, it is important that that has been recognised and that Ministers are now listening to Members of all parties expressing their views.
Mr David Davis: Like the hon. Lady, I would have liked the debate to be less partisan than it has been so far. Her example highlights what a tragedy this has been and what an injustice has been committed. Although we are in the midst of a massive financial crisis, we should all recognise that tragedies and injustices like this deserve priority in spending terms over everything else.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact-I hope that the Minister will expand on it-that the issue of compensation for the hepatitis C victims will be addressed, as that seems to be a very important part of the case?
Jenny Willott: Indeed, and I was just coming to that point. As Members will be aware, the previous Government lost a judicial review in April when Lord Archer's recommendations for increasing compensation in line with payments in Ireland seemed to be rejected out of hand. My concern is that today's statement appears to do something similar, so I am somewhat disappointed at the wording of it.
Nia Griffith: I commend the hon. Lady for the excellent work she has done, including the Adjournment debate that she mentioned, which I too attended. I also commend her for lobbying Ministers. Does she agree that what she really wants is some firm commitment from the Government Front-Bench team-something concrete that she can go home with, rather than having to push things back again and again, as has happened in the past?
Jenny Willott: The fact that we have a deadline of Christmas for the report is very helpful. That is not too far away, and a concrete date has been specified. I hope that the Minister will ensure that we get the response by that time, and that if given the chance later, she will speak further on that subject.
The time that this process is taking is clearly a major issue. Given that it has taken more than 20 years even to hold an inquiry, the least the victims deserve is for the recommendations to be considered seriously, even those that would be expensive to implement. Lord Archer made a number of sensible and important recommendations, and although many have been implemented, a number still need to be acted on. Some would be expensive to implement, but others would not. Improved compensation is clearly the most controversial, and I appreciate that in the current financial climate the Government will find it hard to deal with, but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), other issues, too, have not been considered properly so far. For instance, patients with hepatitis C are treated differently from, and worse than, those with HIV. That simply is not fair. The widows of those who died before August 2003 receive nothing, and that is not fair either. Those who are infected cannot obtain insurance, which has massive implications for their lives.
Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): The hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way. I do not wish to be partisan, but do not some elements of the statement give us pause? It refers to access to insurance. "Access" is a very vague word. It is not just a question of access; as constituents have pointed out to me, it is a question of provision as well. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government need to be much clearer about that in the terms of reference?
Jenny Willott: I hope that they are clear about it both in the terms of reference and in the final review and announcement. Although the issue is not particularly glamorous, and is fairly complicated and difficult for people to understand, it has massive implications for day-to-day life, and it really does need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
The victims of the tragedy were infected more than 20 years ago. This has gone on for a very long time. Year by year we are losing those victims: people such as Haydn are, tragically, passing away each year. We cannot let this drag on any longer. Being a politician is about standing up and representing people who cannot represent themselves. Haydn can no longer represent himself, and many other people who are affected by this are no longer able to speak for themselves. It is our job to stand up and do the right thing, and I hope very much that we can do that today.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), both for her work and for her speech, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) in paying tribute to Lord Archer for his report-and also to Lord Morris of Manchester, who was my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Wythenshawe, and has done so much work on this and many other issues.
Much of my understanding of this issue comes from the experience of three of my constituents: Peter Mossman, Fred Bates and Fred's wife Eleanor. I pay tribute to
their resilience and determination. Peter discovered that he was a mild haemophiliac in 1976. One day in 1985 he came home from work with bruising on his leg. He went to hospital, where he was treated with contaminated blood and infected with hepatitis C. What resulted immediately was a desperate illness followed by, in the longer term, worsening bleeds and severe liver damage.
Fred was also a mild haemophiliac, although his condition is now severe. He has never been able to identify precisely when he became infected with hepatitis C, although it is certain that, although tests were carried out throughout the 1980s that would have confirmed his condition, he was never told. Only after the chance reading of a leaflet in 1993 did he ask whether he was infected, and he was finally told the truth. He was then told to go home, and that there was nothing to worry about. Life for Fred means often feeling extremely cold. He suffers from severe bleeding, and now has cirrhosis of the liver. For Eleanor, life means not only supporting Fred and enduring severe financial hardship, but having to live for years unaware of the risks that she faced to her own health because Fred had never been told the truth about his condition.
