|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I have been sitting here waiting to speak for an hour or two. Those affected by the tragedy of contaminated blood and blood products have been waiting for justice for more than 25 years.
I do not have to tell anyone that living with haemophilia is hard. My own cousin was affected by the condition, and when I think of him now I always think of him with a smile on his face. He was always cheerful. As a child, I was always aware that he had haemophilia, although I did not understand what the condition meant. Having done some background reading and spoken to people, I can say this about him now: my admiration for him, my aunt and my uncle has only grown.
Like many Members, I was motivated to speak in the debate by a number of constituents who have haemophilia and have contacted me with their stories, which I found both moving and inspiring. One e-mail particularly struck a chord with me, and I spoke to the man who wrote it on the phone this morning. Wayne Gambin is 35 years old and has a young family, and he has haemophilia. He was given hepatitis C through a bad blood transfusion. I read about how he gets depressed a lot of the time just thinking about death, which is in the forefront of his mind most of the time. He wonders whether the disease could kick in, causing liver failure and eventually death.
Over the years, Wayne has tried two different experimental drug combinations, but they have had no effect on the disease. While on the trials he suffered a lot of side effects, such as depression and anger. During one trial three years ago, he lost his job and his house. He has a young family and cannot get life insurance because of the excessive charges, even though he contracted the disease through no fault of his own. He worries about dying and leaving his family destitute. To me, that is a scandal in itself.
Another constituent who also wrote to me is in his mid-40s and has three children, and was infected with hepatitis C in the '80s following an accident that required surgery. He discovered he had the disease shortly before his 40th birthday and his health deteriorated dramatically, culminating in a liver transplant a year ago. His children now face the prospect of not having their father around in future. He has lost everything, even though he has worked his entire life.
I know that when we read stories such as that, it is easy to be carried away with the emotion of it all, but we can deal only in fact. Throughout the '70s and the first half the '80s, many in the UK who suffered from haemophilia were treated with blood and blood products that carried what came to be known as hepatitis C. As has been said, some 4,670 patients became infected. Between 1983 and the early 1990s, some 1,200 patients were infected with HIV through blood products. We know that because Lord Archer held an independent public inquiry.
The Macfarlane Trust was established in 1987 to provide emergency funding for haemophilia patients infected with HIV, most of whom were not expected to live more than five years. Victims, many of whom had a good standard of living beforehand, were required to go cap in hand for discretionary relief. Monthly payments are now dispensed. The Skipton Fund was founded in 2003 following the publication of the Ross report. Those infected with hepatitis C can claim a lump sum of £20,000, and a further £25,000 is paid to those who can establish that their hepatitis C led to severe liver disease.
I have no doubt that those were welcome developments, but like many other Members I believe that more needs to be done. As many have mentioned, Lord Archer's conclusion, which has caused some controversy, was that payments should be at least equivalent to those payable under the Irish scheme, which is far more generous than ours. I hope that the Irish made that settlement because caring for the victims of the disaster was morally the right thing to do.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) that the annual payments awarded to all patients infected with hepatitis C and
HIV through contaminated blood are too low. Considering the damage done to the lives of those infected and their families, they should be increased. Yes, there needs to be some reconciliation, and I welcome the Government's move to review the recommendations of the Archer report, but I hope that they will go further and offer an apology, which costs absolutely nothing.
One of my constituents wrote to me to say that it is time to bring about an end to this fight and to allow those who remain to live out the rest of their lives with some peace of mind. I wholeheartedly agree with him.
Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), I do not profess to have any high degree of expertise. I was approached by a couple of my constituents, who hit me with what can be described only as a moral sledgehammer. They movingly recounted profound stories of their youth and their lost childhoods, which others have mentioned, and of their inability to form full relationships with loved ones. Some victims have had to keep their condition secret owing to a fear of being shunned by people who have a naive attitude towards HIV. The heartbreaking accounts are seemingly endless. Very often, sufferers get into the habit of not telling friends and even relatives, and now find it impossible to divulge the truth. Many victims were children. Some never made it to adulthood.
We fight and argue in this Chamber over a range of issues, but we would struggle to find a more poignant debate than this. The contracting of HIV through blood transfusions is one of the most profound, disturbing and dreadful episodes in 20th century health treatment. According to my calculations, on average, one person a week has died as a result of being infected with HIV. Those who survive do so only because of a cocktail of drugs that keeps them hanging on to life. That treatment has been described as being on low-dose chemotherapy for the rest of one's life.
An additional difficulty is that victims must cope with their inability to obtain life insurance-Opposition Members have mentioned that-and they also have difficulty with travel insurance and medicals. I therefore welcome the terms of reference for the review. Surely some help can be offered to the remaining survivors. I use the term "survivor" deliberately, because that is exactly what the remaining sufferers are.
A further tragedy is the fact that some sufferers were not told of their condition even when it was known by others, leading to the infection of partners. On other occasions, it was felt unnecessary to engage with sufferers as they were not expected to live very long anyway. The treatment that is available today for HIV sufferers was not envisaged in the 1980s, so it was believed that victims had a life expectancy of about five years. Thankfully, that has not been the case in many instances. Understandably, some who were told that they had only five years to live went out and spent their financial award pretty quickly, and enjoyed life to the full without considering investing for the future. Many such victims have consequently been left financially short.
We are familiar with the root cause of the infection: blood was imported for transfusion when the UK was not self-sufficient. Perhaps we need to look further into
that. Safeguards that should have been implemented in both the UK and the US were not. Indeed, it appears that the UK was slow to act on minimising the chances of haemophiliacs contracting HIV. Clearly, mistakes were made, and they must be recognised.
More important than embarking on a witch hunt is deciding where we go from here. How can we achieve insurance for sufferers and support those who need it most? Infection from tainted blood was indiscriminate. Young and old, haemophiliacs and those who underwent operations were not spared. Nobody was spared.
The situation affects not only male haemophiliacs; some female cases have been reported. It is very much a matter of regret that the issue of adequate compensation was not tackled some time ago. I suspect that the sheer sums of money are part of the reason why the cause was not picked up by the previous Government. I look to this Government to do what they can to make the situation for sufferers and their families easier.
Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): Like me, my hon. Friend has constituents who are affected by this issue. Does he agree that although it is important to get the numbers and the money right, there is an important principle at stake too? From this debate, it would appear that the House wholeheartedly supports that principle.
Gareth Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. A range of principles is at issue and we need to ensure that people who are affected by this tragedy are properly looked after as best the Government can achieve. We live in times of austerity, and there is a limit on what the Government can do, but it is incumbent on them to do all that they reasonably and practically can to help sufferers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) paid tribute to the campaigners by wearing a black tie. I am in rather a bright outfit for this occasion because of my own tribute to the breast cancer care campaign.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on initiating this debate and I support his motion. In the words of Lord Winston, this is the "worst treatment disaster" in the history of the UK. Not only is it a human tragedy, but it is grossly unjust. My constituent Valerie Moule is widowed because, through no fault of her own or of her husband, the blood that he was given as a haemophiliac was contaminated by HIV. Ivan Moule was one of the first people to die from contaminated blood, in 1989. This is an unimaginable injustice. Ivan Moule innocently received blood as a treatment without knowing that it was killing him.
When things go wrong, someone has to take responsibility, and that is the cornerstone of a civilised society. Despite their bereavement and illnesses, the determined campaigners, who are sitting in the Public Gallery wearing their armbands, established an independent inquiry paid for by private means. Not only do they have truth on their side, but-since April 2010-they have had the law on their side. In the Republic of Ireland, a full financial scheme is in place, with a compensation scheme based on civil law principles, but that is not mirrored in this country.
Haemophiliacs began dying of AIDS in the early 1980s. Some 2,000 people have already died having been infected by HIV. In my view, the Archer inquiry made significant recommendations that should all be implemented. It was cost-effective at the time to buy blood from other countries that was unscreened and, if we are not careful, that could happen again if commercial, cost-cutting considerations are brought into an area where they do not belong. As the Archer report says, commercial priorities should never override the interests of public health. This is a matter of public importance and public interest.
Proper financial relief should be paid to those who were infected. As a nation, we should apologise to those families who have suffered. We also need a commitment that blood will be screened and that blood from imported or unknown sources will not be used. We owe that to those who have died, like Ivan Moule, and to the living who cared for them, like Valerie Moule. I urge hon. Members to do the right thing and support the motion.
I feel moved to speak today because this is an issue that shows how we as a society can show compassion for our fellow citizens and take responsibility for past mistakes. I have been well aware of the general topic of people suffering from contaminated blood transfusions for some time, but I did not become aware of either the full scale or the injustices of the problem until I met Ros Cooper, a constituent of mine, to whom I am incredibly grateful. She speaks with passion about this subject, and is an incredibly strong advocate for her fellow sufferers. She is relentless in her efforts to get her point across.
Ros's story is not untypical. Diagnosed with a severe bleeding disorder at just six months, she has received blood products all her life. She receives them from as infrequently as three times a week to as often as twice a day. By the age of 14 she was able to inject herself with blood products. This is a woman who has had to grow up under the permanent threat of severe bleeding. Of course she has received treatment from the NHS, but as a direct result of that treatment she contracted hepatitis C-something she discovered only by hearsay, which seems to be a recurrent theme in this debate. Not only was she not given counselling to help her cope with that traumatic news, but she found out by hearsay that she might have been exposed to CJD.
Ros has received two rounds of treatment for her hepatitis C, but those, of course, are also traumatic. Six to 12 months of antiviral therapy can leave a patient unable to work: Ros was unable to earn a living for up to two years after both rounds of treatment. In the future she faces a liver transplant, cirrhosis or, worse still, cancer of the liver, as all sufferers of hepatitis C do. She is a vibrant young woman and would otherwise have faced a life that was admittedly severely inconvenienced-but still only inconvenienced-by her bleeding disorder. However, because she received contaminated blood products, arguably at a time when those providing them knew there was a risk of infection, she is severely disadvantaged.
Modern medicine has resulted in new types of manufactured blood products, reducing the risk to most patients. However, for Ros this salvation is not available. She suffers from a very rare disorder-type 3 von Willebrands-which means that she must receive real blood products that still come from America and overseas. So from between three times a week to up to twice a day, Ros injects herself with blood products that may carry an as yet undiscovered infection. Every time she feels exhausted or unwell, she will ask herself if she has infected herself with another illness. What is truly remarkable about Ros's story is that she is clear of HIV, which is very welcome news.
