Infected Blood Compensation Scheme Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Infected Blood Compensation Scheme

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before I call the Minister, I should say that he will take longer than is usual for a statement, and I totally agree with the extra time. I am just letting the other Front Benchers know that there will be some extra time.

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None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Lots of Members want to get in, and all Members will get in. I now come to the shadow Minister.

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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his collegiate tone and for the constructive approach he has taken throughout our conversations and in his response this afternoon. I totally embrace the need to continue the dialogue with victims. That is why I was pleased that Sir Robert Francis agreed to take on that role, having done the study into compensation. We have obviously met a number of times, and I have explained to him what Jonathan Montgomery and the experts panel did. I am pleased that he has got to a point where he is sufficiently satisfied to move forward in this way.

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, there is no restriction on the budget, and where we need to pay we will pay. We will minimise delays and address the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff with respect to speed and efficiency, removing as much complexity as possible. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the representatives of different estates and tracing additional claimants. Those will be matters that the interim chief executive and interim chair will look at carefully. I envisage through the month of June an exercise to engage meaningfully with representatives of the communities, to look at some of the assumptions in the work of that expert panel, which will inform the regulations that we are duty bound to bring to the House within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill receiving Royal Assent.

Some of the other matters about appropriate memorialisation, criminal charges and duty of candour, on some of which progress is being made in different ways, are probably best left to some of my colleagues at a subsequent point. As I said, I anticipate that we will have an early opportunity to discuss those matters in full, in a debate soon after the Whitsun recess.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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The House will understand that my remarks will be subsidiary to those of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson).

It is 36 years since I was with the first of my friends who I knew had been infected, and 33 years since that person died. Friendships got fractured, and families were changed forever.

One point that I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will put to his fellow Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care regards whether those who are still infected in some way can have a kind of national health service passport, so that when they go to get medical attention they are not asked the same questions that my constituents were asked every time: “How much have you been drinking? Why is your liver the way it is?” and all the rest. It is important that young clinicians understand that when they see haemophilia or a whole blood infection, they can take for granted a lot of things that do not need to be asked. That humanity needs to be spread.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend has built on the work of our right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Jeremy Quin), and perhaps I may say in a cross-party way that Sue Gray deserves respect for when she led civil servants in that, as do her successors in the civil service who are putting things right.

My final point is this: people are not being awarded lottery sums, although in some way they make up for some of the losses and recognise some of the hurt. For some families who may not have been used to having much money around—indeed, most of them are used to having very little money because of the consequences of infection—there may need to be mediation services in case they do not agree. It would be a good idea if Sir Robert, or others, could consider whether such services could be made available, in the same way that other people who have suddenly come into some degree of money can get some kind of help. Families sometimes do not find it easy to decide how money should be shared.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done and for his constructive engagement with me over the past six months, and over many previous years. He made the point about his friend and the stigma that some of the victims have had to endure, which is why injury and social impact are reflected in the heads of loss under the scheme. He also made some observations about how better awareness of some conditions can be taken forward. I will discuss that with ministerial colleagues—several from the Department of Health and Social Care are in their places today.

My hon. Friend mentioned my immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Jeremy Quin), but I am aware that a large number of Paymasters General—including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is sitting alongside me today—have done an enormous amount of work to get us to this point, along with many officials, including James Quinault, who has led the work latterly. I want to acknowledge their contribution; this is not about me.

More broadly, my hon. Friend made some wise observations about the need to ensure that, for the communities who will be given significant sums of money—rightly so, and in line with what they would be entitled to if they went through a legal process—the appropriate framework of support is in place to assist them to receive that money in a way that is not destructive to their lives.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his engagement and for the points he has made today. I was there yesterday for the two hours of Sir Brian Langstaff’s presentation of his report, which was a moving moment for all of those who have suffered and waited for so long.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of the appointment of Sir Robert Francis, which seemed to be welcomed in the Gallery. I recognise that what is absolutely critical for the scheme to be successful is full engagement with the communities and that the explanation of how the scheme has been constructed and any concerns about the wider support that is needed are interrogated fully before the regulations come back to the House. Throughout, the scheme has been about reconciling speed and efficiency with consultation, which is why it has been done in such a way over the past few months.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about hepatitis B and access to schemes. I will be happy to correspond with him separately on that—obviously, there are lots of technical issues. He asked about the £210,000, which he can see is an irregular amount. That is because I was trying to get the maximum amount that could be universally paid, as quickly as I could, to those who are infected and alive without any risk of paying the wrong amount, and that is the amount that I was advised. What is really important is that we get to the examination of entitlements and what that balancing payment is, and get that payment out as quickly as possible. This is not a stalling tactic; it is about trying to reconcile the competing priorities of responsible stewardship of taxpayers’ money and getting payments made as quickly as possible for the most vulnerable in our community.

With regard to memorialisation, on these matters there will need to be wide engagement and I do not want to make binding commitments today. I have said what I have said, and I or another Minister will return to that in due course.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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I thank the Minister for what he said and how he said it. I know that he, the Prime Minister and, in particular, the Chancellor, who is sitting next to him, will make this right. Clearly, the majority of Sir Brian’s recommendations are for the health and social care sector, and the Health and Social Care Committee, which I chair, will play its part, working with the Health Secretary—I see her in her place—and NHS England to ensure that all the recommendations are implemented, unlike with some previous accepted patient safety recommendations. May I ask the Minister about the five loss categories? They make every sense, and I note his two small refinements, but will the financial loss award reflect the reality that many infected blood victims, to give just one example, cannot access life insurance?

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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her observations and for her ongoing engagement since my appointment. I take seriously her point about having no decisions without full engagement. I made a decision, in order to get to this point where we would, in principle, accept the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff and move forward with the independent expert panel. As I have said to her previously, I was always prepared to reveal the names of those individuals, but I did not want them to be distracted while they did urgent work to make progress quickly. Their names will be available shortly—today.

Sir Robert Francis and I had a number of conversations about the interaction between Government and the expert group, and the logic that I used to get to the heads of loss and the scheme today. I am delighted that he is prepared to facilitate engagement with the communities.

I have also been mindful of the principle of the Government managing public money while also recognising Sir Brian’s imperative to set up a body that is at arm’s length from Government, in order to generate some trust with a very vulnerable community. Reconciling those two has not been straightforward. The right hon. Lady asked about the accountability of the arm’s length body. These matters will need to be discussed further with respect to the regulations that we must lay before the House.

A number of my predecessors have done a lot of work on this issue. I am pleased that we have made significant progress, but there is an intense amount of work to be done to deliver this over the next three months. I look forward to working constructively with her, as Sir Robert Francis does, to ensure that we get this to the right place as quickly as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Dame Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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We have heard descriptions of institutional defensiveness today, but we should be clear about what we are talking about: this was a grubby secret kept by the Department of Health. The people who suffered as a consequence were treated as an inconvenience to be managed. It flies in the face of what we are required to do in this House: hold Ministers accountable for what happens in their Departments. We need to learn from this, to improve how we behave and to hold the Executive to account in future. If we do not, this incident will shame us all—not just those directly responsible. We need to properly establish a duty of candour for civil servants in the advice they give to Ministers, and a requirement that Ministers must satisfy themselves that they are giving appropriate challenge and consideration to the advice they receive, so that everyone involved in delivering services in future can be held directly responsible, and this place does not continue to be a charade.