What Peter, Fred and Eleanor find hardest to bear is covered in chapter 7 of Lord Archer's report-namely that doctors knew about the risks involved in treating patients with blood products, but failed to inform them. There is no doubt that Fred and Peter, who were both mild haemophiliacs, would never have consented to treatment with contaminated blood products which carried a high risk of infection with HIV and hepatitis C. However, it is not only the doctors who failed to explain the dangers. It seems to me, and indeed to all of us, that the whole health system was caught up in what amounts to a conspiracy of silence.
I have a copy of a letter dated 31 July 1981 from a member of staff in the Department of Health and Social Security to an official in the Treasury. The letter is headed "Blood products laboratory-redevelopment". It states, among other things, that
"health authorities are obliged to supplement supplies from BPL with expensive and, because of the hepatitis risk, less safe imported commercial blood products at a cost of up to £10m annually."
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been estimated that as many as 90% of haemophiliacs who were treated with blood in the 1970s and 1980s have at least one life-threatening disease?
Paul Goggins: I am aware of that. What I am trying to emphasise is that if my constituents, and indeed many others, had been given proper information, they would have been able to make a balanced decision about the risks that they faced.
We all have constituents who will have their own stories, and as a result of the Archer report we now have a definite analysis of what went wrong. The great thing about the report, however, is that it points the way forward. It is now a case of what we can do to support
those who survive in the circumstances in which they find themselves, and I believe that we need to do at least four things.
First, there needs to be an apology. I know that some people feel that an apology is just words and is therefore meaningless, but in June this year the Prime Minister proved from the Dispatch Box that that is not the case when he gave an unequivocal apology to the families of Derry for what had occurred on 30 January 1972. That apology means a lot to those families, and it is enabling them to move forward. I believe that haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C and HIV deserve no less.
Secondly, there must be proper financial recompense. There is a debate about that. Archer recommends equivalence with the Irish scheme, but the Government ruled that out today, and are to institute a review instead. Whatever the outcome of that review, it must be demonstrably fair to those who have been affected. There must be a level playing field between those infected with, respectively, hepatitis C and HIV. Thirdly, there must be no impact on benefit entitlement: any recompense must be over and above the benefit payments that people receive.
Charlotte Leslie: I want to pay tribute to my constituent Bob Purnell, who died, his son Edward, and his wife Gill. I also want to dispel any misunderstanding that there may have been about the debate's being partisan. I welcome it very much.
I think we all appreciate that the Government are in a difficult position because of the financial situation. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we cannot make the payments that I think we would all like to make to victims who have suffered greatly, it might be possible to increase payments in future as the economic situation becomes more viable?
Paul Goggins: I am pleased that the hon. Lady has had an opportunity to mention and pay tribute to her constituent. There may be an argument for staging payments over time, but the Government must be clear about the award and the level of compensation at the outset.
Finally, the whole social care and health system must become much more sensitive to the needs of those who were caught up in this tragedy. There must be more sympathetic treatment for those who have been infected and their carers.
I regret the fact that we were not able to do more over the past 13 years to support and assist this particular group. I want to compliment the Minister, because I know from conversations that I have had and from things that I have read that she has gained a fair amount of confidence from those who were caught up in the tragedy, and from members of the haemophiliac community. My guess is that her experience of the health service, along with her own personal qualities, has led her to want to deal with the situation and, in her own words, to get closure before the end of the year. Let me say to her that having come so far so quickly, she now carries a huge burden of responsibility to ensure that the solution that she comes up with retains that confidence, and does not further dash the hopes of a community who have been so badly let down in the past.
Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for opening this debate and all the Members who have spoken in it thus far. Many of them mentioned by name constituents who have suffered as a result of receiving contaminated blood products, but on Monday I received a visit from a constituent who specifically did not wish to be named because she still feels that she suffers a stigma as a result of having hepatitis C. She does not want it talked about and she is embarrassed, but it is not just she who suffers; so, too, does her son.
