Last week, during a debate on the Infected Blood Inquiry, led by my friend and colleague Dame Diana Johnson, on behalf of constituents I took the opportunity to once again implore the government to get on with delivering on the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report.
Read on to see what I had to say:
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for giving us this opportunity, on a cross-party basis, to have this debate, which is really important—there is much support for this, as we have seen—and for their campaigning work on this issue through the APPG.
As has been apparent from the many debates we have had in this House over the years, the infected blood scandal is a deeply personal issue for constituents of ours. We are all, across this House, saying the same thing today: “Please do not delay, Minister. Please act with urgency lest we continue to compound this massive injustice.” I say that for my constituent Linda Ashcroft, who lost her husband, Bill Dumbelton, at the age of 49, after he contracted HIV and hepatitis C from NHS blood products he was given to treat his haemophilia. Bill lost his job at BT because of his HIV status, and lived his final years under a cruel cloud of uncertainty. His death in 1990 left Linda to deal not only with the emotional trauma of his loss, but with a huge financial burden. Linda tells me that, after 33 years, she is still looking for closure. She asked me to relay this to the Minister: “Please do not leave victims begging for compensation—it’s inhumane”. So please could he hear her?
In the same year that Bill passed away, my constituents the Smiths lost their seven-month-old son Colin to AIDS and hepatitis C. It was a tragic case, which I have repeated often in this place. Colin spent much of his short life fighting illness contracted as a baby from factor VIII blood product, sourced from a prison in Arkansas, with his family having to fight to discover that fact. The indignities that the Smith family suffered beggar belief, from the bullying and abuse of their children to the loss of Mr Smith’s employment. Like other bereaved parents, they were excluded from the interim payments scheme. Bill and Colin should still be with us today, and I pay tribute to Linda and to the Smiths. I do not know how such families have maintained such dignity through all of this, fighting for all these years. I am in absolute awe of them. I imagine how we would have felt if any of this had happened to us personally. The best tribute we can pay after all they have been through is to make sure there are no more delays.
It is right that the Government have accepted the moral case for compensation, and not just for those directly infected, but for those affected. We talk about the contaminated blood scandal in a singular sense, but we are really referring to injustices in the plural: the intertwined tragedies of lives lost and lives ruined.
I know the Paymaster General says that he understands and respects the gravity of the situation. We all appreciate the complexities of the long-term compensation framework for victims and know that requires careful attention, but I also reiterate what everybody else has said this afternoon: time is of the essence, and the continued wait for redress just adds to the layers of pain, frustration and injustice that the infected and affected feel.
After all, this is a group of people who have had more than enough experience of waiting. It has been 40 years since the information on the dangers of the contaminated blood products was published, and 35 years since the Government agreed funding for the Macfarlane Trust to assist haemophiliacs who contracted HIV from contaminated blood products. It has been over 30 years since my constituents lost those they loved most, eight years since the Scotland-only Penrose inquiry, and six years since the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) launched the infected blood inquiry—something for which campaigners had been calling for decades—and next Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of the inquiry officially getting under way.
It has been two years since the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), told the infected blood inquiry that the Government had a “moral responsibility” to address the issues, and a year since Sir Robert Francis produced his study on options for the compensation framework, which was intended to guide the Government in preparation for Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report, but the Government have still not formally responded to that study. We are a now just a few months down the line from Sir Brian’s second inquiry, and I join other Members in urging the Minister to tell us now how advanced the work is and to update the House on whether the Government will respond and accept its recommendations in full, and if so, when.
The Paymaster General has spoken previously about the Government working “at pace” on this. I hope the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) is wrong, but we need those commitments and we need to hear them today. I was very moved by the party and the briefing we received today from the campaign groups, and by hearing the campaigners talk about what is decided about them, calling for “Nothing about us is done without us.” That is still hugely important now.
I also echo fellow Welsh Members’ comments about the remarks by Haemophilia Wales. I would be grateful if the Paymaster General acknowledged for the record that although health is devolved, this issue is not, and that it is related to a scandal that pre-dates devolution and therefore responsibility for compensation rests solely with the UK Government.
Reference has been made to the article in the Daily Mail about one-off interim compensation payments for people who must have died within a strict three-month period last year. Will the Minister respond to that, too?
Ultimately, with all of the matters discussed today, the key issue we keep coming back to is time—time that is fast running out. More than 500 people affected by the scandal are estimated to have died since the inquiry began, in addition to the thousands of people already lost far too soon. There is simply no time to waste in delivering compensation to surviving victims and others affected. I urge the Government again today to end the uncertainty, end the delays, and act swiftly to do what is right. Victims, families and the British public deserve nothing less.