Access to Redress Schemes

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 pm on 18 April 2024.

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[Relevant documents: Correspondence from the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General, on Government compensation and financial redress schemes, reported to the House on 29 January 2024.]

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 12:19, 18 April 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
recognises the challenges faced by individuals and businesses in accessing effective dispute resolution and obtaining redress in cases of injustice;
believes that the Government needs to address these specific challenges, namely a fragmented and inconsistent redress landscape;
considers statutory guidance to be an essential measure to ensure compensation and redress schemes follow common principles and lead to fair and independent outcomes;
and calls on the Government to create statutory guidance with common principles for setting up and operating a redress scheme.

It is my honour to move the motion that stands in my name and that of Mr Wragg. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. I also thank the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, for her recent correspondence with the Comptroller and Auditor General, calling on public bodies to have redress schemes that are effective, timely, proportionate and fair.

Samuel Beckett famously wrote:

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

What if we learned nothing from our previous failure? What if we simply failed, failed again and approached the failure as in the past, only to fail a bit differently and with many of the same mistakes as before? That is the situation we face with compensation and redress following scandals.

I imagine that every Member of this House will have received correspondence from a constituent who has been failed and treated unfairly in the wake of a scandal. Rather than being able to access swift and fair redress, they have instead been subjected to further hardship, delays and unfair treatment. Sometimes that mistreatment can be as devastating as the pain caused initially by the scandal. There has rightly been significant attention nationally in recent months on the Post Office Horizon scandal, and in particular on the various schemes set up to provide redress to the victims of what was the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

A sub-postmaster of a post office in my constituency was one of the hundreds wrongful convicted. Janine Powell was wrongfully accused of stealing £74,000 from her post office branch in Tiverton. She was subsequently sacked and arrested, before being convicted at a trial in Exeter in 2008. She described feeling “confused; dismayed; numb”. That is because Ms Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison, serving five months. She was sent to prison just two days after her daughter’s 10th birthday. She said that the hardest part of her wrongful imprisonment was leaving her children. She said:

“I’ve missed out on doing things with them—I can’t get that back.”

No amount of money could ever make up for what happened to Ms Powell, but compensation can at least try to make up for some of the loss they faced. Sadly, the various Post Office compensation schemes that have existed have failed to provide swift and fair redress, as I know from another constituent case that I am dealing with.

According to the law firm Howe and Co, which represents 150 sub-postmasters, the compensation scheme

“continues to be exceptionally slow…and refuses to entertain applications from persons who are plainly entitled to apply”.

This afternoon, I hope to outline that the Post Office case is but one example of a wider problem. No guidance exists on when and how compensation schemes should be established or what an overseeing body should look like. That means that each scheme has its own unique and dysfunctional set of rules. Reinventing the wheel each time a scandal emerges means that victims are failed by the very system that is meant to right the wrongs of the past.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. and gallant Member is making an important point about how we seem to have unique circumstances in trying to overcome some of these issues. For example, the sodium valproate issue was raised through Baroness Cumberlege’s “First Do No Harm” report. As with the infected blood scandal and the Horizon scandal, it has been outlined time after time that redress should be forthcoming. However, the Government again seem to be dragging their feet. Why does he think that would be?

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Member is exactly right to draw a thread between several of these scandals. That is partly because when a new scandal emerges, the organisation responsible is often the organisation charged with redress. Andrew Bailey, while chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, said in 2017 that

“it just does not seem to be sensible that, every time one of these things happens, we have to set up something new.”

Beyond the Post Office schemes, we have heard criticism both here and in the press on the infected blood inquiry, as the hon. Member mentioned, and Windrush. That criticism has pointed to intolerable delays or the problematic features that often let the offending firm or institution off the hook.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I am interested to develop my hon. Friend’s thought about the Financial Conduct Authority. If I am able, I will speak at greater length about it later in the debate. It administers the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which is a fund set up by levies on financial services companies themselves. It is the maladministration of the FCA or a lack of proper regulation that often leads to these claims being brought. Essentially, the people paying for the scheme have to do so because of the incompetence of the FCA.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. The FCA is not directly accountable to Parliament, but is accountable to Parliament through the Treasury. I, too, have had constituents finding themselves in a David and Goliath scenario, trying to tackle issues of unfairness with the FCA.

Likewise, in finance, we have seen the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products and widespread financial misconduct against small and medium-sized enterprises by the Royal Bank of Scotland, for example. Last year, the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking conducted the first systematic review of compensation schemes in the UK and found flaws common to several of them. Schemes are frequently blighted by unnecessary complexity, delays and a huge emotional and legal burden on victims. Often schemes are shrouded in secrecy and lack proper independence.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech carefully, and he is making some excellent points. Will he join me in deploring the methods by which organisations avoid their responsibilities to many of our constituents? For example, the business of my constituent George Dosoo, LD Partnership, took on a loan from RBS, now NatWest. In 2012, he discovered that a sum of £150,000 was removed without authority from the partnership account. Despite George obtaining recent legal opinion indicating that his case has merit, NatWest maintains that the case is time-barred and will not reopen it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that time-barring is another device that is far too often used by businesses and institutions to deliberately undermine our constituents’ ability to obtain recourse?

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Member is right about time-barring. I have a similar case with a constituent of mine, which might chime with hers. Nigel Cairns is trapped in what he describes as a

“complete nightmare scenario, with no way of escape” after egregious misconduct by a bank. In 2007, Nigel took out a loan of £350,000 from HSBC. He had his house demolished in readiness to rebuild. In preparation for the work, the bank declared the termination and return of the loan. That was in 2007, when the financial crisis was very much with us. The bank subsequently agreed to reinstate the loan, but altered some of the terms and conditions so that the interest rate became double what Nigel had originally agreed to. After 10 years of repayments, the bank declared that unless he could sell the property or repay the loan, it would have to foreclose on him. The Financial Ombudsman Service refused to look into the matter initially and subsequently Mr Cairns received only £1,500 for the stress and anxiety of the case.

The APPG’s review, looking across 12 compensation schemes, found that over the past 20 years, the number of people affected amounted to a little over 78,000 people. When we consider some of the harrowing cases we are describing today, that number is thankfully quite small, but it says to us that it is a small enough number that these people could have timely redress and compensation, if only we had a body that could sort it out. That brings me on to another example: infected blood. During business questions this morning, Dame Diana Johnson, as she always does on a Thursday, drove home on behalf of her constituents the need to compensate promptly those people affected by the infected blood scandal. In the last 24 hours, we have heard of a proposed Government amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill to try to bring about compensation. I completely agree with the right hon. Member that by not setting a deadline for that compensation, we allow this issue to run and run. In the other place, the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Brinton sought to take that up with the Government, and proposed an amendment that was much more vigorous in setting a timeframe for compensation, but the Government chose not to adopt it.

I have a constituent whose friend who has been affected by the infected blood scandal. Some of the tales that she has passed on are really harrowing. Her friend said:

“In my 20s I was planning my funeral and feeling like I was contaminated and filthy. I met and married someone prepared to date a woman with poisoned blood.”

She speaks of how it caused a

“host of long-term devastating side effects”.

She continued:

“I lost my career as an IT consultant, it made me infertile so I have been unable to have a family, and we had we had to stop IVF and surrogacy attempts because I became too ill to be a parent. I’ve had brain, body, psychological and emotional impacts from this virus. And then decades of exhausted fighting for an evasive and oft-denied justice, which caused its own damage, including most recently the end of my marriage.”

Such people deserve to be compensated promptly. They do not need the stress and worry of a scheme that always seems to roll out into the future, and of having to fight at every turn.

Mass redress schemes are set up on an ad hoc basis. They are voluntary, and established to tackle a specific scandal, following failure of a given organisation’s internal complaints procedures. How do we ensure that the victims of our largest and most damaging scandals, and any unfortunate future victims, are protected from unfair treatment and appropriately compensated? We need the framework for redress to be improved to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again. This debate is a call to action for Ministers. The Government must establish a clear framework based on best practice.

The HBOS Reading compensation scheme is another example. In 2017, after 15 years, six individuals were sentenced to a cumulative 47 years in prison for their role in a fraud that left its victims, in the words of the sentencing judge, “cheated, defeated and penniless”. Eight years on, we have had more than two years of the discredited Griggs review, and a further two years reviewing the review and coming up with new recommendations. We are now in the fourth year of the Foskett panel. We would think that by now that we would have got it right, but all the perpetrators of the crime are out of prison, the victims have yet to be compensated, and serious questions remain about the panel.

There is a set of underlying principles that would establish a common-sense bedrock for any compensation scheme and how it should be built.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

On the composition of the Foskett panel and the huge delays in the compensation due to those defrauded in the HBOS scandal, there have been allegations that Lloyds bank had a big part in deciding who was appointed to the panel. Would that not explain the delays, and why people are not being paid the compensation that they believe they deserve?