There is never a good time to get a Government to commit to significant spending, but this is a new Parliament with a bright, shiny new Government and we should celebrate the fact that we finally have the opportunity to hold this debate on the Floor of the House of Commons some 20 years after the subject under discussion became an issue.
Not many people in Romsey and Southampton North have been infected as a result of having received contaminated blood products, but a handful have, and it is tragic to hear some of them say that although they would like to be present today they do not feel they can afford the train fare to come to London. Indeed, even those who have travelled have welcomed the fact that the debate is being held in the afternoon so they do not have to pay peak-time train fares to attend it.
I wish to make a specific point to the Minister, but let me first say that I welcome parts of the written statement, because elements of it represent progress, and the people in the Public Gallery who have travelled here today want to see progress on this issue. They do not want a partisan row to develop on the Floor of the House; they want us to make moves in the right direction.
One constituent who came to see me made some points about insurance. She and her family find it difficult to enjoy a family holiday because it is hard for them to get travel insurance. There are similar difficulties with life insurance and mortgages, and therefore it can be hard for people to buy their own property and have the security that that provides. I therefore welcome the parts of the statement that make reference to insurance because it is important.
The specific point I wish to make is about dentistry. It may not be particularly widely known that hepatitis C sufferers frequently have significant problems with gum disease. A constituent of mine therefore wanted to have easier access to NHS dentistry. I hope the Minister will take that point on board, and be prepared to make some sort of dentistry provision in future.
My constituents are not greedy people. Both those who have travelled here today and those who have not have stressed to me that they wish there to be fair compensation, and that they wish to have help from this Government. They do not wish to apportion blame because there has not been any progress over the past 20 years. What they want is progress now.
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab):
Appropriately, I am wearing a black tie today both to acknowledge the fact that many people have died because of contaminated blood products before they had the opportunity to see a
full debate on the subject in this Chamber, and to pay respects to a constituent of mine, James McVey, who died tragically at the weekend at the age of just 18. His death is not related to this issue, but I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House would want to join me in sending our condolences to his family and friends.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this long-neglected issue firmly back on to the political agenda. It is to our great shame that it is necessary to have a debate on it so long after the original events, and it is an indictment of previous Administrations that many of the issues surrounding the contaminated blood disaster remain unresolved to this day.
The case for making adequate reparations to the victims and their families has been eloquently made both today and on previous occasions in this House and in the other place. However, I have never heard a more stirring description of the tragedy and its effects on individual lives than the emotional personal account of one young gentleman in Committee Room 7 yesterday. His words will stay with me for a very long time.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): In common with many other speakers, the hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for compensation, and I think all Members have sympathy with that. However, given the pain being caused by the £1 billion saved by getting rid of child benefit for higher rate taxpayers, where does he think that £3 billion will come from? Does he have the courage to tell the House which budget we should cut to pay that compensation?
Steve Rotheram: I am being encouraged to make a party political point, but as my mum used to say, "Two wrongs don't make a right," and, believe me, if I were sitting on the Government Benches now I would be saying exactly the same thing. On this issue, it does not matter what political party we are in.
The NHS failed almost 5,000 people. Through using contaminated blood and blood products, it made ill people more ill, sometimes fatally so. It made perfectly healthy individuals-accident victims requiring blood transfusions, for example-unwell for life. Indeed, as many have said this fiasco was, in Lord Winston's words,
"the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS".
The state should have gone out of its way decades ago to compensate victims financially and in kind, not only to accept responsibility, but proactively to alleviate the adverse impact of its mistakes. Instead, successive Governments have prevaricated; they have been reluctant to acknowledge fault and loth to carry the can financially.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): Constituents of mine, such as a gentleman, whom I will not name, who contracted both HIV and hepatitis C at the age of five, have made it clear that they do not want Members to consider the issue on a party political basis, and I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman is reflecting that wish in his tone. It is incumbent on every Member to put party politics aside and to do all we can to ensure that this matter is treated as a top priority, while also taking into account the constraints on the state.
"It really is time that as a Country, as a government (and forget whatever Party it is), we should now take responsibility for this. It's a completely shocking scandal."
