Contaminated Blood and Blood Products

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:14 pm on 24th November 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 12:14 pm, 24th November 2016

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will develop that point in his own speech. Of course, the thalidomide compensation was based on a clear line of accountability as the company admitted responsibility. The situation has not been quite the same in this case, for reasons that we all know, but perhaps I can come on to financial matters in a second. I will now move on from the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, the majority of which I supported wholeheartedly.

It is a matter of some despair that we are here again. I remember those friends who came to the public meetings in the House of Commons a couple of years ago saying they were actually sick of coming here as they had done so so often over the years. I would be grateful if the Minister could relay to the Government—I have not been able to get this point across—that this drip, drip approach over the years is just not working. The Government can find money at various times for some big affairs. If there is a natural disaster, a dramatic crisis or a banking collapse, vast sums suddenly appear. We have not been able to give this issue the same priority, but it cries out for it. That we are here again is proof that these concerns are not going away and cannot be dealt with drip by drip. Somebody has still not grasped the fact that, for the many reasons that I know colleagues will raise, a settlement is of the highest importance.

I will not rehearse the history, because colleagues indulged me when I raised it in Back-Bench debate a couple of years ago, so I will not go into it at such great length again. Neither will I cite the accounts of individuals who have come to us because, frankly, I find it too difficult to read them into the record. I have done that before, but I am not able to do so again. Instead, I want to make a couple of personal points and three comments about where we might go from here.

I campaigned on this issue for many years—in government and in opposition; and when I was a Minister and not a Minister. I was pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned David Cameron, because his response to my contribution at Prime Minister’s questions in October 2013 began the current chain of events and continued the progress made over many years. I was grateful that he met me, a constituent and a dear friend of ours. He seemed to understand where we were going, and more money has come into the scheme, which I appreciate.

In June 2015, I was re-invited by the then Prime Minister to join the Government in the Department of Health, at which point I went quiet on campaigning as far as the public were concerned. I know that some people misinterpreted that. My position in the Department of Health was not conditional on the fact that I had been involved with contaminated blood, and neither was my positon in the Foreign Office or my decision to leave the Department of Health of my own accord earlier this year. However, the ministerial convention is clear: Ministers say only what the Government’s position is. We cannot have two colleagues firing away on the same issues, so I did indeed go quiet publicly for a period. Inside the Department, I made my representations to the then responsible Minister, and I want to put on record my appreciation for what my hon. Friend Jane Ellison sought to do with the scheme. She worked extremely hard, saw a lot of people and tried to do her best.

I think that I made a mistake when the original proposals that the current scheme is based on came forward in January this year. I sat beside my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and while I understood the general thrust, I had not fully grasped the detail, which became clear only in the consultation. My mistake was to think at that time that we had solved the problem—we clearly had not. I got that wrong, but I hope that I have tried to contribute to the debate since, both inside and now outside the Department, as we try to deal with the present proposals. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, they move us on from where we were, but we are not yet there, so perhaps I could say a couple of things about where I think we might go.

First, we got the issue of discretionary payments wrong in the original proposals. A number of discretionary payments have effectively become fixed and people have become dependent on them. That should have been known to the Department, but clearly it was not known in enough detail, which has accordingly led to uncertainty and to people feeling that they might not be financially compensated to the extent that they are at present. That cannot be the case, and I am certainly not prepared to support anything that will make my constituents worse off than they are at present. That was not the intention, so we must make sure that those discretionary payments are included in the new scheme.