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Member is right that in redress schemes, the perpetrator of the injustice is often charged with trying to put it right. Of course, the perpetrator has a vested interest—indeed, it is not even vested; it is just an interest—in trying to pay out as little as possible, and in accepting as little culpability as it can.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Does the hon. Member agree that many victims are annoyed by the way that these schemes become a feeding frenzy for lawyers, who in many cases are the only people who ultimately benefit? What really sticks in the throat of many victims is that many lawyers may be getting more out of the schemes than the individuals affected.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his intervention. Probably nobody in this place knows more about the Horizon compensation schemes than he does. Lee Castleton, one of the sub-postmasters affected by the scandal, said that during the past 25 years,

“£135 million has been paid to some of the victims, but we’ve had £150 million plus paid to lawyers.”

We need a set of underlying principles. We need: a collaborative approach and process; timeliness; independence; recognition of adversity; transparency; broader eligibility; greater accessibility and legal costs; a clear appeals mechanism; and, finally, fairness and efficiency.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. and gallant Member is kind in giving way. Moving back to the sodium valproate scandal, we keep saying that justice delayed is justice denied, but in that case, it is not only children but grandchildren who are impacted, because it looks as though the effects of sodium valproate disorder are being passed on to grandchildren as well. Schemes need to be not only fair but pragmatic, so that once compensation is delivered, they can still be open to claims. I say that thinking of the further after-effects of one of the biggest scandals in the health service since thalidomide.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Member is exactly right about how younger generations can be affected. We have recently seen attempts by some Horizon victims, and indeed children of victims, to seek compensation. The tragedy of his point about justice delayed being justice denied is that older victims of these scandals are dying before they see that justice, and before enjoying any of the compensation that they deserved.

I set out nine underlying principles that would establish a common-sense bedrock for a compensation scheme. To deliver those principles for fair redress and to guarantee independent oversight, we need an arm’s length body to design and adjudicate the schemes. The existing voluntary mechanisms for redress are far too fragmented. We need a standing, independent body that can provide consistency for victims of scandals—no matter the sector—which can be activated whenever a new scandal emerges. It should be constituted of experts, so that it guarantees independence of judgment, and should be accountable directly to Parliament for the expenditure of any public funds and for its overall conduct. Critically, victims must also have representation on the panels.

The structure would come at no extra cost to the taxpayer, as the current compensation framework often proves lengthy and costly for both victim and taxpayer. Taken together, the nine UK redress schemes—whether active or completed—studied by the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking have cost at least £3.7 billion. That figure covers not only the amount of compensation that has gone to victims, but, as we have discussed, the fees to solicitors, accountants and firms that have engaged to undertake reviews—and indeed firms that are reviewing reviews. More often than not, victims are left feeling cheated. They eventually cling on to some sort of late, inadequate consolation of redress and compensation. In the case of the Post Office, many of the 555 sub-postmasters who were exposed to the scandal have still received little compensation, because most of the money was swallowed up.

We need lessons to be learned from the array of scandals that I have set out. I am curious to hear what the Minister has to say about the proposal for an arm’s length body to deal with situations of the kind that I and right hon. and hon. Members have described.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 12:39, 18 April 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Richard Foord, and I am grateful to him for introducing this important subject. I am sorry that it has not attracted more attention from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

How often have we said, “There is nothing new under sun”? I will start my remarks by referring to August 1975. Tanya Price had a whooping cough vaccine at the age of six months. Shortly after, she developed convulsions, and 18 months later, she was described as a “motionless and expressionless being” in a debate in this House by her MP, the late Robert Adley, who was my predecessor but one as MP for Christchurch, although at that time the constituency was Christchurch and Lymington. Robert Adley worked tirelessly for months to try to obtain redress from the health service for Tanya’s injuries, which were caused by the whooping cough vaccine.

That was 48 years ago, under a Labour Government, but little has changed in the Government’s institutional reluctance to admit to medical failures and institute redress schemes. Robert Adley described fighting Tanya’s battle as fighting the NHS, which he described as being like

“sparring with a giant octopus.”

That was all those years ago, but I do not see that the situation has changed. In his Adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 22 March 1977, Robert Adley said:

“This fight has been going on for a long time. Certainly in the last four years a group of parents have sought to get what they see as justice for their children but they have had precious little satisfaction. The battle is in many ways a repetition of the thalidomide debate…The result is decaying confidence in all the immunisation programmes. It represents a flirtation with tragedy, particularly when most of the other vaccines appear to be safe, harmless and have little or no disadvantageous side effects.”

He rightly severely criticised

“the position adopted by the Secretary of State in his refusal to consider compensation, and until…recently, his refusal…at least…to discuss the problem openly”.—[Official Report, 22 March 1977;
Vol. 928, c. 1244.]

It would be wonderful to say that things have moved on. One of the consequences of the thalidomide scandal was the setting up of the royal commission headed by Lord Pearson, which took some five years to report, eventually doing so in 1978. It was set up following the Robens Committee on Safety and Health at Work, and in the light of concern about thalidomide. When the Pearson report was published, it was welcomed by the then Prime Minister as a comprehensive review. It was designed to remove unnecessary litigation, time delays and all the rest when getting redress for people who had suffered medical injuries induced by vaccines or other drugs. Paragraph 1,398—it was a long report—recommended the following:

“We concluded that there is a special case for paying compensation for vaccine damage where vaccination is recommended by a public authority and is undertaken to protect the community. We had reached this conclusion when we were asked by the Government for our views.”

The Pearson Committee also recommended strict liability for vaccine damage.

Sadly, those recommendations were not implemented, although we did get the vaccine damage payments legislation of 1979. I have been campaigning to get that legislation brought up to date, so that it is relevant to the circumstances of all those who have suffered loss and damage as a result of doing the right thing and taking their covid-19 vaccine. It has been an uphill struggle. The most recent information I have is that there are so many applications under the vaccine damage payment scheme that the Government cannot cope. In three years, only 163 out of more than 9,000 claims have been successful—those were the figures as at 31 January. Of those claims, 4,000 were still awaiting a resolution; 2,000 have been outstanding for more than six months, and some for more than 18 months. That is directly damaging to all those people who are thinking of engaging in civil claims, which the Government keep advising victims to do.

Making a civil claim against a large multinational pharmaceutical company—or the Government, for that matter—is an expensive business. I have a constituent whose father has the £120,000 compensation, but for whom that is wholly inadequate because of the severity and longevity of the injuries and disabilities that he sustained as a result of the vaccine. He is finding it nigh on impossible to get access to justice, because solicitors will not take up his calls. Even starting an action will cost tens of thousands of pounds. That is an intolerable situation, and one which, all those years ago, Lord Pearson was trying to avoid.

The Government’s feeble response is, “If you think you’ve been injured by a vaccine, go and seek compensation through the courts.” It does not work quite like that, as sadly has been seen by all those people whose cases it has already been established were caused by vaccines. One would think that if the vaccine damage payment scheme has established that an individual’s damage was caused by the vaccine, as night follows day, the Government would concede liability in a civil action. Far from it; they insist that individuals must fight the case before the courts.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

It is about power, is it not? As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the individual does not have the financial means or expertise to take forward those cases against either a corporation or a Government. In the Post Office scandal, the Post Office spent £100 million of our public money defending a case that they knew they would not win, because they were trying to stop the truth coming out and to bankrupt and stop the individuals from concluding the case.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That is right. These are deep-seated institutional failures. This is not a party political issue, but one that affects everyone in this country. This House is unable to persuade Governments and the officials serving them to get real about what many people are suffering as a result of the delays. It seems as though the Government’s policy, perhaps led by the Treasury, is always to postpone the inevitable. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton referred to the contaminated blood scandal. I find it unacceptable that those people whose cases have been established as deserving proper compensation are still waiting. There are similar cases in the Post Office scandal, as Mr Jones said, and in the sodium valproate case, which has given rise to huge reports, which I hope briefly to come to later.

Going back to the issue with which I am primarily concerned, because I chair the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage, there are now getting on for 10,000 claims under the scheme. Almost half are yet to be dealt with, so people are waiting for their claims to be resolved. Under the system that operates, if their claim is rejected by the independent panel, they have the right to have their case reviewed. That process itself generates further delays, sometimes in excess of a year. Meanwhile, there is a three-year limitation on being able to bring civil actions from the time the cause of the civil action arose.

I raised this issue with the Prime Minister in a private meeting and at Prime Minister’s questions a few weeks ago. I am pleased to say that, following that, I have a meeting set up with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care next week. But I will not hold my breath, because I just do not see any willingness on the part of officialdom, even if there was willingness on the part of Ministers, to address these outrageous injustices. It goes to the heart of trust in public service and in Government if people cannot trust the Government to do the right thing. If they take the vaccine and it turns out to have been very bad for their health, the deal should be—it always used to be—that the Government look after them and see them right, but that is not what is happening. Instead, those people are being put through the ringer, and enormous amounts of bureaucracy and time are being wasted, and to very little effect—except that the Treasury can probably say, “Well, we can’t actually guarantee that we will have to spend this amount of money now.”