Let me tell Members about what happened to a constituent of mine, Mr Christopher Munn. In 1981, he was mugged and stabbed. He received a blood transfusion and contracted hepatitis C. For years, Mr Munn fought for recognition, support and compensation but, unable to afford legal representation, he found himself led a merry dance, and was swatted away like some bothersome pest. An initial application to the Skipton Fund was rejected but, thankfully, on appeal, some 25 years after being infected he was awarded a few thousand pounds. Now, £25,000 or £45,000 is no small sum, but if we do the maths it quickly becomes apparent how risible that amount actually is when spread over 25 years and more.
This issue is largely about the money of course. Many victims, severely debilitated by conditions developed as a direct result of contaminated blood, have been struggling to meet their medical needs, let alone achieve a comfortable standard of living. However, the issue is also about the need for acknowledgement. Victims need the state to accept unreservedly and unconditionally its responsibility for their plight, and to meet its moral obligations. For the NHS and, by extension, the current Government to retain their integrity, they must make amends. To those who have challenged Labour Members with comments such as, "But what did your Government do about it?", my answer is very simple: not enough.
The bottom line is that successive Governments irrespective of their political persuasion hesitated over investing resources and setting precedents. They were all equally culpable in failing the victims, but rather than bang on about who did or did not do what and when, let us finally seize the opportunity to right a terrible wrong.
I fully appreciate that money is tight, but morality is absolute, not some relative concept that expands and contracts to suit circumstances. We cannot as a society be more moral in good times than in bad. The Government have spoken about compassion and fairness and "the caring society". They have no option but to put their money where their mouth is in order to put right a decade-old wrong.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con):
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for tabling this motion, because it is vital that such important, tragic and sensitive issues get debated on the Floor of the House. I welcome the statement by the Minister, because over a number of years those affected by this problem have gone on a rollercoaster journey. That is because in recent years the Archer report has been published, the Government have taken a position and a judicial review has been undertaken, and now we have reached a point where a Government are saying, "Within
five months a review will take place and within three months we will come back with a position." If that review can be carried out earlier than the end of the year, I ask the Minister to ensure that it is, because time is running out for some of the victims of this tragedy.
I wish to discuss the case of the father of one of my constituents, who suffered from a rare form of haemophilia. In 1984, he cut his finger while working, was given factor VIII to clot the blood and, as a result, has suffered from HIV and hepatitis C. It was not until four years later, when different blood samples were taken away and different analysis was done, that he was told that he had hepatitis and HIV. He then had to tell his wife, but at that point he was not given any specific counselling-not only between 1984 and 1989, but to this very day, no specific counselling has been given to him, and that must urgently be reviewed.
On the funding comparison with Ireland, from 1989 until today, this individual has received £78,000 in total compensation over a number of years, with £6,400 per rota. At one stage, after the Archer report, he was given £12,800. For the same period, someone in Ireland would have received a lump sum of £200,000. It is not the case that people simply want compensation; this is about the family. He feels that a lump sum gives security; if something happens he can leave some money for his family. He feels that if we cannot have comparability, he would very much appreciate having some measures that go towards it.
Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The hon. Gentleman mentions compensation and the difference between the situation in this country and that in Ireland-reference has been made to that several times. However, there is another huge difference: no UK Government have acknowledged negligence liability yet.
Rehman Chishti: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there is the question of liability, and I understand that it was dealt with at the judicial review, when the High Court addressed it. In Ireland, the issue of fault was raised.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The previous Government retold the fiction several times that the compensation scheme in Ireland rested on the finding of liability, but that scheme existed in Ireland before the finding of liability, be it by either the Finlay or Lindsay tribunals.
The other point I wish to make has been touched on eloquently by other Members. Since 1989, this individual has not been able to go on holiday, because of problems with travel and life insurance. Those matters must be dealt with swiftly, given the length of time left for him to live, so that he can enjoy that time with his family. I welcome the fact that he can be here to sit in the Public Gallery in this House to hear this debate.
Finally, I urge the Minister to provide specific counselling for those people who have suffered from this tragedy. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak and the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this motion to the Floor of the House.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I wish to say a few words about my constituent, Andrew March, who is a victim of contaminated blood. He is not only a remarkable man and campaigner; he is the reason we are talking about this today, because he was the claimant in the judicial review that led to the written ministerial statement. That statement was correctly attacked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) today.