The fact that we are having this debate is a significant leap forward, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) on his efforts to move this incredibly important issue forward, and the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on taking up the banner. That it has taken so long for us to debate the matter, however, is a cause for concern, especially given the 4,670 people infected by hepatitis C and the 1,200 or so infected by HIV-infections that have resulted in nearly 1,800 deaths.
At the core of this debate are the findings and recommendations of the Archer review. To my mind, the eight recommendations are broadly reasonable, and I am amazed that some, such as free prescriptions, were not introduced a long time ago. However, I am grateful to the Minister for making a statement saying that that will be reviewed. Of course, there is always a sticking point-in this case, the level of compensation, which has now been even more confused by the amount of money that we are now discussing.
Some payments have already been made. In 2004 payments of £20,000, rising to £25,000 for more advanced stages of illnesses through hepatitis C, were made through the Skipton Fund. Other payments of a similar initial sum, rising to £60,000 on a needs assessment basis, plus ongoing payments, have been made through the MacFarlane Trust. However, those two systems illustrate that some form of uniformity needs to be established. If an individual's life is blighted, irrespective of what is causing the blight, it is important to have uniformity of payout. I am very supportive of the Hepatitis C Trust's recommendations that the Skipton Fund's payout should be increased to the levels paid by the MacFarlane Trust.
I support the motion in full, but-I say this with a heavy heart-with one exception. When we talk about implementing the Archer report despite the intense financial pressure on the public purse, I am mindful that in just six days' time my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver a statement
that could make life-changing cuts to public expenditure. I cast an eye towards my many, many constituents, all of whom are extremely anxious about the comprehensive spending review, and I must act in the interests of all of them. It is vital that the victims of this tragedy should be allowed to live their lives as best they can-
Penny Mordaunt: My hon. Friend has mentioned the comprehensive spending review, but we should not forget that the health budget is ring-fenced and will be increased. We have also heard mention of the insurance industry and the companies that supplied blood products. I hope that he will join me in urging all Members to come forward with ideas to ensure the maximum compensation pot, whether that comes from public funds or, for example, from the £1 billion that exists in the insurance industry in orphan accounts. All Members should be contributing to that debate.
Mark Garnier: I welcome that intervention. It is incumbent on us all to work with Health Ministers to ensure that we find as much money as we can to help the victims. However, we have to be careful to ensure that compensation is not paid at the potential expense of many other special interest groups that need and deserve compensation and funding.
I am pleased that the Minister has said that the issue will be resolved, in one way or another, by the end of this year. I look forward to working with Members who have been affected by the contaminated blood scandal to ensure that the Minister comes up with a satisfactory response.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Unlike some other hon. Members, I do not have permission to name any constituent who suffers from this predicament. However, I do hear from people who are affected, as well as from those in other constituencies in Northern Ireland, about exactly the same problems, tensions and sad experiences that other hon. Members have so articulately reflected on.
Many hon. Members in this debate have emphasised the importance of ensuring parity between sufferers from hepatitis C and sufferers from HIV, and the principle seems to be shared universally across the House. My problem, in a border constituency in Northern Ireland, is that I want to see parity between my constituents in Foyle and those in the next-door constituency of Donegal North East, who benefit from the Irish Government's compensation scheme. That scheme had its roots in the recognition in 1995, by the then Irish Government-the rainbow coalition of John Bruton and Dick Spring-that led to a tribunal being set up in 1996, which was making significant payments long before the subsequent findings of liability by the Lindsay or Finlay tribunals, or by the hepatitis C tribunal in 2002.
Not only have we had the scandal of the health mistreatment disaster, which created this plight for so many people; there has also been the scandal of the failure of the political process to deal with it. There is no point in our talking about this or that Government; the fact is that, collectively, the political process has failed to discharge its responsibilities properly, as compared with what a nearby political process has been able to deliver. The word "scandal" is much overworked in this
society, in the media and in politics, but what we are talking about is a true scandal, and we have to call a halt to it now.
In the past, we had Governments giving false excuses and making false comparisons with the Irish scheme, with false references to the issue of liability and so on. Now that has been nailed. However, after the false contrasts of the past, we cannot now have false comparisons to describe the relative or comparative costs of the schemes. Clearly we need proper differentiation between the wider package that was available in the south of Ireland, to take account of the fact that not everybody had health cover, prescription cover, medical card cover or whatever. I accept that that has to be done properly if we are to achieve true parity. However, we cannot turn round and offer the victims stone for bread, and say that now that we have finally recognised the problem and are addressing it, our excuse for not giving them what justice demands is the financial exigencies of the Exchequer.
If justice says that people are due compensation, and if we all say that this is our democratic will, then that is what should happen. If that puts a strain on the Exchequer and the rest of us, it is a strain that we have to bear, because we owe it to those who have suffered as they should not have suffered, and who have endured and struggled for so long, with so many people dying in the effort.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We have nine speakers to fit in, and I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at 3.40 pm, which gives us 30 minutes. I ask for as much discipline as possible, as I want to ensure that everyone who wants to speak can be called.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I should like to add my congratulations to the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate, and to thank the hon. Members for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for their contributions. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who has just left the Chamber, for his thoughtful, insightful and revealing speech. I also want to thank all the victims of this scandal and their loved ones who are up in the Public Gallery. Many of you have been here since 10.30 this morning, as I have. Thank you for your patience, and I hope that in about an hour's time, you will feel that your time here has been worth while.
Debates such as these are what I was elected for. I am passionate about this issue, and I am determined that we should stop dragging our heels and begin the process of closure in this shocking scandal. As most of us here know, the scandal was caused by the importing of factor VIII from the United States, where blood was extracted from prisoners for money by commercial companies, and not properly sterilised or treated before being used in British hospitals for the treatment of haemophiliacs.
Over the years Governments of the day had several chances to act, but they missed every time. Again and again the victims of this scandal have been betrayed.
Already 1,800 of the 4,800 British haemophiliacs affected have died. Of the 1,243 people who contracted HIV, only 345 are still alive today. It is the human tragedies that are the feature of this shocking scandal.
I have had a general awareness of the scandal for only a few years. It was only when I met an amazing man from Lindley in the north of my constituency that it really hit me, and I have to admit that I have been emotionally drawn into the issue. Mr C-he wishes to remain anonymous-was dignified and polite. He told me that as a 12-year-old haemophiliac, he was injected with dirty blood products. He was injected with HIV and hepatitis C. He is still alive, thanks to his positive outlook and with the help of a cocktail of drugs. He has no anger or bitterness, just a desire to get some fairness, mainly for his family. It is also worth remembering that many of the victims were already suffering from other illnesses, or had suffered an accident, before they were infected by the contaminated blood products.
For too many decades this issue has been swept under the carpet. I came into Parliament to do the right thing, and to stand up for those who have been wronged. Many of those people are up in the Gallery now. I am not going to get bogged down by the intricacies of the Archer report, or by the financial commitments involved. I know, as many of us do, that there is little money left, which just adds to my indignation that this matter was not cleared up in better times. I shall, however, praise my Government for their action over the previous 13 days, in which they have done a lot more than was done in the previous 13 years. I am immensely proud of what has happened in the past 24 hours, including the movement by the Minister. I also welcome a number of the recommendations in the ministerial statement, which I saw this morning.
I am now going to put down my notes. I said that I had been emotionally drawn into this issue, and I now want to address the many people up in the Gallery and look them in the eye. I came into this Chamber as a Member of Parliament to do the right thing. For too long, you and your families have suffered. You have been the victims of this scandal, and I hope that I, and other Members, can do the right thing. I shall therefore support the motion later.
Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): I am conscious that there are many hon. Members still wishing to speak, so I shall be brief. As the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said, it is almost inevitable, given the number of people involved in this scandal, that there will be someone in every constituency who has been affected. The issue has especial significance in my constituency, because it is home to the outstanding Lord Mayor Treloar college, where many of the victims were students in the 1970s and 1980s. There were many haemophiliacs at the college because it had an excellent in-house haemophilia centre. My constituent Mr Adrian Goodyear was one of those who was infected by contaminated blood and blood products. He wrote to me to say:
"We've now lost so many of our friends from the Treloar days-in fact, we stopped counting at 40-many of whom were children, teenagers or young adults at the time."
I would like to pay tribute to all the tireless campaigners from the affected community for their perseverance and tenacity over many years. I congratulate them, and everyone involved on securing this historic debate on the Floor of the House. Hon. Members across the political spectrum have also been instrumental in keeping up the fight. Among them was my predecessor as East Hampshire's MP, Michael Mates, for whom this was a special cause.
Like most others, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and fury of the thousands of patients infected by contaminated blood. Whether we call it accident, negligence or anything else, these people came to receive treatment through our national health service-and were poisoned. For some it has been a death sentence; for others a long lingering life sentence.
There are some things in this morning's written statement that are to be welcomed, including the Minister's commitment to look afresh at insurance, prescription charges, and access to care services and nursing. Many hon. Members have spoken about compensation, which is, of course, fundamental. It has become clear through this debate-for the reasons expounded by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell)-that today's motion, as currently worded, is not the best basis on which to move forward. We all look to the Minister to move forward towards a just settlement that will allow those people and their families, who have suffered so much, to reach some sort of closure.
For about the next 30 seconds I want to focus on a different aspect-apology. One of the worst aspects of this whole sad affair is that so many, including those children from Treloar, died without anybody saying, "We're sorry." That makes me very uncomfortable. It is not about assigning blame. There could be-indeed, there has been-long debate over the technicalities of liability or otherwise, who knew what and when, how quickly things could have changed and so forth. Regardless of those specifics, surely the victims of this disaster are owed the dignity of a proper apology. I have read the expressions of sympathy, but I do not think they quite go far enough. The events predate most current Members of the House, and I am not suggesting that a Minister should come to the Dispatch Box to take, or indeed assign, blame. I do think, however, that it is not too much to ask to give the victims the dignity of hearing a Minister of the Crown come to the Floor of this House and say, "Yes, we are truly sorry."
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I echo others this afternoon in saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate-a debate should that have happened many years ago. I also reiterate the tributes to the victims and their families, some of whom are watching our debate. The tragedy of contaminated blood is undoubtedly one of the biggest medical disasters in the history of the NHS. It is important to establish how this medical catastrophe was allowed to happen, and to protect those whose lives were devastated as a result.