Years ago, when I was a shadow Treasury Minister, I looked at the issues arising from the Equitable Life scandal. That was a failure by the Treasury’s own team of regulators to protect investors in pension schemes under Equitable Life. At one stage they were thought to be as good as investing in the Consolidated Fund. You may remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, that everybody was joining in having Equitable Life pensions. Well, the regulator was asleep on the job. The ombudsman found that that was the situation and ordered compensation. The Government refused compensation and said that they would make ex-gratia payments. As is the case today, we know that much of the money that was eventually set aside has not yet been delivered to the victims of the Equitable Life scandal, and that the Treasury is refusing to distribute the money, saying “Well, that is basically a win for the Treasury.” Is it surprising that confidence in our institutions and in government—with a small “g”—is rapidly diminishing?

Today’s debate is of fundamental importance. I hope that the Cabinet Minister, when he responds, will come up with some specific proposals on what will be done in relation to all the individual cases that will be referred to in this debate, as well as dealing with the deep-seated institutional problems to which I have referred. The Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend Esther McVey, with whom I have previously raised this matter in Cabinet Office questions, and who at one stage I thought would respond to this debate, is charged with ensuring that we address the issue of the time bar on covid-19 vaccine damage claims. I would be very grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister if, when he responds to the debate, he can give us some positive news on that point, even if not on many others.

The covid vaccine damage payment scheme is not a strict liability scheme, and it is not even a compensation scheme, but it is better than nothing. Why is it, however, that the £120,000 maximum payment under the scheme has not been updated since 2007? It would now be about £200,000 if updated. Why are we updating everything else in line with inflation, but not the vaccine damage payment scheme for people for whom taking a vaccine was disastrous? Again, we cannot get any answers out of the Treasury or the Government. Sometimes there are expressions of sympathy, but they are not much use. What we want is action. What justification can there be for eroding the value of vaccine damage payments to the extent that I have referred to?

The Cumberlege report, “Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review”, was set up in 2018 in response to concerns about the Primodos hormone pregnancy test, the use of sodium valproate in pregnancy and vaginal mesh. The review, which was led by Baroness Cumberlege, published its report in July 2020. It made a number of serious and compelling recommendations, including the establishment of an independent redress agency. If the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who introduced the debate, thinks that the Government are going to respond positively to the suggestions he put forward, I just ask him to look at the record. That was an ex-Conservative Health Minister making a clear recommendation, on page 11, to set up an independent redress agency:

“A new independent Redress Agency for those harmed by medicines and medical devices should be created based on models operating effectively in other countries. The Redress Agency will administer decisions using a non-adversarial process with determinations based on avoidable harm looking at systemic failings, rather than blaming individuals.”

How long did it take for the Government to respond to that report? They published their response not in 2020 but in July 2021, exactly one year later, which fits the pattern we are discussing. It took them a year to respond to the report and they cursorily rejected its recommendation for a new redress agency, stating:

“We do not accept this recommendation. We do not believe that a redress agency would make products safer and support our commitment to patient safety. We also believe it is already possible for government and others to provide redress where this is considered necessary, the government therefore has no plans to establish an independent redress agency.”

It took the Government a year to prepare that wording and explanation. All one can do, really, is despair. There is an opportunity today for the Minister to say, “Well, that was all under a previous Government. Now we have a new Government and they will accept all the recommendations of the Cumberlege report.”

The Cumberlege report also recommended that discretionary schemes should be established for sodium valproate, hormone pregnancy tests and pelvic mesh. That would

“provide discretionary payments for the costs of additional needs” caused by the harms associated with those products. The Government response also rejected that recommendation, noting:

“Patients have the right to take healthcare providers to court for clinical negligence, or manufacturers to court for product liability.”

It further explains on page 23:

“While the government is sympathetic to the experiences of those patients who gave evidence to the report, our primary focus is on improving future medicines and medical devices safety. It is therefore crucial that we focus government funds on initiatives that directly improve future safety (including specialist mesh centres and support for families affected by medicines in pregnancy). For this reason, redress schemes will not be established in response to recommendation 4.”

That was the situation in relation to the hapless individuals who were at the wrong end of that particular NHS procedure. More recently, and before we have got as far as any inquiries into it, we have been faced with the prospect of having to deal with the scandal of all those young people who are living with the consequences of being given puberty blockers at the behest, if not the recommendation, of the NHS. When Sir Chris Whitty was asked about that on the radio earlier this week, he seemed totally unapologetic, almost to the point of diffidence, although he was insistent that we should do something about people who were engaging in smoking tobacco or vapes. So another compensation issue will arise in relation to all those people who were persuaded by the NHS to do the wrong thing.

One recommendation that did come out of the Cumberlege review was for the establishment of—this sounded really great—a patient safety commissioner for England. When, in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage, I approached Dr Hughes and asked whether she would take up the case of the victims of covid-19 vaccines, she was very sympathetic, but said—and this comes back to the issue of the culture—that she had only the equivalent of one man and a dog in her department. She was being starved of the resources that would enable her to fulfil the remit that she had been given by the Government, which, again, was absolutely intolerable. She explained that she did not have time to deal with the vaccine damage issue because, perfectly reasonably, she was concentrating on sodium valproate and pelvic mesh. On 7 February this year she published her report setting out further recommendations for redress in relation to those matters, including a recommendation for the creation of an independent redress scheme to provide both financial and non-financial redress. The Government have not yet responded to that report; perhaps the Minister will respond to it today. In February, in response to a parliamentary question, the Health Minister responsible said:

“The Government is now carefully considering the… recommendations, and will respond substantively in due course.”

That is just not good enough, especially as the Government seem to be relying on some very feeble initiatives to which they have drawn attention.

There is now—this is exciting news, Madam Deputy Speaker—a new risk acknowledgment form to be completed by those for whom valproate is prescribed. There is also a “claims gateway” on the NHS Resolution website for those wishing to embark on clinical negligence claims. The Hughes report criticises these arrangements, and criticises the “claims gateway” description because there is no new legal framework to enable people to engage in litigation and no guarantee of help with legal aid. We hear that a child who challenged the decision by a north London comprehensive in relation to the wearing of religious symbols received legal aid money amounting to £150,000. How was that possible, when people who want redress because they have been done down by the national health service do not get anything at all?

In the foreword to her report, Dr Hughes says

“the case for redress had already been made by the First Do No Harm review so my report would primarily focus on ‘how’ to provide redress rather than ‘why’.”

I hope that, in his response today, the Minister will accept that the Government should now focus on how to provide redress rather than why redress is needed. In her foreword, Dr Hughes also says:

“All those we spoke to have approached this process with openness and goodwill despite the considerable challenges they face. As time progresses, these challenges intensify and, understandably, there is now a growing sense of frustration and anger among patients. Confidence in the government to do the right thing is eroding.

Over the years, while these patients have been suffering, I have seen other healthcare scandals in this country rightly receive recognition and redress, from thalidomide to vCJD and, most recently, the infected blood scandal. Fairness demands that those harmed by valproate and pelvic mesh receive the recognition and redress to meet their needs.”

If the Government agree with that, why do they not say so now? Why are they continuing to kick the can down the road and deny people access to the compensation that they rightfully deserve?

I have spoken for longer than I expected, Madam Deputy Speaker, but, as I have said, there is a long history to this. I hope it will not be another 48 years before another Member of Parliament for Christchurch stands up and says, “48 years ago, a former Member for Christchurch was arguing this very point in the House.” Let us learn from history. Let us not be complacent; let us get angry for action.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 1:07, 18 April 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Christopher Chope. I learnt about many different redress schemes, many of which I had not even considered, so he has done the House a service this afternoon. I also congratulate Richard Foord: it is a real pleasure to be able to speak in such an important debate, and I thank him for introducing it.

When injustice has occurred, and particularly in cases of widespread injustice, it is imperative that those who are wronged are provided with meaningful avenues of recourse. Proper justice cannot be achieved until victims receive the redress to which they are entitled, but as we have heard this afternoon, time and again that simply does not happen. What we often see is an excessively bureaucratic process administered by the party at fault, moving at a snail’s pace while the victims’ redress is minimised and they continue to suffer. Indeed, someone said to me just today, “The folk in suits and boardrooms always seem to benefit from the misery and hardship of others, while the actual victims are last in the queue for redress.”

Mr Jones referred earlier to the number of lawyers who had benefited from the scandal involving Post Office Ltd while the victims themselves had not received proper compensation. We are all painfully aware of the well-documented issues that have plagued various compensatory schemes in the United Kingdom. Others have already mentioned the Windrush, infected blood, vaccinations and, of course, the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history, the Post Office Horizon scandal. Without proper redress, justice is denied for victims, who cannot find closure for what is often a deeply traumatic chapter of their lives.