I am new to Mr March, in the sense that he has been a constituent of mine since May, as he lives in the Hammersmith and Fulham part of the constituency that I inherited. However, I have caught up quickly with what he has been doing over many years and decades. The easiest way for me to summarise his predicament and what he has done is to read from a letter that he sent to me on 23 July. He said:
"I was one of the young children at the time of the AIDS outbreak, and I had to cope with being told that I had HIV at the age of 9. It was extremely difficult to deal with back then-and the devastation was compounded by the stigma. Before that, I had already been ill from Hepatitis B, again, from blood products because of my haemophilia condition. By 1992, whilst I was studying at the Royal College of Music on a 4-year degree, I was informed that I had also been exposed to hepatitis C, and only 5 years later, I was given another blow when I was informed that I had been exposed to two batches of Factor VIII blood products taken from a donor who later went on to develop vCJD. I had been treated with over 110 bottles of this vCJD-implicated material being injected directly into my bloodstream."
Lorraine Fullbrook: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this very debate helps to raise awareness of those people suffering from hepatitis C contracted from contaminated blood products and helps to remove the stigma attached to hepatitis C? I am thinking of people such as a constituent of mine, who wishes not to be named but is suffering from hepatitis C1a, which is the severest form of hepatitis.
Mr Slaughter: I think that this debate does do that, and I am grateful for this opportunity to increase my own knowledge. However, I think that we need to move on to some very specific recommendations because, as the mover of the motion eloquently said, this is a time for action more than contemplation. That is exactly what Mr March did when he brought the judicial review in April, and the matter has been just been clarified, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) described, in relation to the mistake that the previous Government made on the situation in Ireland. That was the error made by that Government. That was the finding of the judicial review, and it is what the Government are responding to today.
"paid a warm but measured tribute to...Andrew March, 'for his tenacity and balance in the asking of questions and soliciting of information, and not taking no for an answer when the reasons are not good ones.' My impression is that that tribute is justified and well judged, and that the many other people interested in this cause owe gratitude to Mr March for his tenacity or persistence."
"The Under-Secretary of State for Health"-
"recently held a series of meetings with campaigners, the Haemophilia Society, the Macfarlane and Eileen Trusts, the Skipton Fund and others. In those meetings she demonstrated a new willingness by Government to face up to and deal with what has happened to the Haemophilia Community."
I welcome what is said in the terms of reference about hepatitis C, as has been mentioned. I want to clarify whether the Minister is offering full parity for hepatitis C sufferers with what AIDS sufferers experience, including the £12,800 per annum payments, and that that will be susceptible to the review.
Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): The constituent whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned is the son of one of my constituents in Nuneaton. I want to mention the families of those affected by this disaster, because they have also had to bear a real burden in supporting people such as Mr March over the years. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the terms of reference that the Minister announced in her statement about supporting the families who have had to bear that burden?
Mr Slaughter: No, I definitely do not. I ask the Minister to clarify-if not now, when she makes her speech-whether the terms of reference will allow hepatitis C sufferers to be treated at least as HIV/AIDS sufferers are under the current scheme. I hope that she will do that. However, all that could have been done today. The limited amount that is offered in the review could quite easily have been announced today. If there had to be a review, I should have liked it to have been along the terms of Lord Morris's Bill, which considered all the remaining provisions of the Archer inquiry and said specifically-this is the contentious part:
"When making the regulations the Secretary of State shall have regard to any comparable compensation schemes offered in other countries."
The noble Lord's Bill was a good Bill, but I would say-this is the only criticism that I would make of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West-that I think today's motion goes a little too far. It calls specifically for parity with the scheme in Ireland. I do not think that it gives the Government sufficient room. I would ask the Government-this is the commitment that I would look for today-to widen the terms of the review and to reconsider all the matters that Lord Archer raised, including compensation. Even if the conclusion is that parity is unlikely with Ireland, where the situation is different even given the judicial review-that was suggested in the opening speeches-in the current financial climate we need to look at the levels of compensation that are paid.