I recently met a delegation of people who had suffered through the Equitable Life disaster. Although I have every sympathy with their plight, today's debate puts that matter into perspective because we are talking not
about the loss of life savings, but about the loss of life itself, loss of livelihood and of the chance to grow old, and losing the chance to become a parent and see one's children grow up.
It seems wholly appropriate that people whose lives have been devastated by this disaster should be fairly compensated. After today's discussions about how much it will cost, I very much look forward to hearing the Minister speak later about whether this is affordable. I do not believe, however, that the relatives are purely after money. As George Santayana said:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
One of those affected was from my Gosport constituency-a haemophiliac who had just a 10-day window of NHS treatment for his condition, but those 10 days proved to be his death sentence, as he was infected with both HIV and hepatitis C. This man suffered in every way as a result of his infection. He lost the chance to father children and to further his career; he suffered pain, humiliation, poverty, prejudice and, ultimately, death. His family lived a lie to avoid the stigma of HIV, and were therefore cut off from the possibility of much-needed support from friends and neighbours. His stepdaughter talks of a "lost childhood". Such was, and in many cases still is, the fear and prejudice in relation to HIV that sufferers whom I have met who were open about their illnesses had their homes daubed with red paint and their children hounded from their schools.
That man's family suffered financial hardship. As he was unable to obtain life assurance, his widow was left not only a single mother but with a mortgage to pay. He died on Christmas Eve 1998 at the age of just 40. He died of a life-threatening condition and three terminal diseases. He died struggling not just against his illness but against huge financial worries and fear for the future of his family, and under the oppressive burden of injustice.
Now, 12 years later, his widow is still fighting against that injustice. She talks of her fight against the sense that somehow the life of this man, her husband, did not count, because no Government seemed to care. Her simple desire is not to wake up every morning of her life and think of that. She talks of the frustrating myths that prevail. One is that victims were compensated. The truth is that the Skipton Fund drew a line in the sand-an arbitrary date in 2003 after which relatives of people who died were given small ex gratia payments. My constituent died in 1998. His widow was told that her husband had died five years too early; to her mind he had died 45 years too early.
Today in the House we have a fantastic opportunity. The contaminated blood tragedy has finally been granted a platform, and we as elected Members have a responsibility in the coming months to ensure that we fight for a just outcome for the tainted blood community. That tiny community of sick, bereaved and dying people, many of whom are living in poverty, will go on fighting no
matter what the outcome today. We as parliamentarians should feel humbled by their bravery and take up the fight on their behalf.
"when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait."
Whatever happens as a result of the vote today, we must ultimately put an end to this. No amount of money can bring back those who have suffered and died-their dead will remain dead, their losses will remain lost-but we can help them to shed the burden of injustice and regain financial security. My hope is that my constituent will one day again be able to wake up in the morning knowing that each day is a day to be loved, a day to be lived, and not a day to be fought.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): One of the first principles of any health care is "first do no harm". I think it was Florence Nightingale who said that. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have shown today how much we care about what has happened. I echo the words of the many who have said that we owe a huge apology, as parliamentarians, on behalf of the Department of Health, which, inadvertently or otherwise, has caused so much tragedy to so many people who have suffered.
I also pay tribute to my constituent Stuart, who I am very glad to see is well enough to be here. He first came to my surgery a couple of months ago with the heartbreaking story of his own situation as a haemophiliac infected with hepatitis C and HIV, and now suffering from advanced liver disease. He has become used to seeing friends and family dying; he has become used to the fact that he often cannot afford to go to their funerals; and he has become used to popping around to someone's house for a drink only to find two weeks later that that person has died from, for instance, a brain tumour or liver cancer. It is hard to imagine.
I warmly welcome the ministerial statement. I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister specifically about my constituents, and I can assure Members on both sides of the House that she is as genuinely sad and sorry about the situation as any of us here. I urged her, on behalf of my constituents, to do three things. First, I urged her to do whatever she could to ensure that they achieve closure. This has gone on for so long. We may not be able to give these people everything that they want, but let us at least put them in a position that will enable them to say, "We have got enough: we can take off our campaigning boots and start to enjoy what time is left to us and to our families." Secondly, I urged her to try to give time to all who want to speak to her during the review period between now and Christmas, so that they can tell her their stories, put their side of case and ask her to help them. Thirdly, I urged her to try to ensure that every possible step was taken to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. This was not a deliberate action on anyone's part. It was, however, caused by a lack of joined-up thinking and a failure to take opportunities as they arose.
Like all Members, my heart truly goes out to those affected, but I feel confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will take every opportunity to put right the wrongs
of past generations. It is a great shame that the last Government did not do that when our economic situation was better and that it is therefore left to us to try to sort this problem out at a time of great economic hardship. I assure the Minister that she has my support in her efforts to put this right.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I will be as brief as possible. I have heard the stories of my own constituents and I have also listened to many other similarly tragic stories, and that shows the magnitude of this problem throughout the country. I welcome the fact that Opposition Members recognise that this has been an issue for successive Governments, and that they regret that it was not tackled in the previous 13 years and we are therefore now left in the position of needing to try to solve this enormous problem.
I also want to thank the Front-Bench team for having taken this matter so seriously. It has looked into it and, for the first time, has committed to taking action. We now have a timetable in place, and we will know the direction we are going in by Christmas. That is an enormous step forward. I am grateful that we now at least have a plan and a direction, and I hope we can achieve the right outcome.
David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) for being brief and thereby letting me contribute to the debate, and I shall be brief as well. Like many others, I welcome the movement from the Minister over the past couple of days.
I want to make three points. I would like the Minister to comment on them in her concluding remarks, and I would certainly welcome their being addressed in her review. The first is the difference between how this problem has been dealt with in this country and other countries. A lot has been said about Ireland, but Ireland is not the only country in question: there is also Japan, Canada and Italy. It has been said that past Governments have failed to address the problem and that is true, but it is only Governments of our country who have failed. I would like to know where our response to the problem will rank in comparison with that of other countries, and I hope we will finish at least halfway up the international league table.
Secondly, I want to draw attention to the distinction we have persistently drawn between hepatitis C sufferers and HIV sufferers. When I first looked into this issue, I simply did not understand that, time and again, whenever a compensation payment was made we drew that distinction. People with hepatitis C are unable to work in the same way as those with HIV, and people with hepatitis C are also dying prematurely in the same way. We really have to stop drawing that distinction. It has even been drawn latterly in respect of the Archer report. The annual payment now being made to HIV sufferers is, I think, £12,800, whereas hepatitis C sufferers, who have about the same amount of discomfort, have merely got a review in five years' time. That is not right.
My third point is about money, about which a number of interesting comments have been made, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee).
The cost of matching the sums we have given to the HIV folk in payments to the hepatitis C folk is 3,500 people multiplied by £12,800 a year. That comes to £40 million a year. That is the cost of implementing Archer in the same way for the hepatitis C people as for the HIV people. I would be extremely interested to hear what my Front-Bench colleague has to say about that, and I would like it to be addressed in the review. How can we reconcile that sum of £40 million a year that will not be for ever-unfortunately the number of these people is declining-with the sum of £3 billion?
Finally, let me say that this is not just about money. Had it been just about money, we would have fixed the problem 10 years ago when more money was going into the national health service than it was able to spend. This is about principle, and we have the chance to sort it out.
I also regret that the motion refers to a comparison with Ireland. That country does give eight to 10 times more money than we have been able to find, but other countries come in between ours and Ireland on that list. We should not be constrained to signing up to a one-country approach, but we have to get this fixed.
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Thank you for allowing me to speak in this historic debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Like so many of my colleagues, this issue has been brought to my attention by the impact it has had on the life of a constituent-in my case, the constituent is Colette Wintle.
Colette was born in 1959 and was diagnosed with haemophilia in 1962. When she went to have her tonsils out in 1976, she was given American blood products which first caused her infection with hepatitis. In 1982, at a hospital in Kent, she was given factor VIII concentrate, which infected her with hepatitis C. In 1985, at a hospital in London, she was once again given treatment with blood products, which made her very ill with hepatitis C, although mercifully she did not contract HIV. Subsequently, she has been so weak with illness that she had to stop work at the age of 38. She has contracted cirrhosis of the liver and lives in fear of developing liver cancer in her damaged liver.
As we all know, it is not possible for doctors to undo the damage to Colette's health and it is not possible for her ever to be adequately compensated for the harm that was done to her by the infected blood products. The question is what we should do now, as a society, to compensate people such as Colette and her family. We have heard about the Skipton Fund, and I think that everyone in this debate acknowledges that the payments of a maximum of £45,000 are not adequate to compensate someone for that treatment.
We have also talked a lot about different numbers, and I wish to help the House. As 4,672 people have been infected over the years, a payment of £1 million to each of them would involve £4.672 billion. A payment of £100,000 to every sufferer would involve £467.2 million-I believe I have those figures right. That puts the £3 billion cost into context; it would work out to be £642,000 per individual. Colette has not been able to work since she was 38 and has had to pay for her NHS prescriptions. She looks ahead to the future, but her general practitioner is unable to assure her that she will have access to specialist nursing at home if her condition worsens.
I welcome what the Minister said in her statement and the fact that she will look urgently at a number of issues. However, will she clarify whether the compensation that will be recommended by the review will reflect the length of time that individuals have had to suffer and been unable to work because of the illness? Will the review also examine something that is being debated a lot with the Department for Work and Pensions: what happens when an individual is being assessed for their ability to work? Can we agree in this House today that it would be good if we exempted all these individuals-the 2,700 surviving patients-from any further assessment of their capacity to work?
No money could ever compensate these victims for what has happened. Their health can never be repaired, but let us ensure that as a result of this debate and of this inquiry we ensure, once and for all, that the patients do not experience further financial disadvantage from this terrible situation.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for tabling this motion. It is vital to realise that when the noble Lord Owen first took action on this issue as a Minister the year was 1975-the year of my birth, which shows just how long this issue has been current and how long it has not been dealt with by Governments of all political persuasions.
I understand that when medical treatment does not go according to plan-when something goes wrong and disability or a chronic condition results from it-a wound is opened that is very difficult to heal. It cannot be healed by money alone, although compensation is important. Intense frustrations are released. We have heard talk of a lost childhood, for example, or of what might have been or never would be, and of early deaths. Such events affect lives totally in a way that many of us cannot really understand.