Through my work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on post offices, I am sadly all too familiar with the suffering of Horizon victims, who have shouldered the burden and have had to fight tooth and nail to get the financial redress they are entitled to. Despite everything, they are still being subjected to humiliating and derisory offers. Even Alan Bates, who valiantly led the campaign for justice for sub-postmasters, and took on the Post Office and won, recently spoke of the pitiful offer of redress he received. He highlighted to the Business and Trade Committee the perennial delay and the deadlines missed by the Post Office and the Government, who are administering the three compensation schemes. Similarly, campaigner Christopher Head, the youngest horizon victim, told me that the offer he received was just a tiny fraction of what he and Government-appointed forensic accountants had estimated he was entitled to.

I regularly meet sub-postmaster victims in Motherwell and Wishaw, and to see the effect on individuals at first hand is truly awful. Despite my repeatedly advising them to apply to the Horizon shortfall scheme because many of them were not prosecuted, they want nothing to do with any of the schemes, because they feel traumatised by what they have already gone through and the thought of dealing directly with Post Office Ltd again causes them great hurt.

The application forms for the redress schemes for Horizon are legally complex. Even Dan Neidle, a legal expert, has said that he would require legal advice when filling them out, and the amount of money given by Post Office Ltd to victims is derisory and token. As has already been said, however, lawyers are making millions of pounds from the misery of others. In addition, Post Office Ltd did not make it clear on the forms that applicants could claim for damage to their reputation, meaning that many folk have already settled for far less than they should have. Further, there is the absence of an option to claim punitive damages, which Mr Neidle says a lawyer would spot immediately but a layperson would not, and it is really difficult to come back on this.

Shockingly, Post Office Ltd has continued to attempt to suppress the truth by warning sub-postmasters who received an offer under the HSS that they could not legally mention compensation terms to anyone, including other applicants, the press, their family or their friends. That was totally inaccurate and highlights the need for an independent adjudicator to provide oversight. The Minister has said on the Floor of the House that no one will be pursued for speaking about Horizon compensation, but that does not help someone who is already traumatised. It took one of my constituents about 10 years to admit that he had been paying into his post office and had taken out another mortgage to try to cover the costs. It is ridiculous that, on top of everything else, people were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

An applicant to the HSS has described the process of trying to get fair redress as “soul-destroying”. We have already heard that Lee Castleton has shown that lawyers are making more money than the victims of Horizon. If any good has come out of the Horizon IT scandal, it is that the affair has demonstrated the need for statutory guidance and for an independent oversight body to administer compensation schemes, as has been called for already today. For that reason, I support the motion. The Government must create statutory guidance, with clear principles for operating a redress scheme. It will save victims of future scandals—there will be future scandals—from the additional pain and suffering that Horizon, infected blood, Windrush and vaccination victims have had to endure.

I am hopeful about yesterday’s announcement of Government amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill that would establish an arm’s length body to administer the infected blood compensation scheme, regulations around payment, application procedures and appeals. I sincerely hope that the Government are finally learning from the failure of redress schemes in the past.

Last month, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report on Women Against State Pension Inequality found that thousands of women born in the 1950s are entitled to compensation. That could and should lead to the payment en masse of financial redress to the WASPI women, who have campaigned tirelessly for years. My hon. Friend Patricia Gibson has secured an important debate on redress for the WASPI women. It is essential that any compensation scheme that is set up to remedy this injustice is administered fairly, independently, transparently and efficiently. If lessons are not learned from the failures of redress schemes such as the one for Horizon victims, proper justice will not be achieved and thousands of victims will have been failed by the UK Government again.

I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch that it is really difficult to understand why more MPs are not here to stand up for their constituents, regardless of whatever scandal they have been involved in and whatever compensation scheme to which they are looking for redress. I hope the Minister is listening carefully, and I hope to hear a good response later on.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 1:16, 18 April 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Marion Fellows, who has done fantastic work in this area; on occasion, we have been joined at the hip in our approach to the Post Office. I thank Richard Foord for opening the debate, which is very timely. I agree with Sir Christopher Chope that it is disappointing that there are not more Members here. Like him, I remember when Thursdays were full days, but now they seem to be optional extras for Members of Parliament—that is showing both my age and his. I declare an interest as a member of the Horizon compensation advisory board.

I congratulate the APPG on producing the report, which identifies the unbalanced power relationship when the citizen comes up against the mighty state or corporate world. We have compensation schemes when things go wrong, but to get to the truth in the first place usually takes a number of years—the Post Office Horizon scandal is a good example—so the victims have already fought to try to reach that point. In many cases, the victims—certainly those of the Post Office scandal, and others too—want compensation, but most of those I speak to also want the truth and an acknowledgment that they have been damaged, through no fault of their own, in the case of the Horizon scandal by the Post Office, and in the case of some of the banking scandals by the disgraceful activities and greed of corporations.

As I say, it is regrettable that in most cases the victims spend years trying to get redress. When there is public acknowledgment that something has gone wrong, they are usually at the back of the queue and forgotten about when compensation schemes are produced, which is one of the issues that the APPG report highlights. When we are designing compensation or redress schemes, we should put the victims at the centre. They are mainly over-bureaucratic and complicated, not just for the victims but for those trying to administer them, who in many cases are trying to do a good job but get bogged down in the detail, even when we try to take the lawyers out of the process.

One of the hurtful things for many individuals is that legal costs usually take up more of the financial pot than what goes to the victims. I will talk a little later about the Horizon compensation scheme, but the postal services Minister, Kevin Hollinrake, is trying to cut through that knot by having single pots with fixed sums. That would not only make it easier for victims to understand the scheme, but cut the duration and expense of legal proceedings, both for the victim and for the Government. The Minister has been criticised by some parties for doing that, but I think it is a good step forward.

However, even when we get schemes that we think should be easy to administer, we get the greed of certain lawyers. As the hon. Member for Christchurch did, I am going to give a historical example: the mineworkers’ compensation scheme. In the end, I think that scheme paid out over £3 billion for victims of vibration white finger and coal dust. It should have been quite simple to administer, because it had basically a chart with the number of years that someone had worked and the effect, in terms of the amount of damage that had been done, but we saw a feeding frenzy of lawyers, who, not content that they were getting their legal costs paid by the Government, preyed upon the victims to deduct money from their compensation. People might think that I am a bit of an anorak on this subject, but that was one of my earlier campaigns: Lord Mann, who was the hon. Member for Bassetlaw at the time, and I exposed the greed of not only the lawyers but, sadly, some trade unions—in my case, the Durham area of the National Union of Mineworkers.

These schemes should be quite simple to operate, but every time we have a scandal we go back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel. That, I think, is the problem. I am not sure that we could design a scheme that could cover every single instance, but we could certainly have some foundations on which to build. I have seen this at first hand on the advisory board. I give credit to the civil servants in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who are trying to administer the scheme, but they have gone back to square one. In the early days of the advisory board, I was actually referring back to the mineworkers’ compensation scheme as a way of trying to simplify the system. I think that we need from the Government, in response to this report, some work to look at getting in place a bare framework for compensation schemes that could be adopted when we get these types of scandals.

I understand that in all this there are worries about the financial implications, and I sympathise with the Minister, because he has the Treasury hovering in the background. However, if we get to a situation where we are paying out more in legal fees than to victims, surely it would be simpler to cut out the middleman and pay the money directly to the victims. That framework, which I think the APPG refers to, needs to be put in place as a matter of urgency.

There is another thing that always strikes me, which I have seen in the Post Office scandal. Frankly, I do not blame the victims. Do they trust the Post Office one iota? No, they do not. Would I, if I had been through what they have been through? No, I would not. It seems that, every time, it is the people who were involved in the system who determine not only how the scheme is designed, but how it is administered. I find that appalling. That is not just the case with the Post Office scandal; it was true of some of the banking scandals too. That has to change. We cannot have the people who created the problem trying to administer the redress scheme, because then victims do not trust what is going on.

I will come to the historical shortfall scheme for the Post Office scandal in a minute, but my feeling, looking at how it has been administered by the Post Office, is that it was designed in the early days to try to reduce the amount of compensation so that the Post Office did not have to go to the Treasury to fill the gap. That is the complexity that we have generated. We have a fragmented and inconsistent system, which leads to a waste of money and frustration for the victims, and slows things down.

I want to touch on a couple of schemes. I will start with the Post Office Horizon compensation schemes, which I know more about than some of the others. We have three separate schemes. I and my fellow members of the advisory board asked, “Why would we start here?” We all agreed that we would not want to, but we all felt that we could not unpick it and have one scheme, because it had already been put in place.

We started off with the historical shortfall scheme, which was designed by the Post Office to try to get redress for some of the cases that came forward, but there were serious issues. The first was with disclosure of evidence by the Post Office. I do not mind putting it on record that on occasion I thought, “Has it been lost or are they just frustrating the system?” I think that it in some cases it was just frustrating the system. The second issue was that the Post Office was administering the scheme. Many individuals were asked to make applications without any legal advice at all and, lo and behold, the advisory board—to be fair to the Minister, he has taken on board our recommendations—now has to look at some of those cases again because of the way the scheme was administered. Right from the start, it was not fit for purpose.