I also think that the motion, while criticising previous Governments, could at least have acknowledged that the previous Government responded to the Archer review by making regular annual payments at a higher level,
although I understand that my constituent and many others regard that as inadequate. I regard it as inadequate. We are looking, I think, for something between the two. The unfortunate thing about the Government response today is that it cuts off that option. The amendment and the ministerial statement do not allow the option of considering more generous compensation in the light of Lord Archer's proposals. That is why I would have voted against the amendment and that is why I think it is wrong for the Government to have given false hope to sufferers and to have dashed that hope with their announcement today.
Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I am the only regular practising medical doctor in this House and it is somewhat surprising that no one contacted me to lobby on behalf of any of the issues to do with this debate. I stand here as someone who has no idea whether I have any constituents affected by this dreadful scandal, but I do understand what it is like to have hepatitis C and to have HIV. On a personal level, I was once married to somebody who carried the gene for haemophilia, so I have considered the idea of bringing a haemophiliac into this world and the implications thereof. More importantly, I have spent weekends away with the Haemophilia Society in the past. I have been privy to the annoyance, upset, anger and frustration with this whole affair since it started to rear its ugly head in the late '70s.
It is important when we are discussing this issue to try to separate emotion from fact. The fact of the matter is that before we could administer cryoprecipitate factor VIII, the life expectancy of haemophiliacs in this country was in the 20s. When we discuss compensation-perhaps this is a way of decoupling us from the compensation scheme in the Republic of Ireland-we need to discuss compensating people for loss of earnings and widows' pensions, instead of compensating people for loss of life. It is important that we distinguish between the two issues, instead of getting emotional. It is easy to stand up and discuss distressing cases, which is an approach that can be applied to an array of conditions. Let us concentrate on fact, because there may be an appropriate solution.
I could speak all day on this issue, but I am conscious of time. Questions of morality and of cost arise in deciding appropriate compensation. To my mind, the present economic difficulties that our Government are dealing with are not a consideration. A big wrong occurred, and we need to deal with it irrespective of the timing. The former Member for Plymouth, Devonport, David Owen, who was a medically qualified person, was involved at the outset under a Labour Government. The subsequent Conservative Government continued to miss the signs and failed to implement necessary procedures to make sure that the blood was not contaminated.
I want to draw attention to the figures. I have read only the first four chapters of the Archer report, because I realised only at 12.30 pm that the matter was going to be debated. I have noticed mistakes in the first four chapters, so I am not encouraged by the report in general. The report cites a figure of £3 billion, which I think the Department of Health provided to Ministers, but the figure is actually £1 billion. There is a typo-if one divides the two figures, one does not get £850,000;
one gets £350,000. Let us talk about facts first, because we may be discussing £1 billion, not £3 billion. If one relates those calculations to the price of life, we can arrive at a compensation scheme that I can support.
Mr Robinson: Is the hon. Gentleman saying-I heard about this matter briefly before I came into the House-that the £3 billion figure relates to a typo and that the figure should be £300 million, because that needs to be clarified?
If the figure is £1 billion, we spend £1 billion on the NHS every three and a half days. We can find that money. I do not know how one prices a liver, and I do not know how one prices a liver transplant that does not happen. I cannot put a price on that, and I challenge anyone else to do so. We are talking about 4,670 people, so we can behave appropriately at last and provide the appropriate compensation.
On the financial implications, HIV widows are forced through the Benefits Agency to seek work within weeks of their partner's death, and hepatitis C widows whose partners died before 2004 receive no financial help at all. The implications for the haemophilia community are stark. I cannot say that we should trim this and that because of the comprehensive spending review; I would rather we borrowed the £500 million and did the right thing.
Dr Lee: I believe that it is, but, with respect, that is missing the point. As far as I am concerned, the Department of Health is culpable. This is not a party political matter; it is a departmental matter. It had a series of opportunities over a number of years to deal with the issue, but it missed them, and surprisingly it lost a few documents in the process. That is shocking. If the Department is worried about precedent, that makes me concerned about other conditions and treatments. Is there something else that we should know about? If this is about precedent, I should like to set one: this was wrong and we should pay out appropriately.
Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman has made a very important point about the £3 billion figure being a typographical error. I wonder whether Ministers are able to respond on that point now, as that would colour the rest of the debate.
Dr Lee: The hon. Lady makes a fair point. I should like to meet the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), to discuss this. I hope that she can give me a little time because I should like to discuss a series of issues with her.
Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): First, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in thanking the Backbench Business Committee for recognising the importance of the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and I put to it. The volume and the quality of the contributions we have heard today bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Business Committee was absolutely right to note that this is a critical issue-one that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel has received too little attention in recent years from successive Governments. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West for picking up the baton and moving the motion, which he did with great aplomb and verve, as ever.
Most of all, I should like to thank the victims and their families who have been in contact with me since we first learned that we had succeeded in securing this debate. Their kind words and support have been hugely welcome. I am delighted that so many of them managed to come here today-and, indeed, yesterday-to witness the debate. That bears extraordinarily powerful testament to the wrong that has been done to them and their families. I hope that we are doing some justice to their cases today by debating this issue so fully.
Mr Robinson: I wonder, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you could put the point to the Minister that we are conducting the debate on the basis of the ministerial statement that has been placed in the Library rather than one made to the House. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the basis of compensation would be if we were to implement the Archer recommendations. Is the figure £3 billion, £300 million or £1.2 billion? I have heard different figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot continue the debate without more clarity about what we are considering? The Government have stated that we are inviting them to spend £3 billion, but the figure might in fact be far less.
Owen Smith: I, too, would very much like that point to be addressed. I was going to ask the Minister how the £3 billion figure was calculated. The Haemophilia Society has today suggested that the figure has been calculated erroneously on the basis of a typographical error in the Archer report and that the number has been extrapolated from a false figure that Archer published regarding the volumes that were given in Ireland. So, I, too, would welcome the Minister's clarification on that hugely important point.
Mr Dorrell: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that the number of pounds we are talking about is, to put it mildly, salient. However, is it not also relevant that the House is being asked to sign up not to a specific sum but to the principle that the compensation payable in this country should be at least aligned with that payable in the Republic of Ireland? Whatever the number, the House should not sign up to the dubious principle that whatever is paid in Ireland we will pay here.
Owen Smith: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument, which is a good one intellectually, but the rationale for the recommendation's inclusion in the motion was, essentially, that the victims of this tragedy wanted the House to debate it. The Archer report is the only substantive inquiry that we have had. It came to that conclusion on compensation, so we felt it appropriate to ask that question of the House. However, I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point about tying ourselves to recommendations that are made in another jurisdiction.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for pressing for the motion today. I am obviously keen to support him. On the debate about parity with the Republic of Ireland, the Minister in her statement talked about working with the UK's devolved Administrations and with their Health Ministers. Does the hon. Gentleman also support the need for parity within the UK? Will he urge the Minister before us and the Minister in Wales, because we are both Welsh Members, to work on the review with the Department of Health in order to come up with at least some parity within the UK?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. It is up to Members to decide on the number of times that they give way to interventions, but I am concerned that that is going to stop other Members getting in. If we are going to have interventions, Mr Cairns, we need to make them very brief.
Owen Smith: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's excellent point. One thing that I was slightly disappointed about in the ministerial statement was the fact that those discussions clearly have not taken place. Some of the statement's specifics are very welcome, particularly its point about the terms of reference and, notably, the fact that the level of payment to people with hepatitis C might be equalised.
Ms Abbott: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that "Mr Secretary Lansley" and "Anne Milton" tabled an amendment that is on the Order Paper and includes the figure "£3 billion". Some Opposition Members feel that this debate cannot go forward until we have some clarification of its accuracy.
Mr Deputy Speaker: A point of order takes up valuable time, too. I recognise that you wanted to make it, but you will have the opportunity to put the case a little later. What we ought to try to do is respect all Members. I want to try to get in all those Members who are here; I do not want disappoint them.
It is absolutely critical that the Minister makes it very clear in her response that she is talking about equalising the payment to people with hepatitis C with the previous payments to victims of HIV. It is also important that she consider the specificity of the recommendations, including the terms of reference. Victims' access to nursing care and to the NHS ought to be looked at differentially. They were infected by the NHS, in effect, and therefore they ought to be treated differently when looked after by the NHS.