That is why I welcome unambiguously the written ministerial statement, not just for what it contains but for the fact that it deals with issues such as travel insurance and access to insurance. I am not going to get hung up on what the meaning of the word "access" might or might not be in the view of the Minister. The fact that we are covering those things is what matters. Many haemophiliacs want to lead as ordinary a life as possible. We need to understand the gap between the lives that ordinary people lead and the effect of haemophilia and other conditions on people's ability to lead an ordinary life. That, to me, is crucial.
I made an effort to read the Minister's statement before I came into the Chamber-many hon. Members might have found that a useful exercise. However, having read it carefully, I noted one omission-or, perhaps, one thing that I could not find. It was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), but I want to stress it a bit more: it is the Skipton Fund and the arbitrary cut-off date of 28 August 2003 for payments. I was not clear from the statement whether that would be readdressed in the Minister's review.
I came into politics largely out of frustration at the poor quality of public policy making in this country under all parties-I just happened to pick the Conservative
party as the vehicle from which to express my frustration. There is a useful quotation in the briefing documentation with which we were provided, which I want to read as quickly as I can, about the Skipton Fund. It is from the Department of Health and says:
"The announcement of a scheme on 29 August 2003 occurred after the Secretary of State had revisited this issue...The difficult decision not to extend the scheme to people who had died before this date meant that it became an unavoidable cut-off point. We realise that the circumstances are not ideal, but have attempted to provide a pragmatic solution."
I have seen a fair amount of civil-service speak in my time, but that is as near as I have come to finding one that admits, "This is an awful decision. We know that it is an awful decision, but tough. You will have to live with it."
I urge the Minister to try to include a review of this arbitrary cut-off date in the work that she is doing in the run-up to Christmas. I unambiguously welcome the progress that we are making, as everybody from all parties should. In particular, I ask for clarity on the figure of £3 billion. If there is a loose zero floating around this debate, it will make it very hard for hon. Members fully to understand the motion and the issues before us, so I ask for clarity.
Finally, the number of people who have wanted to speak has underlined the importance that Members attach to the subject. We will pay very close attention come Christmas to the outcome of the review. I am sure that all of us in the Chamber and in the Public Gallery will hope that we will finally get the closure that so many people want. It will be difficult to achieve, but we need it.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Thank you for allowing me to speak for a couple of minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker. The actions at the root of this debate take us back many years. For many of us-including me-they take us back to a period that stirs great emotions. It was a period when an illness was ignored, when people's deaths and suffering were marked by stigma, when Governments were in disarray and, too often, in denial and when life-changing mistakes were being made.
Everyone in this House commends the campaigners on this issue for their vigilance and persistence over the years. The debate relates to a judgment between principle and practicality in the operation of our Government, but also to individual lives, such as that of a family that lives in Kempston in my constituency. The issue of principle appears to be accepted and clear to all sides: a group of our own citizens, who had already suffered greatly, have been denied justice for many-too many-years. It is the responsibility of all hon. Members to challenge the Government to bring that period of injustice to a close. If December it is, Minister, then December it must be.
The main practical argument concerns cost, which is wrapped in the real pressures of affordability given the current pressures on the public purse. The written ministerial statement contains welcome indications for those affected by hepatitis, but I urge the Minister to consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) in clearing up other anomalies.
"We must trust in the democratic process to enable us to bring about change".
It is my honour to represent her today. She wrote movingly about how she lost her husband when he was just 32-her son was just two years old at the time; about the pain as his body struggled in his failing battle with HIV and hepatitis; about the consequential financial pressures of losing her home; and about the sadness of a family life denied but which lives on in her heart and that of her son.
Lord Winston described the issue of contaminated blood as "a disaster", which is surely the right description. Yesterday, we witnessed on our television screens another country come together to overcome the consequences of another disaster and painstakingly rescue 33 heroes who had suffered entrapment below ground and return them to their loved ones. Too many of the heroes who have fought for justice cannot be here today and cannot be returned to their loved ones. However, many of them are here, and many of the loved ones of those affected by this disaster are present, too.
It is time for the Government to show their mettle and demonstrate their principles, if not their culpability. I wait with anticipation to hear the Minister's reply and place my trust and that of my constituents in her resolve.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I shall move on to the Front-Bench speakers. I have the pleasure of calling Diane Abbott. It has taken since 1987 for her to reach the Front Bench, which is a long time, so we look forward to this experience.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): We can see from the attendance of this debate how seriously the entire House takes this historic injustice. There is no more significant subject for me to discuss in my first speech at the Dispatch Box.
We are all aware that the eyes of the haemophilia community are on us this afternoon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, this historic injustice represents a failure of the entire political class. This matter has been a long-standing concern of mine. It concerns a small community, which, as we have heard, consists of fewer than 5,000 people, of the sick, the bereaved and the dying. I have long thought that the role of a Back Bencher is to be a voice for the voiceless.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on moving the motion with such passion and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), whose brainchild it is. I note the fact, which is not sufficiently recognised, that without the important reforms that took place at the end of the previous Parliament, which enabled Back Benchers to set the agenda for this House, we would not be having this debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her leadership of the Backbench Business Committee. I agree, not for the first time, with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) in saying that these Back-Bench debates should not be treated as second-class Opposition
days. Above all, I congratulate the campaigners on this issue, who over 25 years have made it possible for this historic debate to take place.
We have heard some excellent contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. One cannot touch on this subject without referring to the years of work by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott). Many hon. Members have spoken movingly about their constituents, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and the hon. Members for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and for Dartford (Gareth Johnson).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made the important point that the victims include not only the individuals struck down by those illnesses and tainted blood, but whole families. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said that our Government-the outgoing Government-should have dealt with the matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) called it one of the major injustices of our time. My right hon. and well-respected Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) said that there should be humility on both sides of the House.
I welcome the review announced by the Minister and the terms of reference. For the avoidance of doubt, I have read the terms of reference, and I shall leave it to her to speak about them in detail. The Opposition particularly welcome the focus on the problems of sufferers of hepatitis C, as well as the raising of issues of insurance and access to nursing care and care in the community. I urge her to conclude the report before the end of the year if possible and, as she will understand, I would be interested to see the costings behind the questioned £3 billion figure that the Government put in their amendment.
Finally, I should like to commit myself to working with Members across the House to get the best possible outcome for the people-some of whom many of us have met today-who have suffered so cruelly, so unfairly and for so long.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her new post. We have something in common, inasmuch as I worked in Hackney for most of my life before I entered politics.
This has been a moving debate and I, too, welcome this opportunity to discuss these issues and to air people's situations openly in the House. The story of those who have been affected by contaminated blood and its products is a dreadful human tragedy. I wonder whether, but can only hope that, an expression of sympathy from me can go some way towards making a difference to those affected. I am deeply sorry about the events that led to the infection of people who were treated with blood products with HIV and hepatitis C.
We always welcome new knowledge, but with that knowledge often comes deep regret about events that happened in the past. If we only knew then what we
know now. We should always make sure, individually and as Governments, that we have the humility to learn from our past. I thank hon. Members for raising so many issues-about the terrible loss of life, of course, and about stigma and the additional cost of things such as dentistry. Yes, I would happily meet a delegation of hon. Members and my door will be open during this period of review.
I shall do all I can, in the time and on the terms available, to make sure that people's views on access to psychological support are heard. I shall not be able to deal with all the points that have been raised today, but officials will come back to hon. Members, who, if they have further questions, can always contact me.
Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the Minister address an issue that has not been raised-the medical assessments that people on benefits now have to go through under the new welfare reform programme? Will she consider making representations to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about passporting this group of claimants so that they do not have to go through medical assessments again?
It is important to put on record some relevant events. In the early 1960s, the life expectancy of someone with haemophilia was less than 40 years. In the early 1970s, the development of a revolutionary new treatment-clotting factor concentrates produced from large pools of human plasma-led to what was then considered an exciting new era of treatment. It offered the potential to extend significantly the length and quality of the lives of patients with haemophilia. The risk of viral transmission through blood and blood products was recognised at that time, particularly the risk of post-transfusion hepatitis. Generally though, the consensus within the scientific community was that the risk of using multiple donors was low and worth taking. Significantly, at that time, the Haemophilia Society said, in a bulletin published in September 1983, that
"the advantages of treatment far outweigh any possible risk".
Sadly, we know how wrong that was. Tragically, the society was wrong and a devastating blow was dealt. The initial hope was ultimately replaced by the dreadful realisation that, although lives were extended, almost 5,000 patients with haemophilia in the UK and thousands more throughout the world had been infected with hepatitis C, HIV or indeed both.
Many of those people have since lost their lives to those conditions, and more continue to do so by the week, and we should pay tribute to the many campaigners who have died. I fully understand the sense of grievance and anger that people feel. I am not in that position, and it is impossible to know fully what it feels like, but I do understand some of it. I also know that for some time, whatever the Government do, sadly it will be far too little, far too late.
At the time, however, no other treatment was available. The UK blood supply and the only alternative, a product called cryoprecipitate, were both contaminated. The
only real treatment, therefore, was no treatment at all, and that was the case not only in the UK, but in countries throughout the world. At the time, France, Germany, Japan and the United States all took a similar view, which was widely held by the scientific community throughout the world.
When those treatments were first introduced, we had a very different view also of the risks from hepatitis C. It was not until the mid-1980s that scientific and medical literature began to reflect increasing concern about the seriousness of disease associated with hepatitis C, and I, as somebody who was working as a nurse at the time, remember it well.
Dr Pugh: The Minister will be aware that in the Government's response to the Archer report, certain documents are described as "misplaced"-they no longer exist or can be found. Do they have any bearing whatever on the analysis, and if they were discovered would they correct it in any way?
Anne Milton: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are talking about a long time ago; that is the trouble. I know that campaigners have been concerned about cover-ups, and that not all the documents have been released. I assure him that officials have told me that all documents have been released, but somewhere in the back of a cupboard, somebody at some point might discover more. It is a mistake to think that there is any conspiracy, however. I do believe, in all honesty, that previous Governments and the current Government have done, and continue to do, all that they can to ensure that all information is in the public domain.
As the consensus on the virus developed and technological advances occurred, the Government and the NHS moved quite quickly to address the risks. Heat treatment was introduced in 1985, and that effectively killed the hepatitis and HIV viruses. Validated tests for screening blood donations were also introduced. Since then, Governments have introduced a number of important safeguards to protect the blood supply, not least, as we heard today, from newer risks such as new variant CJD. We carefully assess, and shall continue to assess, all new evidence as it comes to light, and we now have EU directives that set standards of quality and safety.