We then have the group litigation order scheme—the famous 555 including Alan Bates, who took the Post Office to court and secured the landmark 2019 judgment. That is a completely separate scheme from the HSS. The GLO scheme was initially resisted. At first, the Government’s line was that the postmasters had settled the case in the High Court—basically because they were outgunned by the Government and the Post Office, who used a tsunami of public cash to spend £100 million on lawyers, but it is now coming out of the inquiry that they never had a case to defend. They were trying to defend the indefensible. Just think: £100 million spent on lawyers. We could have paid the victims out of that. We could have covered at least part of one of the schemes through that alone. We understand victims’ anger when they see that happening.

We then have the overturned convictions scheme, which came out of the 104 or 105 individuals who have already been through the Court of Appeal and had their convictions overturned. That will be the redress mechanism for all the other victims who will have their convictions quashed when the legislation passes Parliament. That, again, will be a different scheme from the others. Very early on, the postal affairs Minister introduced the £600,000 one-off payment to people, and he has now introduced a £75,000 payment in other schemes for people to accept as a final offer without going through the evidence or anything like that. People might say that that means that some people will get more money than they lost. That does not really bother me, given the trauma they have gone through, when the alternative is going through a long, laborious administration process. We would pay as much as that out for lawyers anyway; why should it not go to the victims? Credit to the postal services Minister, he has brought these payments forward. We must try to have such payments in other compensation schemes.

We are in danger of having a fourth scheme. I had a meeting with the postal services Minister last night and, as I have previously told the House, we are now looking at the pre-Horizon scheme, Capture. To be fair to him, he is determined to get to the bottom of what the Post Office did in prosecuting and bankrupting people. If the Government accept that victims were wrongly prosecuted and, in some cases, bankrupted, which scheme do they fit into? Do they fit into one of the three existing schemes, or will we have to generate yet another scheme? That shows the complexity of these arguments when compensation is needed. I would resist coming up with a fourth scheme—we have to try to adapt some of the other schemes, and we on the advisory board will obviously work with the Minister.

Lessons need to be learned from how the Post Office has handled this, and that could be the basis for the Cabinet Office’s work in looking at the pillars that are needed. All schemes, and certainly the Post Office scheme, have to disclose information. The Post Office has been notoriously slow in disclosing the information needed to progress a claim. Has some of that been deliberate? In the past, I think it possibly has, but what do we do where the records no longer exist? I am sure some of the records no longer exist in the example raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch. Do we just say that no one has a claim? No, I think we need to take quite a generous view. If it can be proved, for example, that people have lost out because of the damage from a scheme, and if it can be proved that they are not just making it up, we need a mechanism to deal with that. Otherwise, victims are going to feel that they will not get justice.

Interestingly, I have more information on the pre-Horizon system, Capture, than the Post Office does. I have a full set of documents, all the software and all the floppy disks from the early Capture cases. When I put this to the Post Office, I was asked where I got it from, and I said that one of the victims who contacted me had a very assiduous wife—sadly, Mrs Tooby is no longer with us—who kept everything. It says something that I have more evidence than the Post Office.

The hon. Member for Christchurch talked about litigation. Well, how would a person litigate that? It is a pretty one-sided argument. The Post Office had no evidence at all in those cases. It knew that the evidence existed, but it did not have the boxes of evidence that I have. Again, trying to avoid litigation should be part of the process because, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is costly. People do not have access to that kind of cash. Even if they do, it is also costly to the Government. Who wins? The lawyers, and we do not get the swift redress that is needed.

Other schemes have been mentioned, and evidence on the Windrush scheme has been lost. Landing card records and other such things have all been destroyed by the Home Office, so how do we do it? We have to take a sensible approach and, to be fair to him—I know I keep praising him—the postal services Minister has. Where the information does not exist, we should err on the side of victims. We should not say, “We cannot move forward because we have no evidence.” That has been one of the problems with the Windrush scandal.

I have also worked with LGBTQ veterans who were dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality, which is a great example of the Government setting the parameters of an inquiry before it is set up. Lord Etherton did a very good job with his inquiry, but we had a ridiculous situation in which the Government said in advance that the compensation had to be capped at £50 million. I kept asking, “Why £50 million?” Apparently the only reason, apart from the Treasury wanting to keep control on expenditure, was that the Department saw what the Canadian scheme cost and said that it was roughly the same thing. The Government did that before setting up the inquiry. To be fair to Lord Etherton, he had no choice but to recommend £50 million.

I have looked at the cases and met some of the individuals concerned—Fighting With Pride is a great organisation—and there is no way that that compensation is going to be enough. I told the Minister for Defence People that, if he thinks he is going to get away with £50 million, it is completely for the birds. People have lost wages, pension entitlements and other things that need to be taken into consideration. If we are not careful, people will say, “Actually, it’s not worth going through this scheme. We’ll just litigate and go all the way.” That is another example of how the Treasury, or somebody else, setting limits beforehand is not a good idea.

The other example is the infected blood inquiry. The Government argue that we have to take time to make sure we do it properly. I agree with all that but, bluntly, we know it is about saving money, and it is possibly about kicking the inquiry until after the election in the hope that it will be somebody else’s problem. Is it going to be costly? Yes. No amount of compensation will address the damage done to the contaminated blood victims and their families—I have read their testimony—but it will help to right some of the wrongs.

The Government need to stop kicking this football around and work on a cross-party basis to agree the way forward. I got into this through my constituent Tom Brown, who was a fantastic individual who fought very hard and with determination because he had not stolen £84,000, but he passed away before Christmas. As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, it is sad that people are dying before they at least get some redress for the harm that was done. That cannot be right. Many more infected blood victims will pass away before they get compensation.

Following the APPG’s excellent report, we need to build the pillars of a framework that can be put in place for such scandals. That should apply not only to the Government but to the corporate world, too. My hon. Friend Dame Meg Hillier chairs the Public Accounts Committee, which is looking at this, and we need to change the Treasury’s mind on accepting that we will have more of these scandals in the future, whether we like it or not. We should be mindful of that in the accounts by putting consolidated funding aside for these types of compensation schemes. If we had that framework and that Treasury thinking of keeping that money aside, we could at least then not keep reinventing things, which is what we are doing.

The sadness is that we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, which is unjust for the victims, inefficient for Government and just feeds those in the legal profession—sorry to keep having a go at lawyers—to a point where they get more than the victims, which cannot be right. We have to approach this issue, as the all-party group did, on a cross-party basis, as it is going to affect not just this Government but future Governments. Most people across the House would want us to have a system that ensures that people get compensated when things go wrong, so some consensus across the House in designing such a system or framework would be worth getting. If we could do that, we would show the public something. That goes to the point the hon. Member for Christchurch made—people may say that the Government and Parliament cannot do things, but we can if we get our act together and work across the parties to get what we all need, which is redress for the these individuals.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 1:41, 18 April 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Jones. I do so with a small measure of trepidation, as a recovering lawyer; it is 23 years since I left legal practice, so it gives me a certain perspective. He is right to say that we are talking about the imbalance of power between the big corporates, Government bodies and public bodies, and the individual private citizen. Beyond that, the real problem is about culture, because nothing in nature or law says that a big corporate, public regulator or public body has to treat people badly; that is the choice of the people who make up those bodies.

That problem is not new. As I have been listening to this debate, I have been reflecting on the fact that not long after I was first elected to this House in 2001, one of the first pieces of casework in which I became involved related to 36 residents in the south end of Shetland whose asbestos roofs had all failed following the grounding of the Braer, off the south end of Shetland, some 10 years earlier. The casual observer might think it common sense that those roofs had worked perfectly functionally for decades and then suddenly, after a tanker full of Gullfaks crude was dumped on top of them, things started to go wrong. The problem was that they did not go wrong immediately; it took time for their failure to become apparent. As a consequence, those people were at the tail end of those who were claiming from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds. Everybody believed before the Braer that the sum put into the IOPC fund could never be reached, but of course the Braer maxed out the fund.

By the time the asbestos roof claimants came along, there was no money left to pay the compensation. However, money was left to defend a court action, which is what happened when my constituents raised one. I have never understood the judgment in the case, but my constituents lost and, as a consequence, were left having to carry their own losses. I am certain that had there been more money in that fund at the start, their losses would have been met. So, yes, this is about the imbalance of power, but it is also about the culture of the organisation concerned. An understanding is required on the part of these bodies, be they corporate or public, of the purpose for which they are there. That is what I wish to draw the House’s attention to today.