In the last minute of my speech, I want to pay tribute to some people in the Public Gallery today. The reason I am so interested in today's debate is that a very brave constituent of mine, Leigh Sugar, died earlier this year. His family came to see me just days after his death to express their desire for him to be the last person who suffers in their dying days, having not been looked after properly by the NHS, and having been infected through NHS treatment.
Leigh is a classic example of a person who, as a mild haemophiliac, went to hospital-he, in his teens-to be treated for the condition and came out with a devastating disease. That disease ultimately led to his death from liver cancer. Far too many people have died before we have seen this House deliver justice, and it is absolutely critical that justice be seen to be done today. This is a moral issue, it is a matter of conscience and of justice, and we owe it to the victims, whatever the difficulties of the CSR, to see justice served so that they might be properly recognised and properly recompensed.
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I welcome the Government's intention to review the Archer report, for this simple reason: its last recommendation, which to many sufferers was the most important, was to review the nursing, caring and other services that are available. This debate has been very much focused on money, but regardless of whether the figures are correct, the problems that many sufferers have had to experience throughout their lives, from the moment of infection, have been compounded by the years in which they have had to deal with these problems alone.
I would like to give the House a couple of examples, because I do not think that any of us, although we speak here on behalf of our constituents, can fully understand some of the problems that these people have had to deal with. I would like to speak on behalf of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and a constituent of my own, and cite some of the things that they have told us. What they said to us is powerful, and we must recognise the bravery that it takes for people to go and sit in front of their MP and talk about the problems that they experience, which is not an easy thing to do. Some of those constituents are here today.
My constituent was infected with HIV from contaminated blood at the age of 12, when he was told: "This is what you now have. You must never tell anybody at all, ever. You must never tell friends in school, because if you do you will be bullied and hounded out of your school, and we will be hounded out of our home and have to move away." It is enough to have suffered with haemophilia, but then, at the age of 12, they are told not only that they have a socially unacceptable disease, as it was at that time, but, at an age when they fully understand, that they are soon going to die from it.
He got that message more powerfully than by words alone. As a haemophiliac before his diagnosis of HIV, he was never allowed to have a bike of his own, so he was always asking to hitch a ride on somebody else's. The Christmas after his diagnosis, his Christmas present was a bike of his own. He knew, from the statements by his parents and the look in his father's eyes, that it did not matter any more-that he may as well have his own
bike, because at that point in the '80s nobody knew whether he had a month, a year or years to live. For a child to have had to live with being a social pariah, and to have had to keep a secret that they know they will die from, brings with it psychological problems that we cannot even begin to imagine. Their childhood is taken away and they have to live with that secret all their life.
I welcome the report, because these people need counselling. They need to be able to know that they can speak about the vitally important conditions that they suffer from, and how to deal with them. To use the words of one of our constituents, he felt that he had been born to bleed but did not realise he would have to pay the death penalty for it, and every day he feels ungrateful to be alive. The figures may be wrong or right, but other issues are just as important as the financial compensation that some of the people who have been infected are looking for.
There was a huge stigma surrounding HIV in the '80s. We know in this place, and many other people know now, that there are only two ways to catch HIV-via sexual intercourse or contaminated blood. Perhaps it is time for us to start doing our bit to let people know that that stigma should not be there any more and that these people should not be afraid to talk about what they have suffered.
Mr Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are conducting a Back-Bench debate that is being coloured by a figure in an amendment that the Government have tabled, which has not been selected. It suggests that £3 billion would be the cost of what my motion proposes. If the exact figure is in the order of 1% of that, or £300 million, as I think the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), a medical doctor, suggested-[Hon. Members: "No, £1 billion."] Does it come to £1 billion? I think that ought to be clarified before we go further in the debate.
Mr Deputy Speaker: In fairness, the Minister is going to speak and there will be an opportunity to intervene on her. I am sure she will want to point out the figure at that stage. What I want to do is get on with the debate until she comes to speak, and then I am sure Members in all parts of the House will be able to intervene.
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