I fully understand again the financial difficulties that many of those affected by contaminated blood products face. I have met some of them, and they have told me in some detail of their extraordinary experiences of living with the aftermath of infection. Not only were many of them infected, but they went on to infect their partners. They are, understandably, very concerned about their own and their family's financial security, and they look to the Government to provide a degree of certainty in the years ahead.
Going-what may feel like-cap in hand to the state is demeaning, I know, but it is worth laying out the financial settlements that are currently available. Those infected with HIV receive a flat-rate payment of £12,800 per year, and they may also be eligible for additional discretionary payments. In the year ending April 2010, the average total payment to an individual infected with HIV was £17,400, although of course some received less and some received more. Those infected with hepatitis C are eligible to receive an initial one-off lump sum payment of £20,000 when they develop chronic infection.
Despite contracting the virus, some people will make a full recovery, but many do not and go on to develop serious liver disease. For that group, there is a second one-off payment of £25,000. All those payments are tax-free and not used when calculating an individual's eligibility for state benefits. Therefore, if they were unable to work for health reasons they would receive those benefits, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson).
The independent public inquiry on NHS-supplied contaminated blood and blood products, chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell, investigated the circumstances surrounding the supply of blood products. It made several recommendations, the majority of which are in place in one way or another. However, a small number of recommendations have not been implemented. These primarily relate to aspects of the ex gratia payments, free prescriptions in England, and access to insurance.
I have instigated a review of those recommendations to see what more can be done. I know that hon. Members would love me to finish that review before Christmas. I will do what I can in the time available; I know that time is of the essence. The review will be conducted by Department of Health officials, but with the support of relevant clinical experts and external groups. The terms of reference should be in the Library. At this stage, let me put on record that I will place in the Library how the costs of implementing the Irish scheme in the UK were arrived at. I know that that has caused some concern, but I will come back to it, because time is very short.
I do not have time to go into detail on what happened in Ireland, but it is important to place on the record that in an article in The Irish Times-I will ensure that this is also in the Library-Brian Cowen, then Minister for Health and Children in the Republic of Ireland, and currently Taoiseach, confirmed that the Irish Government knew in 1995 that the Blood Transfusion Service Board had been negligent and had attempted to conceal that fact.
Mr Slaughter: Will the Minister deal with the two points that I raised in my remarks? First, do the terms of reference permit the inquiry body to consider the issue of hepatitis C in it widest sense-that is, to give it full parity, including in relation to the ex gratia payments of £12,800 a year for HIV? Secondly, given that she says that there are only a small number of recommendations to be addressed, why does not the new inquiry consider all those remaining issues, including the level of ex gratia payments?
Anne Milton: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will admit to a certain amount of ignorance. I do not know what I can do, but I will do everything I can within what I am allowed to do. It is important to say that I am very keen to get on with this. The danger with an inquiry that extends its remit is that it drags on and on, and this issue has dragged on for more than 25 years.
No fault has ever been found here in the UK-a fact that has been tested in the courts. In 1988, a group of haemophilia patients and their families sued the Government of the day. They settled their case outside court, midway through the proceedings, as their solicitors had advised that they had very limited chance of success.
Whatever happened all those years ago does not change the facts of today. In the United Kingdom, decisions over tax and spend are made here in this Parliament. The decisions of the Irish Parliament, like those of any other national Parliament, have no authority here in the UK. The debate on contaminated blood products has continued for many years, and I would like to close my remarks by again offering my sympathy and expressing my deep regret at the events, and by saying how sorry I am that this ever happened.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that the nervousness that follows her logic of not looking at other countries means that on a whole range of compensation issues the Government are now simply saying, "We are washing our hands of our responsibilities"?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) summed up the implications of voting for the motion more eloquently than I ever can. We cannot commit to aligning our compensation payments to those made in Ireland, and we cannot support the motion.
This debate has been useful in two ways. It has given hon. Members a chance finally to let the depths of this tragedy be heard. It is absolutely dreadful that no time has been found to debate this issue on the Floor of the House before. Secondly, it has enabled us to discuss how we can move forward. I want everyone, including hon. Members and campaigners, to be able to make their views known and know that they will be taken into account. I want the review to be dealt with openly and honestly, with clarity, without party politics, with humility and with empathy.
Mr Robinson: I think the whole House would agree that this has been an outstanding debate and has very much justified the new process for nominating Back-Bench business. I hope that in future we will have many such debates on important issues, debated in the same spirit as Members in all parts of the House have shown today in discussing a non-party political issue.
In essence, the heart of the motion, which I will press, is that an apology is due to the victims. I know that it is very difficult for Governments to give apologies, and the Minister came very close to giving one in saying that she much regretted what had happened. If it had been given in the same spirit as the Prime Minister's statement on the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, it would have been different, but it needed something a little more.
The second important element at the heart of the motion is the question of compensation. Some Members have said that they cannot vote for the motion because of the reference to Ireland, which is a foreign jurisdiction, and concerns about where we might go from there. However, whatever we had put in the motion, we would have had the same approach from the Government.
Members can try to salve their consciences in that way if they want, but the stark fact remains that the victims feel that they need an appropriate minimum level of compensation. They have asked us strongly to stick with the motion and put it to Members. We are going to put a marker down on how we think the Minister's review should come out.
I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity, and she has a long and distinguished history in the medical profession, but it is hardly an auspicious beginning for the Government to table an amendment intended to void the Back-Bench motion of its substance, then get their Whips up complaining to Mr Speaker about it, especially when it contains a figure that is out by a factor of three. The costs involved would not be more than £3 billion, as we learned from the distinguished hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is a medical practitioner. He said that they would be more like £1 billion. I cannot imagine how the Government have allowed that figure, which is not just salient but material to the debate, to continue to be discussed without correction.
Anne Milton: I have said that I will place in the Library details of how those figures were arrived at. They came about not through a typo in Lord Archer's report but through careful consideration. The comparison with Ireland is difficult to make because the circumstances of those receiving compensation there are different, but that is not the salient point of the motion-it is whether we should align ourselves with a scheme set up by Ireland.
Mr Robinson: That is not the central point of the motion at all; it is utterly irrelevant to the debate. The debate is about justice for the victims of a terrible disaster, and whatever we had put in the motion we would have had the same attitude from the Government, which after all is the one that we have had from all previous Administrations. When I opened the debate I said that that we now had a golden opportunity for the Secretary of State to break with the past. He bears no responsibility for what went on, unlike some of us, including me when I was at the Treasury and the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) when he was at the Department of Health. The Secretary of State had a golden opportunity to put the past behind us and say, "A great injustice was done and a terrible misjudgment was made." Several Members have made it clear that the suffering of the victims and their families goes on, and he should have said that the Government would now take steps to correct it. To say that it would cost £3 billion when it would actually be less than £1 billion is, as I said, hardly an auspicious start.
"payments should be at least the equivalent of those payable under the Scheme which applies at any time in Ireland"?
Dr Phillip Lee: I want to be clear about the point I made earlier. I await some clarification on the figures, but I will not support the hon. Gentleman's motion because it states that "a principal recommendation of the...Inquiry" is that compensation is based on the Irish compensation scheme. Am I right?
Dr Lee: I made it clear that I think we can decouple from that and that we should not pay out on the basis of a life expectancy that was in the 20s before a product came on the market. That is why I will not support him in the Lobby.
Mr Robinson: No motion of the House is ever wholly correct. I have never voted for a motion with which I totally agree- [ Interruption. ] I hate to say it, but we are reverting to party politics on an issue that has nothing to do with it. No motion is ever perfect. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are debating a principle. We should recognise that there should be much more compensation- [ Interruption. ] If Conservative Members think that this is a laughing matter, I will leave it to them and their consciences.
Mark Durkan: Did my hon. Friend note that the Minister said that as well as placing in the Library an explanation of how the figures were arrived at, she would place a copy of an article from The Irish Times, quoting Brian Cowen, who was then Minister of Health in the Republic? Brian Cowen became Minister of Health in 1997, but the compensation scheme in the south began in 1996 and issued significant payments then. There are misleading versions of what subsequent tribunals said and what was admitted by the Irish Government, but the Irish compensation scheme was not based on that admission of liability or that knowledge.
Mr Robinson: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Perhaps the Minister would like to say whether that is correct. Perhaps she does not know. The debate is degenerating into the to and fro of Opposition against Government interchanges. Let me assure the Health Secretary and the Minister that no one who has taken part in the debate really wants that.
The simple fact of why we are proposing this motion and resisting the Government amendment is that we are pressing for a recognition that a gross injustice has taken place and that it must be put right. That will involve high levels of compensation. We beg the Government not to believe the figures that are automatically produced to exaggerate the situation.
Mr Tom Clarke: Does my hon. Friend recall that when many of us were fighting for compensation for retired miners, we were given exactly the same arguments against-for 18 years? The question today is whether we are prepared to wait that long for a solution to this problem.
Mr Robinson: Again, my right hon. Friend makes the telling point that we have waited too long, but the problem will go on for longer. Why is the Minister defending further delay? Why is she defending £3 billion, and why is she giving out incorrect information? Let us not have a debate on that basis. We want Back Benchers in this Back-Bench debate to vote for the motion in my name because it does some justice to those who, for many years, have been condemned to a slow, lingering and very unpleasant death.
That this House has considered the matter of Anti-Slavery Day.
It is probably close to 200 years since this House has debated slavery. As the chairman of the all-party human trafficking group, it is my great pleasure to open this debate, but it should not have been me opening it; it should have been the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate her on her pitch to the Backbench Business Committee and her success in securing this debate. However, once she had done so, she was immediately put into the shadow Government. She has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, and is now sitting by the Dispatch Box to answer for the Opposition. I congratulate her not only on securing this debate, but on her promotion.
William Wilberforce is a name that is synonymous with anti-slavery. In 1807, led by Wilberforce, an Act for the abolition of the slave trade was passed by Parliament. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed. Why, therefore, are we here debating slavery, more than 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade? Perhaps we are celebrating the success of William Wilberforce; or are we here to congratulate ourselves that no slavery remains within the United Kingdom? We cannot do that. Slavery and trafficking are still far too common an occurrence. A frightening statistic is that there are estimated to be more than 27 million slaves in the world today. One in eight of them are in Europe, and at least 10,000 of them are here in the United Kingdom. How can that be true? When I walk around London or my constituency, I do not see slaves sweeping the streets or working in the fields. The fact that the problem is not as visible as it was in the time of William Wilberforce does not mean that it is not as important or as serious.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but will he join me in paying tribute to the work of Anthony Steen, his predecessor as Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking, for all his excellent work on bringing to the House's attention the slavery that is human trafficking? I am sure that he was about to mention him in his speech.