Last night, I was fortunate to host a showing upstairs of a BBC documentary entitled “King of the Swindlers”, and the parallels with the Post Office Horizon scheme and its victims are there for all to see. There were only a couple of hundred victims of the “King of the Swindlers”, whereas, as we know, thousands of sub-postmasters were affected by Horizon. The “King of the Swindlers” concerned a Ponzi scheme perpetrated by a financial adviser in the north-east of Scotland, Alistair Greig. He was eventually convicted of fraud and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, which was later reduced to 10 on appeal. The victims came from everywhere from Shetland in the north, down through Orkney, along the highland east coast and the Moray coast, through Aberdeen and down into Angus. They were all people who had lived and worked as builders, tradesmen or shopkeepers, saving a bit here and there. They put their money into this Ponzi scheme and lost out. The constituent who first brought this to my attention lost out to the tune of £130,000, and his mother lost £37,000.

Alistair Greig was responsible for his fraud, but he was able to carry it out as a consequence of the serial ineptitude and incompetence of the Financial Services Authority, later the Financial Conduct Authority. A journalist, Dale Haslam of Aberdeen’s Evening Express, who has done tremendous work exposing what went on, pointed out to me last night that if the FSA had got it right the first time Greig’s wrongdoing was brought to its attention, he would have been stopped after only one victim. However, it missed the opportunity not once, not twice, but three times to stop what he was doing. As a consequence, the number of victims ran to hundreds.

Those who lost out were all small business people who had worked hard, saving £100 here and £1,000 or £1,500 there. They put all that money together and trusted it to Alistair Greig, usually on the recommendation of friends, family and others, because that is how business is often done in such communities. These people did not make that money by flipping properties or coming up with a great wheeze in the City; it was all hard won. Eventually, in desperation, they raised a legal action against Sense Network Ltd, the company that stood above Greig in the financial food chain, but they lost twice: in the first instance, and at appeal.

The legal action pursued by the 95 victims who had the determination, courage and stubbornness to pursue it did serve a purpose: eventually all the victims were allowed compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. That of course comes with an £85,000 cap, so my constituent who had lost £130,000 was immediately £45,000 down. However, those 95 victims of Alistair Greig who supported the legal action and made the compensation for everybody possible are left with a legal fees bill of £1.9 million; they are having to pay some £30,000 each, although the exact number varies. So my constituent started with £130,000, came down to £85,000, and is left with something in the region of £50,000. Let us not lose sight of the fact that Alistair Greig was able to do what he did only because the Financial Services Authority and the Financial Compensation Authority were poor at doing the job that this House charged them to do.

I invited various people to the screening of “King of the Swindlers” last night. I invited the legal team, including the solicitor who acted for the victims. I will be happy to introduce her to the right hon. Member for North Durham, because she is a sterling example of what good people in the legal profession can do, as a member of what I would still regard as a caring profession.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I hate to think that I have given the impression that I am down on all lawyers; some of my best friends are lawyers. If the system is implemented fairly, people can get proper legal advice without it costing a fortune.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I do not disagree with that. I saw enough of that in my time in practice. The right hon. Gentleman knows of my experience with the historical shortfall scheme, and of going into hand-to-hand combat with the lawyers who were instructed by the Post Office. In that case, we were able to make progress for my constituent. A local solicitor, Anne Robertson, a sole practitioner operating in Orkney, took on one of the three biggest firms in London and left them running for cover.

The victims were left with a £1.9 million legal fee because the inadequacy of the regulators left them with no option but to do what they did. We invited the regulators to the showing last night. I invited them in the middle of March; they replied last week in a letter, saying, “No, sorry. We have nothing to add. We are not going to come.” Foolishly, the FCA gave me time to reply, and I had a telephone conversation on Friday night, as I left Shetland on a ferry to go to Orkney, with Chris Wilford, the head of public affairs, and Mark Francis, the director of enforcement and market oversight. Apparently, that is a proper job title; I thought it was some sort of ironic term, but that is what is in his contract. The response was, “Of course we are accountable, but we don’t like being accountable to you. This was an informal process.” All I was asking was for them to come along, sit in room and watch a documentary, along with the people who had lost their life savings to this man, and explain the decision that they had taken. That was all they had to do. They could walk out of the room at the end of the night, and I would be able to ask no more of them, but they were not even prepared to do that. I thought I would be up against some really slick types, but I have rarely come across two more nervous-sounding individuals.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

It is your reputation—it preceded you.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

That could be right, but I doubt it. My reputation is as a friendly and approachable character. We went through the process and eventually I said, “If these people had not taken that court action, how much would any victim of Alistair Greig have got back?” The silence was absolutely deafening. I let it run for as long as I could, and eventually I said, “Well, I think I understand now why you are so reluctant to come to the House of Commons next Wednesday.” The call did not go on much after that, but I did say that I thought that the matter required escalation, and asked them to call back on Monday with arrangements for me to speak to the chief executive. I did not get a call, but I did get an email on Monday saying that they had nothing further to add.

The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority is Nikhil Rathi. Interestingly, a couple of years ago that job commanded a salary of £455,000 per annum. I calculated that the Prime Minister’s salary is about 37% of what we pay the chief executive of the FCA. For jobs like that, it often feels that the more you pay, the less you get. I contrast the lack of moral courage of people like that, who will not sit in a room with the people whose lives have been affected by the decisions they have taken, to that of some of the people who were in the room last night, including the solicitors Philippa Hann and Robert Morfee. At first, the judge in the Sense Network case was not going to turn up, but he was there in the room. We expect judges to plead the independence of the judiciary, and rightly so, but out of respect for what these people had been though, he was prepared to turn up, watch the documentary and share the space with them. That spoke well to his strength of character.

Another person who was in the room was Judy Greig, the ex-wife of Alistair Greig, who was responsible for the scheme. She divorced him after his crimes came to light. He made himself bankrupt, but she refused to do that, so she has ended up carrying some of his debt. She is now 72 years old. She is working in a supermarket and still supporting the victims of her husband’s criminality. Her remarkable strength of character is in contrast to that of people like the chief executive of the FCA who, despite the very well-funded taxpayer salary that they get, simply lack the decency and moral courage to sit down in a room with their victims.

That is why I think that the question of culture is at the root of the issue. Since I became interested in the last few days in the detail of what was going on in the FCA, I have found very little to offer me comfort. Apparently, the FCA said that 60 of its staff were earning salaries below the £29,500 per year set by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as the minimum amount that people need to earn to reach an acceptable standard of living. It is a possibility that the FCA will establish its own hardship fund in 2024, if there is enough demand among staff. This is an organisation where the chief executive is paid £455,000 a year.

Some of the commentary on the culture in the FCA is pretty damning. In one anonymous online report, a former colleague described the CEO as

“a very high IQ, but not as much EQ”— emotional quotient. As we know, culture comes from the top of an organisation downwards. Unite, the union that represents many FCA workers, talks about the “toxic” environment for staff representatives, who have been given “minimal information” by their bosses. Again, this comes down to culture. How the FCA treats its staff reads across to how it treats people like my constituents, who find themselves in need of its services.

We set up the FCA for a reason, and the FSCS for another reason. The FSCS was only supposed to be there in case the FCA failed in any way. It is paid for by companies in the financial services sector, which are regulated, so they pay for the regulation, and for the failure of that regulation. This is something that the Government seriously need to look at soon. In the meantime, if the FCA wants to do anything to persuade me or anybody else in this House that I am wrong about the culture within that organisation, it can put the final sum of £1.9 million in a cheque to the 95 claimants who were the victims of Alistair Greig and Midas Financial Solutions.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 1:59, 18 April 2024

I thank all hon. Members for a very thoughtful debate this afternoon. I have enjoyed all the contributions, which have raised some very important injustices. I will confine my observations to four issues: Windrush; the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, or the 1950s-born women; Horizon; and the infected blood scandal. Each one has caused hardship. Each one has been scandalous, including in the way that people caught up in these scandals have been treated and been given warm words, but very little action. All involve miscarriages of justice and, because of the delays in redress, we find that many victims are unfortunately no longer with us because they have waited so long. We should take some time to reflect on that during this debate. There are people who have just not seen that justice, not seen that redress and not seen that compensation.

First, let me turn to the WASPI women. We welcome the publication of the long-overdue reports by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which has found failings by the Department for Work and Pensions and has ruled that the women affected are owed compensation. However, it is staggering that, as the chief executive of that organisation said, the Department for Work and Pensions has clearly indicated that it will refuse to comply. That is unacceptable. The Department must do the right thing and it must be held to account for any failure to do so. I believe that, if the will of this House is tested on that issue, it will join all of us who believe that the Department for Work and Pensions must acknowledge its failings and urgently deliver a fast and fair compensation scheme for the women affected. Members could of course support the private Member’s Bill in the name of my hon. Friend Alan Brown, who is trying to force the Government to publish proposals for that compensation scheme for women born in the 1950s.

We also have the Windrush scandal. Just like so many other issues that have been raised by hon. Members today, it is shameful that people have been waiting so long for compensation from the Government and that people have sadly passed away in the meantime. This year marks the fifth anniversary since the launch of the Windrush compensation scheme, yet nearly 1,500 claims from the Windrush scandal are still to be settled by the Home Office. A great grandfather who has helped advise thousands of victims of the Windrush scandal on compensation has said that he fears that the Government are

“waiting for us to die off.”