Mr Bone: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend-I shall call him my right hon. Friend today-for that intervention, but he will have to wait just a little longer before I mention the former Member for Totnes.
The three most lucrative criminal activities in the world are those associated with narcotics and with firearms, and the trafficking of humans. The first two criminal activities are well documented and vast sums of money are rightly invested in catching the criminals involved. Why then is the trafficking of humans-modern-day slavery-so badly documented, and why is so little invested in the fight against it? It takes place on the same scale as narcotics and firearms offences, and that gap needs to be addressed.
So where are all those slaves, and whom does this affect? In the United Kingdom, the main victims are women and children. They are often tricked into coming
to this country, usually with a promise of some sort of job. When they arrive here, they are often locked up and forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day. I shall give the House an example. I met a 14-year-old Kenyan girl who had been trafficked into this country by a middle-aged white man on a passport that did not bear her name and did not have her picture on it. She was taken to Liverpool, locked in a house and forced to have sex with numerous men. Luckily, she escaped after a few days and was helped by a national charity. She was one of the lucky ones, if you can call it lucky to endure what she had had to. She managed to escape, but how many girls do not manage to do so? How many girls are locked in houses such as those while we are debating this issue today? Even if there were just one, that would be one too many, but there is not just one; there are thousands.
We have some fantastic non-governmental organisations working with trafficked victims, including ECPAT UK, the POPPY project, the Human Trafficking Foundation, the Bromley Trust, the Tudor Trust, and Kalayaan, to name but a few. Their work must not stop. I have one single goal, however: I want all those NGOs and charities to become redundant, because they are no longer needed. That is my aim. As I mentioned, they do fantastic work with trafficked victims, but I believe that prevention is the key.
How do we prevent human trafficking? That is a very difficult question to answer. I believe that making the public more aware of the issue is a good first step. On 18 October, the UK will celebrate anti-slavery day for the first time. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my former colleague, Anthony Steen, for working tirelessly to make the Anti-slavery Day Act 2010 his lasting legacy to the House. He pioneered an approach to human trafficking that I am very happy to follow. Quite simply, he put modern-day slavery on the parliamentary map. Anti-slavery day will mark out what we all hope will be the beginning of the end of slavery in the United Kingdom and make the public aware of the gravity of the problem.
What can be done? First, we need to identify victims better. Very few ever approach local authorities to complain, and even if they do, those authorities might not realise that the problem has resulted from trafficking and modern-day slavery. The police are on the front line of trafficking. The individual police officer on the beat is the best and probably the first person to meet a trafficked victim, but does every police officer know what to do, how to help and to whom they should send the victim? We need to help the police and make them more aware of trafficked women. There needs to be a national protocol to help victims.
We also need to enhance the border control system and stop the traffickers from bringing in the victims in the first place. That is the very best way to end trafficking. The UK must be a country that it is just not worth the traffickers using.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con):
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to some of the excellent work done by the Metropolitan police in combating the evil of human trafficking in London? I echo the point I believe he is making well-I seek to reinforce it-about the lack of awareness and training in other police forces across the country. They will often come to dealing with a problem such as prostitution
without having the wherewithal to understand, albeit with the best will in the world, that it is linked to the evil of slavery and human trafficking.
Returning to the point about making this country one into which traffickers do not want to come, traffickers are interested only in the money. We need to make it so difficult for them that they do not want to try to operate here. That is why the coalition Government's new proposal for a border police provides an opportunity to put trafficking right at the heart of this new initiative. Trafficking must stop, but it will stop only with the help of everyone-here and across the nation. William Wilberforce did not pass the legislation to abolish the slave trade and to abolish slavery for political gain or to achieve votes; he realised there was a fundamental problem that needed to be addressed.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. One difficulty dealing with trafficked women is that they often believe that they are here illegally. They do not go to the police because they are terrified that, if they do, terrible things will happen and the police will prosecute them. What does my hon. Friend think should be the immigration or legal status of people who find themselves trafficked here? Clearly, they are not asylum seekers in the accepted meaning of the term, so how do they fit into the immigration system?
Mr Bone: I am conscious of time and of the fact that many other Members want to contribute to the debate. I shall wind up shortly, but to answer my hon. Friend's point, these people are victims and they should be looked after; there are organisations such as the POPPY project that do look after them. We have a strange system at the moment whereby an adult victim of human trafficking gets better treatment than a child. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into this further, as I note that so many Members want to speak in the debate.
Finally, I am ashamed to stand here as a citizen of this great nation and admit that we have failed William Wilberforce. After 200 years, the slave trade is still very much alive. In 200 years' time, I do not want another Member of this House to stand where I am today and admit that he is ashamed that they have failed in what we are trying to achieve today. The first anti-slavery day must mark the start of the decline of modern-day slavery in our country.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Back in 2007, when Labour was in government, it was my great privilege to be asked by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to help the country to prepare for the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade. That was an important moment for this country, which brought people together across the House and, indeed, across the country to remember another very important moment in our history. Certainly in the cities of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Hull it was a hugely significant event. We recalled, of course, William Wilberforce, but also people such as Thomas Clarkson and Equiano and Ignatio Sancho-black and white men and women who made a difference to bring this awful trade to an end.
I learnt much that year. I learnt about the many women in Britain who boycotted sugar in order to bring the trade to an end, and the many petitions and marches organised in cities such as Sheffield to say, "Enough is enough". It was an important year. Obviously it was an important year for me personally, because I stand here as the ancestor of those who found themselves- [Interruption.] I am sorry, I mean that they were my ancestors. That is how far back in history I was taken as I spoke. I stand here as the descendant of those who were enslaved.
As we remind ourselves of what the House has done to bring about the end of that terrible period in our history, we should bear in mind that it is hugely important for us to redouble our efforts in relation to trafficking as it exists in this country and around the world at this time. Tragically, it was in my constituency that the sad death of Victoria Climbié took place in the early part of this century. In the winter of 1999 to 2000, in a terraced house in Tottenham, she was terribly abused by a supposed aunt who had brought her here from Ivory Coast. Members will recall her dying, effectively, in a bathtub in that house, having been whipped, chained and terribly physically abused in this country. They will also recall the inquiry, the Laming report, and much that came out of her sad, tragic death.
That case put a spotlight on the nature of child trafficking in this country. We must all have hoped it would bring trafficking to an end, but it has not. Very sadly, in my constituency today I recall other children who have been trafficked. I think of Tunde Jaji, a young man brought here from Nigeria at the age of five. His case has now become a successful play, which was performed at the Edinburgh festival just this year. It, too, involved terrible abuse by a supposed aunt and her husband, again in the streets of Tottenham, and had a terribly dysfunctional effect on that young man. On this occasion, the story ends with some joy. A teacher at Park View academy, a wonderful woman called Lynne Awbery, took him into her own home, and nourished and supported him. He graduated from Bournemouth university with a fantastic degree in animation, and now dedicates himself to that.
Such tragic human cases sit alongside our concerns in the House, and in that context it is important for us not just to celebrate an anti-slavery day, but to ensure that we in this country, given our own past, honour and redouble our efforts in relation to this terrible crime. It worries me that the Government have chosen not to ratify the EU directive; I am hugely concerned about the fact that they have exercised the right to opt out on this occasion. I say that because of our own history in this country, and the important position that we have in the world in relation to these matters. It is very hard to encourage other countries to sign the protocol if we do not feel able to do so ourselves. It is very hard to say we are keeping our own house in order if we choose not to ratify. I therefore hope that the Minister might reconsider that position before he comes to wind up the debate.
I am also concerned that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is to be abolished, especially given the global nature of this country and the past that I have outlined, including the recent past in my own constituency. Events such as those that took place in my
constituency are also happening throughout the rest of the country; estimates of the number of such children who might be here run into the thousands. It is also the wrong time to get rid of that organisation because of all we know about the sex trafficking of women, and younger women in particular. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect on that decision and to think of the great history of this country. Britain is a country that can make a huge difference in the fight against the human trafficking that is taking place across the country and the world. It is estimated that some 27 million people across the world are still in some form of bondage, whether in respect of a trade or domestic slavery.
This is an important issue therefore, and I ask the Minister to reflect carefully not only on our position in Europe but on the message we send in debating these matters and in choosing how to make a difference through treaties, directives and protocols.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on the significant and important role she has played in pushing this issue, and also on securing the debate. I echo the comments of various previous speakers about the role Anthony Steen has played in pushing this agenda and bringing it to the notice of Parliament; I agree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) that it is a great pity that he was not present today to participate in, and perhaps open, the debate.
Anti-slavery day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our ancestors' role in this trade and on the fact that it is still an issue today. We are reminded of that almost daily. Literally a couple of minutes before the debate started, I had a chance conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) who has just been meeting to discuss the issue of St Helena. Apparently two of what he believes are the largest concentrations of graves of slaves anywhere in the world have just been found on St Helena. The island was used as a transit point and the slaves who had, presumably, died on the boats were off-loaded and buried on it. There are events even now that remind us of that past, therefore.
I also attended an event a couple of weeks ago to do with black history month. One of the speakers pointed out that although she was Jamaican her surname was clearly Scottish, and that that was because her ancestors had been slaves in an area where the landowner and keeper of the slaves-if I can put it that way-was Scottish and had passed on his surname to all the slaves working on his land.
Even more recently-just a couple of days ago-a Romanian gang was broken up. It is alleged-we will have to wait for the court case verdict-that it was responsible for using children for begging in the UK. Slavery is therefore not only a topic that we need to reflect on historically, but one that is present today.
Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for drawing attention to the work of Thomas Clarkson, of Wisbech in my constituency, who did so much to gather the evidence on which the case was put by William Wilberforce in this place. Does the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) agree that one of the problems-one of the pockets-is to be found within the diplomatic community? Although this is a complex area in terms of the legal framework, diplomatic immunity should not be grounds for allowing conditions akin to slavery to exist.
Tom Brake: That is a very pertinent and topical point, although it might be slightly beyond my pay grade to respond to it on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Perhaps the Minister may use his response as an opportunity to put across the Government's perspective on that point.
Many forms of slavery are alive and well today, including bonded labour. People can enter bonded labour for something as simple as the cost of medicine for a sick child, and it then locks them into providing labour free or in exchange for food and shelter. That can be labour that they have to provide 365 days a year and it can be impossible for them to get out of that arrangement. As many hon. Members will know, Dalits fall into that category. Those are peoples in both India and other parts of the subcontinent who can end up in lifelong servitude, which often gets passed down through generations.
Tony Baldry: How does my hon. Friend suggest that we deal with that? Hundreds of thousands of people are involved in bonded labour in India, but India is a mature democracy, although one to which we still provide some development assistance. How and where does he suggest that we exert influence to help bring about the end of bonded labour in mature democracies such as India?
Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The only tool at our disposal is the one that we are using at this moment: raising the issue and using that as a gentle encouragement to the Indian Government, and other Governments in the subcontinent, to respond to these challenges.
The time available does not allow an in-depth discussion about trafficking, although we had a fairly full debate on it just a couple of days ago. Inevitably, and correctly, that debate touched on the EU directive, and I simply wish to restate what I said then. I welcome the fact that the Government are reviewing the directive, but I hope that if it is clear at the end of that review process that the directive pushes us significantly beyond where we are on tackling human trafficking, the Government will then opt in to the directive.
In order to allow others their opportunity to speak in the debate, I shall finish by discussing just one other important point-the legal framework to tackle slavery in the UK. It is only this year that we have legislated to deal with an offence of forced labour or domestic servitude. At least we now have clarity, because the legislation is in place. Is the Minister in a position to tell the House whether there have been any prosecutions or convictions under that legislation, which has recently
come into force? People will want to express emotional views in this debate, so I wish to conclude simply by saying that it is regrettable that we are having to have an anti-slavery day debate, because slavery is alive and well in the world. I hope that in future years-perhaps a number of years from now-such a debate will not be necessary.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Like the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I come to this debate very pleased that we are marking the end of one of the most horrific practices in legal history, but concerned that a significant problem still exists in the UK, with large numbers of women, boys and girls still sold into slavery in this country every year.
Over the past five years, at the Children's Society, I have had the privilege of working with some of the remarkable children who have survived this horrific practice. Most were brought into the UK to be sold for sex, forced labour, domestic slavery or enforced begging. They were boys as well as girls and nearly all of them had experienced a combination of mental, physical and sexual violence.
This is a hidden crime, so it is incredibly difficult to persuade people that it still goes on. I can say to hon. Members that I am absolutely certain that this is happening in my Wigan constituency at this very minute, and in all constituencies across the country. I am pleased that so many Members have turned out to mark such an important debate.
The previous Government made significant attempts to tackle the problem and I want to pay tribute to the work that was done, particularly the ratification of the Palermo protocol and the Council of Europe convention. They were huge steps forward. The decision not to opt in to the EU directive was and remains the wrong decision, and I hope that the present Government will think again on that point. The Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, is known to be a humane man and is interested in this area. I hope that he will bring us some good news on that point.
It is simply not true that we already comply with the European directive on trafficking in human beings. Let me give hon. Members an example of a 17-year-old young man whom I have met and worked with. He was brought into the UK and forced to work illegally in a cannabis factory. After several years of that, he was picked up in a police raid at the age of 17. After several years of working in the most appalling conditions, with no natural daylight, subjected to cannabis fumes daily, he had significant mental health problems, as one would expect. Yet he was prosecuted for working illegally and for documentation offences. When I worked at the Children's Society, I was told over and over again, along with colleagues from ECPAT UK- End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes-and other tremendous organisations, that this problem simply does not exist, yet every day we were seeing for ourselves that it did. I am sure that it still does.
When I came across the young man in my example, he was serving time in a young offenders institution and had, thankfully, come to the attention of the British Refugee Council, which was able to find him a good
lawyer who got him out. I am outraged that that vulnerable young man should have been subjected to such treatment at the hands of the state-at our hands. I cannot help but think that had that young man been British the response would have been quite different. It is unthinkable that a child or young person who comes to the state and alleges such appalling abuse should be treated in such a manner. Far too often these children are seen as perpetrators rather than victims, and as immigrants rather than children. We all-on both sides of the House-should seek to change that.
The EU directive sets out explicitly that it should be possible not to prosecute victims. That would be a major step forward in our treatment of these children. My experience of working with children who have been subjected to slavery is that it is often simply not recognised that they are vulnerable, particularly when they are older-when they are 17, for example. They do not look like the very vulnerable young people they are, so they are not treated as such.
I have been told over years and years that we can achieve the standards set out in the EU directive simply by changing our working practices. That might be true, but it has not happened. While it has not happened, children like the young man I have talked about are subjected to further harm by the state, because we simply have not got this right.
Let me give one more example before I let other Members speak. I have worked with very young children-aged eight or nine-who are adamant that the person exploiting them is their uncle, their daddy or some other relative who has their best interests at heart. When young children have been deceived in that way, we have a huge problem. Their lawyer is duty bound to act on the instructions that that child has given. The EU directive sets out very clearly that child victims must have a guardian to represent them in the courts, who would be able to instruct the lawyer on their behalf. Without that measure, which we have singularly failed to introduce-and in so failing, we have failed those children-we will not see prosecutions and we will never bring to justice the evil people who are doing so much damage to children in our constituencies.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for shortening her remarks. As we can all see, many hon. Members want to contribute to this debate, so the time limit is being shortened to six minutes.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a good sign that you have had to shorten the time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am pleased that so many hon. Members are interested in the subject.
The scale of this worldwide problem has not sunk in. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) opened the debate by saying that 27 million people are in some form of slavery around the world, which is just less than half the population of the United Kingdom. That is a truly shocking statistic.
Some passion has been expended in this House this week, whether on the date of a referendum, the reform of housing benefit, the European Union budget, or contaminated blood. This subject, above all, is one on which we should expend considerable passion. We should state how outrageous it is that 200 years after Wilberforce got rid of the visible slave trade, that cruel and inhumane form of treatment of our fellow human beings has crept back.
We are discussing a truly global phenomenon, which is happening not only in this country and in Europe but around the world. Last night I trawled the internet and picked out relevant press cuttings from the past two days. There are press reports about trafficking across east Africa, and countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda are forming a regional network to do something about it.
A national action plan has been established in Greece, where the situation is relevant to this country. Children and young people, often young girls, from Romania, Albania, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria and Russia are often tempted to travel to Athens. Their families may be in economic difficulties, and they are lured to Athens by the prospect of a better life having been told that they will be working as, for example, a hairdresser. They are taken to Athens before being sent to Amsterdam, London, Hamburg or another great European city, where they end up working in brothels as captives. It is good to see Greece taking the matter seriously.
In Malaysia nine people have been arrested in the past two days, seven of whom are immigration officials. I ask the Minister whether we are checking our staff to ensure that they are not complicit with gangs.
Those examples illustrate that we are discussing a worldwide problem, but at the same time it is a local problem that happens in our constituents' streets. We know that brothels operate in private houses; we know that people are being used for domestic servitude in private houses; and we know that people are being forced to work as bonded labour in businesses that are close to us and to our constituents. We can all do our bit, because we can all be eyes and ears. We all need to look out and help the police and the authorities. Even buying Fairtrade chocolate provides us with an assurance that the chocolate that we are eating has not been produced by children who have been forced to work on cocoa plantations in Africa.
Prevention is obviously better than cure. How much public education and awareness raising is being done in the source countries from which people are being trafficked? How engaged are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in trying to spread public education and awareness, so that those young girls realise that there is great danger in being lured to be a hairdresser in Europe, and that it will probably not end up that way.
As Members of Parliament we all have a close relationship with our local newspapers, yet virtually all those newspapers-this is certainly true of the five newspapers in my constituency-carry advertisements for "adult services", as they are euphemistically called.
Andrew Selous: The hon. Lady is obviously a mind reader, to add to her other talents, because that is exactly what I was about to say. The Newsquest group has set an example, and I ask all hon. Members to ask the editors of their local papers to follow that example. That is something practical that we can do. This is not just about asking the Minister to do things; we can do things in our constituencies and we can get our constituents involved in doing something.
Can we have a minimum sentence for traffickers? Diplomats have been mentioned briefly. Any diplomat who is found to be involved in human trafficking should not have the right to be an accredited diplomat at the Court of St James's, but should be expelled forthwith. I think that that suggestion would find wide support in the House.
We desperately need better co-ordination between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, because these cases often fall down. We need the Ministry of Justice to get the police and the CPS together to work out how we can have more success with getting convictions, of which there have been pitifully few in the UK. That is not for lack of trying, through legislation, by many of us in this Parliament. There is a real problem with things not working as well as they could.
We also need much better liaison between the police and local authorities. That is working well in some places, such as with West Sussex county council, Operation Paladin at Heathrow airport, and at St Pancras with the Eurostar. There are very good relations between the police and social services in that regard. In Westminster, too, there is a very good protocol between the police and the council on forced marriage and honour-based violence. They are looking into incorporating that further in relation to trafficking in connection with the MARAC-multi-agency risk assessment conference-procedures.
This is a big issue and a worthy cause for all hon. Members to pursue throughout their time in Parliament. We are called to this place to pursue big issues, and there can hardly be a bigger issue than this. Let me close with the words of Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). He is right that this is a big issue. The fact that it unites my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for South West Bedfordshire and others is a real tribute to the work that Anthony Steen pioneered in his many years in the House of Commons.
I have been here for 23 years; others have been here for as long as I have while others still have been here for a shorter period. What a legacy for the House and the country was Anthony Steen's private Member's Bill, which had the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and produced the marking of anti-slavery day. I wish that he were here. Perhaps he is-perhaps, in a moment, he is going to pop in to tell us that we have gone on for too long, and should hear the benefit of his expertise. I am glad that his expertise remains in this
House, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) has said. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wellingborough for picking up this torch; he will become just as distinguished in his time in ensuring that this remains at the forefront of concerns among parliamentarians.
Of course, this is an important issue. The Select Committee on Home Affairs conducted a very long inquiry into human trafficking, which lasted a year. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington was one of the members of that Committee, which travelled to Russia and Ukraine. We took evidence from all the projects that have been mentioned today and we found, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan has pointed out, that victims were reluctant to come forward. We found out stunning statistics about what is the second-biggest illegal activity in the world after drugs. It is a billion-pound illegal industry, but it is very difficult to get people to come forward. That is why it is crucial that we have at our disposal the ability to track down the people traffickers.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said about the EU directive. It is very important that the Minister should reflect on this issue in the coming weeks and months and that we sign up to the directive. We cannot be kept apart from the rest of Europe when we need the support of other European countries to achieve the good and laudable aims that the current Government have in this area and that the previous Government certainly had.