I hear that phrase all too often when discussing issues such this. There is a real sense from people that they believe that the Government are waiting for the victims to die off. The Windrush compensation scheme has been painfully slow, with 53 people having died while their claims were being processed.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the delay also adds extra heartache, not just because the individual has sadly died, but because then there is usually a legacy case which is passed on in a will, and that then leads to further complications, further delay and further agony for the families involved?

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has made that perceptive point. When the other place discusses the amendment in relation to infected blood, that is the sort of debate that it is going to have. It is the Government’s intention that the estates will be paid, but what the right hon. Gentleman says will confuse matters. Both the other place and this place will have to think about what that will mean.

The other issue with the Windrush scandal is that the Home Office is in charge of the compensation scheme. An independent body should administer that scheme. The Government tried to do something similar with the infected blood scandal, when they were very resistant to an independent arm’s length body being set up, despite Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations. It is clear that the Government were nervous about that. The only reason that they tabled their amendment in the other place in relation to an independent compensation scheme in that particular scenario was that the will of the House forced the Government to accept an amendment to set up that independent body. I do hope the Government will consider setting up an independent organisation to administer the Windrush compensation scheme, as that is a far better position to take.

As I have mentioned infected blood, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me say that I welcome in part the amendment that has been tabled in the other place. What is missing from that amendment is a timetable. People are waiting for justice. They need that timetable to know what is going to happen. It is unfortunate that the Government have not built on the amendments that were passed in this place through the Victims and Prisoners Bill. There is, I am afraid, a concern that the Government amendment in the other place is watering that down.

I wish to pay tribute once again to constituents who have been affected by the infected blood scandal, affected by Windrush, and involved in the WASPI women case. The last case that I will mention is the Post Office scandal.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to his last point, does he agree with me that trust in politics has taken a real dive? The cover-ups and then the length of time that it takes to address the cases of wrongdoing only further harms the public’s trust in politics and politicians. In the case of the Equitable Life scandal, despite the ombudsman saying that people should receive full compensation, around 90% of victims have still only received 22% of what the Government have acknowledged that they are owed. That is despite the ombudsman making it clear that finite resources should not get in the way. Does he agree that an independent agency is vital to stop the public trust eroding even further?

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

I think that is true. I get the sense that there is an anti-politics feel out there. That is not just directed at some individuals; it is a systematic issue. I think that people get very frustrated at the systematic delays that can take place in order to find redress.

I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Marion Fellows and to Mr Jones who have done fantastic work in highlighting the Horizon scandal. I do hope that the Government act swiftly, because we have to remember that 250 sub-postmasters have died without seeing justice. I believe that justice for all is vital, because justice delayed is justice denied.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, I just want to emphasise to those who might be wanting to participate in the next debate how important it is to get back for all the wind-ups, including that of the SNP spokesperson. It is rather discourteous not to do so. Thank you.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:08, 18 April 2024

I congratulate the hon. Members who secured this debate and Richard Foord who opened it and raised some very important issues in respect of delivering appropriate redress schemes in a timely manner.

Today, we have heard from Sir Christopher Chope about vaccine damage and from Marion Fellows about the Post Office and the constraints of non-disclosure agreements. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones has brought his expertise and track record of campaigning to the Chamber to speak on the Post Office and the miners’ compensation schemes. And we heard from Mr Carmichael on a saving scheme and the missed opportunities by the watchdog to prevent people from becoming victims of that scheme.

By definition, those who are eligible for redress schemes will already have suffered detriment, and many, as we have seen with the infected blood scandal and the Post Office Horizon scandal, will have spent years battling for recognition and justice, and suffering avoidable hardship. We therefore owe it to them to ensure that we get the redress schemes right, and that they are set up as promptly as possible and operate as efficiently as possible, while ensuring that we protect the public purse from fraudulent claims. Learning from previous schemes, so that we are not constantly reinventing the wheel or repeating mistakes, and building up corporate expertise are therefore of vital importance. Each scheme will, however, have its own complexities and sensitivities, and it is important that they are fully recognised.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham highlighted, victims should be at the centre of designing redress schemes. The National Audit Office produced a briefing in 2008, building on the experience of some previous compensation schemes, such as the miners’ chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger schemes, which are all too familiar to my right hon. Friend, to me and to other colleagues who represent former coalmining areas. The NAO briefing stressed the importance of the right governance and project management, committing sufficient effort and appropriate skills to setting up schemes, considering the capacity needed, designing out the likely bottlenecks or delays, and being prepared to deal with external pressures. There may well be further lessons to learn since then. In January, my hon. Friend Dame Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, asked the National Audit Office to

“conduct a thematic review of government compensation and financial redress schemes”, and the National Audit Office agreed to do so. I look forward to reading that report.

Sadly, as we have seen in instances such as Hillsborough, the infected blood scandal and the Post Office Horizon scandal, long before getting to any form of redress scheme, actually getting to the truth in the first place can be an uphill struggle, with victims vilified, shamed, shunned, imprisoned and financially ruined. On 6 December last year, when the Government published their response to the Hillsborough report, the Opposition, along with the victims’ families, were bitterly disappointed that the Government stopped short of proposing a Hillsborough law, which is why I raised it at Prime Minister’s questions that day. This week, we marked the 35th anniversary of Hillsborough tragedy. As hon. Members will have heard, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised the proposed law again with the Prime Minister yesterday, but we still received no positive response.

The purpose of a Hillsborough law would be to prevent such a hideous cover-up by the authorities, which was an appalling affront to the survivors and the devastated families of those who died, and left them having to struggle for far longer to get justice. The purpose of the proposed Hillsborough law would be to put a legal responsibility on public officials to tell the truth in any form of formal inquiry or proceeding, and to ensure that individuals would face criminal sanctions if they breached that law. To be honest, it is extraordinary that that is not already the case. Importantly, the proposed Hillsborough law would also provide victims with parity of legal funding in inquests. That would avoid the sort of David and Goliath situation where victims simply cannot afford to challenge the authorities.

All public bodies need to be open-minded and even-handed when considering complaints or hearing from whistleblowers, and not rush to cover up and silence concerns, and hound whistleblowers out of organisations. Those in charge of public bodies need to contemplate the thought that mistakes may have been made, systems may be at fault, and there may be individuals who do not hold to the ideals of public service, or inappropriate cultures within an organisation. Often, early recognition and acknowledgment of a problem could help to bring justice sooner to victims, prevent further victims and ultimately save the public purse. Instead, it seems to take years of struggle, heartbreak, investigative journalism and even TV dramas before the victims’ voices are heard and believed, and justice is delivered. In terms of whistleblowers, I think of the senior paediatrician in the Letby case who raised concerns. Even though he was a senior paediatrician, his concerns were dismissed, and Letby went on to murder again—all the more tragic, because it could have been avoided.

To return to the redress schemes, it is all very well looking at best practice and trying to build on previous experience to streamline matters and avoid reinventing the wheel. Skilled civil servants can have the very best guidelines in the world, but without political will from the Government to prioritise, victims will continue to wait, and sadly some may never live to receive their compensation.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

On whether people survive to get justice, I draw attention to Baroness Cumberlege’s “First Do No Harm” report on the harm caused by mesh, sodium valproate and Primodos. A lot of those victims are already dying. My mam is one of the victims of mesh. She will be 80 in January, and I hope that she lives to see some compensation and redress. Does my hon. Friend agree that these things really have to be sped up, because it is not fair? When people have been harmed, in this case by the state through medical interventions, redress should be forthcoming quickly.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point.

Recently, the Government have dithered and delayed on three high-profile redress schemes. I will turn first to the Windrush scandal, which revealed the huge injustices in our citizenship and nationality system. The scheme was set up in 2018, but a Home Affairs Committee report in 2021 pointed out that in early 2021, the average time from claim to payment was some 434 days. Even in February this year, the Home Office’s own data showed that some 14% of live claims were dragging on for more than six months.

As we have made clear in this House, Labour is determined to ensure that the Windrush generation and families get the compensation and justice that they are owed. If necessary, we would place the Windrush compensation scheme outside the Home Office if it continued to fail. Labour has plans to restart and improve community engagement and outreach work to encourage applications to the scheme and speed up compensation payments, to ensure that every victim gets every penny of the compensation that they deserve. As part of our commitment to the recommendations of the Wendy Williams review, Labour would establish a Windrush commissioner to monitor the compensation scheme and the re-establishment of the major change programme and the Windrush unit within the Home Office, and to be a voice for the families affected, to ensure that a scandal like Windrush can never happen again.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

My heart drops at the idea of another commissioner. The point, which my hon. Friend made earlier, is that we need Ministers who will drive things forward. A good example is Kevin Hollinrake, who on a number of occasions I have called a poacher turned gamekeeper. He did excellent work on the banking scandal, and he has driven things forward because he is a Minister who actually cares about the victims and is prepared to make tough decisions within Government.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Indeed. Without political will, things cannot be driven forward. As my right hon. Friend says, ministerial intervention is crucial.

I turn to the infected blood scandal. The Opposition were disturbed to hear the news yesterday evening that the Government are yet again delaying the compensation scheme by trying to remove from the Victims and Prisoners Bill a requirement to set one up within three months of the Bill’s becoming law—yet another missed opportunity, yet another delay. In 2022, Sir Robert Francis KC produced his report “Compensation and Redress for the Victims of Infected Blood—Recommendations for a Framework”. In April last year—a whole year ago—Sir Brian Langstaff produced his second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. As the Minister knows, there is absolutely no reason why the Government cannot go ahead with setting up a scheme before the publication of the final report on 20 May.

Time is of the essence. Every week that passes without further Government action matters. Those who were infected with contaminated blood are dying at a rate of one every four days. The Labour party wants to ensure that justice and compensation for victims and their families are delivered as a matter of the utmost urgency, but we have still not heard the Government’s final decision on compensation. They tell us that they will not make public any final details until after the publication of the final report in May. I urge them yet again to speed up the process of delivering justice to victims and their families, including by getting on with the work needed to set up the structure of the compensation scheme, so that victims are compensated as soon as possible.

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill affords us the chance to make a huge stride in righting the wrongs of the past, and we on the Labour Benches are pleased to give it our full support.

This has been an interesting and informative debate. The Government should always try to learn from past experience and do their utmost to get redress schemes right, making them transparent and easily accessible to victims while protecting the public purse.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 2:20, 18 April 2024

It is a pleasure to respond to a thoughtful debate in which we have heard some very good speeches. Hon. Members have had the opportunity to display the considerable expertise that they have built up, often while dealing with difficult constituency casework. It is a reminder to us all that we are here to serve the needs of our constituents and to help them find redress when hardship, difficulties and, sometimes, the system get in their way.

It was a pleasure to hear experienced Members of the House harking back to the glorious days when we had a full working Thursday. I share their desire for that—and not just because we would have had more people in attendance for this debate. It was particularly good to hear the considered speech of right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), in which he savagely attacked lawyers. I look forward to the leader of his party reading and considering his remarks.

We are here to debate the details that have been raised thanks to the diligent efforts of the all-party parliamentary group in writing to the Government with its thoughts about how we might make general improvements. The Government firmly believe that access to redress is fundamental in upholding justice and fairness in our society. It is imperative that individuals have avenues to seek recourse when they have been wronged or harmed. In recognition of that, the schemes through which the Government provide redress are numerous.

The Government have done more than most in the past few years to address historical wrongs. In 2017, the infected blood inquiry was set up, and in October 2022 interim payments of £100,000 were made to everyone in the UK infected blood support schemes. The Windrush programme was set up in 2019, the Horizon shortfall scheme in 2020, the overturned convictions scheme and the LGBT veterans scheme in 2021, and the group litigation order compensation scheme in 2023. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General set out our next steps in supporting the victims of the infected blood scandal.

The Government have been steadfast in our commitment to providing diverse compensation schemes that cater to varying needs and circumstances. We remain committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that all citizens have access to effective mechanisms for resolving grievances and holding institutions accountable. There is, rightly, considerable interest across the House in how we can ensure best practice. I am grateful to be able to engage with some of those ideas today.

Although I acknowledge the interesting ideas mooted by the APPG, I think we should sound a note of caution. We must be wary of any approach that would set up a uniform system for redress and compensation. Each set of circumstances is often very different, and schemes need to be capable of reflecting those differences in order to ensure that the affected individuals get the best possible redress. Any reform process would need to ensure that we do not lose personal understanding of the claimants who are accessing the scheme, and that we provide adequate support and understanding of their personal experiences. I urge hon. Members to keep claimants at the centre of our thinking during consideration of any reforms—that has been at the heart of what hon. Members have said in the debate.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I do not disagree with the Minister— I agree that victims should be at the centre, and that no two schemes will ever be perfectly the same—but there are broad frameworks. What tends to happen—it certainly did with the Horizon scheme—is that people try to reinvent the thing every time. Surely we could put in place some parameters that civil servants could use as a template when faced with a future compensation scheme.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I was going to come to that point. Although the right hon. Gentleman is right that there is currently no public guidance, that does not limit the sharing of knowledge between Departments and policy areas. There is a great deal of dialogue and shared learning between officials when schemes come into existence. Richard Foord suggested in his opening remarks that the wheel was always being reinvented. That is not the case; a learning process happens within Government.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I do not suppose that lessons are not being learned and that one set of civil servants is not passing lessons on to another set; rather, this is about victims having the reassurance that when there is a perceived conflict of interest, they have somewhere else to go.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The point I was making was very much that we have internal schemes of learning, and we ensure that each new scheme learns from the experiences of those that have gone before it.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I will give way one more time to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am running out of time.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

That is not my experience. When we were setting up the advisory board for the Horizon compensation scheme, I asked officials to look at the mineworkers’ compensation scheme, which was a massive scheme. The problem is that, with the turnover of civil servants, corporate knowledge is lost. We need corporate knowledge to be held centrally in Departments—possibly in the Cabinet Office; otherwise, things left to Departments do not happen because people leave.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The right hon. Gentleman is right: the Government require a means of retaining corporate knowledge. That is something that I have been working on since I came to the Cabinet Office 18 months ago. I will not go into it now, but we are putting in place a number of novel programmes to ensure that, as people move on, we retain their learning—not just with regard to redress schemes, but more broadly across Government. He is right about that. Although there is a richness in having civil servants who have worked in many different Departments and have a broad understanding of how Government works, there is sometimes a danger that, in having that rotation, we lose expert knowledge.

I will move on to some of the progress that has been made on the major schemes that the Government have under way. In respect of the Horizon IT scandal, let me reassure the House that the Government are determined for postmasters to receive the compensation that they deserve. As of 31 March this year, approximately £190 million had been paid to over 2,800 claimants across three schemes: £111 million on the Horizon shortfall scheme; £39 million for all payments, including interim payments, on the group litigation order scheme; and a total of £41 million for all payments, including further interim payments, on the overturned convictions scheme. With regard to the Windrush scandal, as of February this year the Home Office had paid over £83 million across 2,307 claims. On infected blood, as I mentioned earlier, the Government have paid over £400 million in interim compensation to those infected, and bereaved partners, registered with existing support schemes since 2022.

Let me turn to the specific points made by other contributors. Alas, my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope ascribes to me a greater power than I possess: I am unable today to respond formally to the Cumberlege review, but he will be aware that the Government are in the midst of very serious consideration of its findings and recommendations, and I know that he will hold our feet to the fire to ensure that that formal response comes soon. To go back one more time to the right hon. Member for North Durham, I am grateful for his acknowledgment of the work done by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. His comments about lawyers aside, I very much agree that we need schemes that reduce the opportunities for legal opportunism—we owe that to our tax-paying constituents, and also to those who have been wronged.

The Government understand that there are broad lessons to be learned from schemes that have gone on in the past, but also from the four big schemes that are currently under way. It will also be necessary for us to consider the response of the National Audit Office to the letter written earlier this year by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, so that we can better understand how we can build on the good work that has already been done to help our constituents when similar wrongs befall them in future.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 2:30, 18 April 2024

I am very grateful to all Members who have participated in today’s debate, often prompted by conversations that they have had with individuals in their constituencies and therefore often paying great heed to just one person’s case. In recent years, there have been one or two positive developments on accessing compensation—for example, the interim compensation awards that we heard about have helped to speed up redress—but there are still some serious problems that are common to so many of the cases that we have used to highlight the problem this afternoon.

We can no longer have the same organisations that are responsible for the original harm also responsible for adjudicating what is fair compensation. Even in cases where there is not a conflict of interest, victims might perceive that there is, and as we have heard, they have nowhere else to go, so there needs to be the right of appeal. We cannot have the ludicrous situation in which an individual or small business who was subject to mis-selling, for example, has no recourse but to go back to the very bank that lent them the money in the first place. We need an independent, expert arm’s length body that could oversee redress schemes and would provide a cost-effective way to tackle mass scandals. It would ensure speedy resolutions that place the burden on those who commit the wrongdoing, not the victims who are caught up in these appalling situations. The recommendations of the APPG on fair business banking are an excellent way of introducing that framework.

I conclude by thanking all Members who took part in today’s debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
recognises the challenges faced by individuals and businesses in accessing effective dispute resolution and obtaining redress in cases of injustice;
believes that the Government needs to address these specific challenges, namely a fragmented and inconsistent redress landscape;
considers statutory guidance to be an essential measure to ensure compensation and redress schemes follow common principles and lead to fair and independent outcomes;
and calls on the Government to create statutory guidance with common principles for setting up and operating a redress scheme.