I want to raise with the Minister three practical issues that will help us to achieve that aim. First, the Home Affairs Committee raised with the previous Prime Minister our concern about funding for the Metropolitan police's people trafficking unit, which was disbanded nine months ago. Despite that, we have had successes, such as during Operation Golf this week, when people were found to be trafficking in central London. The Met should keep such relationships going with police forces in other parts of the world-in that case, for example, in Romania. The funding and the provision of resources for that unit are extremely important, because we require expertise.
Secondly, the UK Human Trafficking Centre was moved, as the Minister knows, away from independence and into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will now be abolished and form part of the new national crime agency. I urged the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice yesterday, during a debate about policing, to pause before the Government decide how the centre will sit within the national crime agency. The point about such organisations is that they have expertise beyond policing and act as a centre to co-ordinate many people and professions. It is vital that we retain such activity. I hope that the Minister before us will take up that issue with his ministerial colleague.
My final point is about the one issue that the Committee raised in its most recent report, because it is still a concern. There is no Europe-wide mechanism that brings together the origin, transition and destination countries of those who are trafficked. There is no such organisation. That work is done through conferences and meetings, and sometimes the European Union decides that it wants to be involved, but there needs to be a stand-alone organisation-a structure-to share good practice. When someone from Moldova travels through Greece, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, and
ends up in Amsterdam, Bedford, Leicester, Wigan or wherever, they need to be tracked. That is not happening, but we have to ensure that those who are responsible for trafficking are prosecuted, because our record on such prosecutions is pretty bad.
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this crucial debate. It is a credit to the decision to introduce Back-Bench business, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) opened it with great distinction.
I share the concern that there are no robust estimates for the number of victims of trafficking in the UK. Having the figures for victims of trafficking is fundamental to raising awareness of the issue and ensuring that human trafficking is given due attention by local police forces. Moreover, without accurate data, support services cannot be properly planned. I therefore believe that the UK Human Trafficking Centre needs to do more in that area.
The introduction of the national referral mechanism in April 2009 has gone some way towards recognising victims of trafficking. However, I am concerned that only 361 individuals were accepted as victims of trafficking in the mechanism's first year, given that the estimated figure for such individuals is about 10 times that number. The dominance of the immigration authorities in the assessment and administration of the national referral mechanism is also a concern, as it emphasises the victims' immigration status and inappropriately associates them with illegal immigration, as the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) clearly highlighted.
Although the exact figures for victims are not available, there have been six arrests for trafficking offences in Wiltshire, which includes my constituency, North Swindon. Human trafficking does not have borders; it is a problem for the whole of the UK and it must be addressed as such, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) said. More needs to be done to support victims of human trafficking, and I shall focus on that point.
I have been incredibly impressed by the work of the homeless women's charity, Eaves. The POPPY project in London, which it runs, is invaluable in providing safety and support through accommodation, counselling, legal advice and outreach programmes. It provides 50 beds for victims of sex trafficking and nine beds for victims of domestic slavery, with a current occupancy rate of 100%. I welcome the further expansion that is occurring in London, Sheffield and Cardiff.
However, I remain concerned about whether victims from my constituency will have access to support and security services of that level. All too often, the victims are charged, then effectively released straight back into the arms of the gangs rather than being treated as victims. It is therefore vital that the new national co-ordinator sets out consistent standards of care, builds
capacity, and raises awareness with local agencies and funders. Having been rescued from their living nightmare, all too often only temporary help is provided to them-a crying shame for these often exceptionally determined individuals, who rightly want to get their lives back on track and are hindered by their lack of formal education, qualifications and opportunities.
To tackle this, Eaves, along with partners Imperial college and the Women and Work initiative, has launched a scheme aimed at helping victims back into the workplace. HERA-Her Equality, Rights, and Autonomy-offers women from the POPPY project entrepreneurial skills and mentoring from some of the UK's most successful business women and men, and aims to give them the life skills and confidence they need to set up their own businesses or get into work. In many cases, the victims arrived in the UK highly educated, and through this scheme go on to further or higher education, more often than not with an interest in human rights law, and 25% even go on to set up their own business.
It was a great privilege to meet one of the founders of the scheme, Simon Stockley, who kindly set out three brief recent examples of where this support and training has made a real difference. First, a Russian lady has set up a successful Russian specialist bakery. Secondly, a west African lady has set up a fashion label, designing and making clothes. Finally, a Moldovan lady, with mentoring from a senior member of Saatchi and Saatchi, was not only able to secure work at a large H&M store but is now the manager. These real-life examples show just how important it is to provide these opportunities nationwide.
We are rightly stepping up our game to rescue victims; let us not then fail them. We have seen that by empowering the victims and restoring their confidence, we are providing an opportunity to start a new life. I urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that victims have access to the support that they require and rightly deserve.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): We should be focusing not so much on what is happening in the UK as the fact that there are still 27 million people in some form of slavery throughout the world. We should look seriously at the heritage left behind by Anthony Steen. He was not talking about the UK; he never talked about the UK. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, he travelled around Europe urging other Parliaments to set up similar organisations and to get their Governments focused on the problem, whether they were in the transit countries, the departure countries or the countries where the criminal gangs organised.
It is interesting to look back in history. Oddly enough, the story of Oliver Twist is based on factual historical records of the trafficking of Italian children who were scooped up in the villages and promised jobs, and then brought to the UK to be thieves and robbers in the Paddington area of London. There was never a Jewish Fagin organising that-there was an Italian gangmaster and an Italian gang.
This is not just something that happens locally, but, as we have heard, it is happening locally in people's constituencies, and in mine-two brothels were broken up, and trafficked women were found in both. Positive Action in Housing, based in Glasgow, does wonderful work in Scotland. Many Members have spoken about
their own local organisations that are helping people who are then released from such bondage-not just sexual bondage, but low pay or poverty pay. A Chinese gentleman came to see me after I spoke at the annual general meeting of Positive Action in Housing. He had been moved from one Chinese restaurant to another, throughout the whole of the UK, for nine and a half years, and told that if he ever went to see anyone he would be sent back to China. It is going on all the time. Sixteen children were recently rescued in London. In Scotland, in the three months up until August, the newspapers reported that 18 children were found in some sort of exploitation.
I urge us, as a Parliament, to look wider than we are at the moment. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is not completely carrying on the heritage of Anthony Steen if he does not focus on broadening the outlook. We should stop trying to throw a ring around the UK, and we should expand our movement outside.
Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, of course-the ring needs to be around everywhere. I will let him into a secret. Anthony Steen and his Human Trafficking Foundation are working with the all-party group on human trafficking every week, and we intend to set up all-party groups across the whole of Europe, as Anthony wants.
I wish to ask the Minister-I have never yet heard a decent reply to this question, including when I wrote to the Prime Minister in September-why the Government are not clear that we need to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said that we need a Europe-wide organisation, and that is on offer in the directive. It is not a protocol, and it would be binding on all countries. We have sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, but they are not capable of dealing with cross-border trafficking in the EU.
The EU directive would give us extra powers. It would give us not just the power but the duty to pursue any UK citizen, or anyone habitually resident in the UK, who was involved in trafficking anywhere in the world, with the support of the EU. It would be our jurisdiction, so we could do our duty by people who were trafficked and enslaved. It would also give us the option-it would be a power, not a compulsion-to decide to pursue anyone habitually resident in the UK who was involved in organising people trafficking, which can lead to slavery, outside the UK.
I give the following example quite seriously, not to diminish the terrible thing that happened to the McCann family. If Madeleine McCann were an adult young woman who had been trafficked out of Portugal by a gang of people who were not in the UK, we would not have had the power to take jurisdiction. It is true that we can go to Interpol. I went to Portugal during that terrible time, as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we met the policeman sent from Lisbon to try to pick up the pieces of the local police's terrible approach immediately after the loss of Madeleine McCann. We realised the police's inadequacy, but although we had liaison officers we did not have the ability to send in the Met to do the job properly. We could have that power for an adult if we signed up to the EU directive.
That is its greatest attraction to me-we would have a duty and responsibility to people in this country who may end up being trafficked.
At the moment, young women and men affected travel around and live in other parts of Europe. They do not necessarily always live in the UK. If they are trafficked out of other countries by someone who is not a UK resident, at the moment we have no jurisdiction. That is a very strong argument for the directive.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) came nearest to expressing the aspiration that existed when the decision to mark anti-slavery day was voted through in the House. It is a worldwide business that we must fight against. We must recognise the clear link with organised criminal gangs in the advanced economies of the world, particularly in the EU states and those around them. We must do everything we can to be vigilant locally. All the organisations that have been mentioned deserve support, and we must try to build an anti-slavery, anti-trafficking alliance at Government and non-governmental organisation level. I hope that the Minister, and eventually the Prime Minister, will recognise that one major step will be taken if we sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking and join that battle properly.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). We sit together on the European Scrutiny Committee and also share a common interest in the subject of this debate.
This is an historic and significant debate, and it is pleasing to see that so many right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute. I welcome the advent of anti-slavery day, even though I was not in the House when the Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010 went through, not least because it is an important tool in bringing these issues into the limelight and giving them the prominence that they deserve. The one thing that is absolutely clear from the debate is that slavery is alive and well in our society and throughout the world. It is therefore right that the House discusses it. I should like to echo other hon. Members in paying tribute to Mr Anthony Steen, who is a great loss to the House. It is a great shame that he cannot be here to make his own speech today.
The simple fact is that it remains unacceptable 200 years after Wilberforce fought so long, so admirably and so hard against slavery that we live in a society in which slavery endures. It is perhaps not the same as in his time, but it is no less deplorable. In the 18th century, slavery was part of a distasteful and distorted economy, and was witnessed in the full light of day. Now, as the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said, it is to a large extent invisible, hidden and underground. It is a hidden abuse of people who more often than not simply cannot speak up for themselves.
Of course, slavery surfaces from time to time. Sex trafficking is the crime that most often captures the media headlines, but earlier this week, Romanian children who were forced into working on the streets of the capital like Fagin's gang were rescued by Operation Golf. I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police for their work on that. I hope the Crown can in due course mount successful prosecutions of those responsible.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|