Infected Blood Inquiry

– in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 23 April 2024.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 12:43, 23 April 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office to make a statement on the evidence uncovered of experiments on children and the contaminated blood scandal, and update the House on the action that the Government are taking on the second interim report from Sir Brian Langstaff.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

Let me start by stating that the stories reported in the recent BBC news article, and indeed The Sunday Times report by Caroline Wheeler, demonstrate the unimaginable suffering of all those impacted by this dreadful scandal. As the House will know, in 2017 the Government established an independent public statutory inquiry chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, to give those impacted and their families the answers that they deserve.

Since it was established, the inquiry has taken evidence from a range of sources, and the testimonies are indicative of the bravery of every individual who has come forward. The infected blood inquiry’s final report is due to be published within a month, on 20 May, and we expect the inquiry’s findings to cover a set of extremely challenging issues. It would not be right for the Government to pre-empt the findings of this long-prepared and carefully considered report, but the Government have committed to update Parliament through an oral statement on next steps within 25 sitting days following 20 May. It is our intention to make that statement as soon as possible. The 25-day stipulation is a deadline, and certainly not a target.

In January this year, I appointed an expert group to provide technical advice to the Cabinet Office in responding to the infected blood inquiry’s recommendations on compensation. That work is well under way and will build on the recommendations of the infected blood inquiry to inform the Government’s substantive response to the inquiry’s recommendations on compensation. The Government understand the need to move quickly to provide compensation to victims of infected blood. Most recently, we tabled amendments just last Wednesday to the Victims and Prisoners Bill to impose a duty on the Government to establish an infected blood compensation scheme. It also establishes a new arm’s length body, named the infected blood compensation authority, to deliver the compensation scheme. It will operate on a UK-wide basis to ensure parity and consistency. That demonstrates our absolute commitment to deliver long overdue justice to victims of infected blood.

We understand that for many there is an urgent need for compensation. As the House will know, in October 2022, the Government paid more than £400 million in interim compensation to help to ease the short-term needs of those infected. The Government amendment also includes a statutory duty to make interim payments of £100,000 to the estates of the deceased infected people who were registering with existing or former support schemes, where previous interim payments have not already been made to infected individuals or their bereaved partners. That is an important step forward to get substantial compensation into the hands of families and victims of infected blood. Should that Government amendment be supported in the other place, it will return to this House for debate in the usual process of Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

We know that more than 3,000 people have already died in the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Another 680 have died since the public inquiry started in 2018. With two people dying on average every week, 100 people have died since Sir Brian made his final recommendations on paying compensation in April 2023. He said that

“wrongs were done at individual, collective and systemic levels.”

He also said that in all conscience he could not wait until his final report was published to tell the Government to start paying compensation.

Last week, Hugh Pym of the BBC produced shocking evidence about children, even babies, being experimented on in the 1970s and 1980s without their parents’ consent. These disturbing revelations raise serious criminal and ethical issues for the NHS and the medical profession. There are possible breaches of the 1947 Nuremberg code. Alongside that, The Sunday Times, and Caroline Wheeler, in particular launched a campaign at the weekend for compensation to be paid now to those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal. So far, more than 160 MPs have backed the campaign, and 10 parties are represented, including six leaders.

Last week, the Government finally laid those amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill in the other place after this House forced the Government to act in December last year. This weekend, Ministers confirmed that even when Sir Brian produces his final report on 20 May, the Government may not respond until as late as 3 July 2024. Meanwhile, there has been no announcement on compensation funding or on any compensation scheme, despite the Government having accepted the moral case for compensation.

What action are the Government taking following last week’s BBC story on the experiments on children? When will Sir Brian’s recommendations on compensation be implemented in full? On what date will payments be made to those infected and affected? Why have the interim payments not been made, as Sir Brian recommended last April? How will those infected and affected be involved in the whole scheme? Why are Ministers rejecting the three-month timeframe for setting up a compensation body that this House agreed to in December last year, and Sir Brian’s recommendation that it should be judge-led?

On all sides of the House, Members know that when people are dying, justice delayed is justice denied. The time to act is now.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions and initial comments. Nobody in this House has done more than her to advance the interests of the infected and affected communities, as I have said consistently since I took office on 13 November. I recognise her frustrations and am doing everything I can to address them. Last week, I met her and other Chairs, across parties, as I did just before the Easter recess, and I will continue to update her as regularly as I can.

The right hon. Lady draws attention to commentary from Hugh Pym and other journalists about speculation and allegations, which I believe Sir Brian Langstaff’s report, when it is published on 20 May, should give substantive airing to, drawing on the evidence collected. It would be reasonable for the Government to wait for that authoritative statement on what information and evidence they have gathered before we respond, but that does not mean that, since I took office, I have been doing anything other than move forward everything I can on compensation as quickly as possible.

The right hon. Lady is quite right to say that over 3,000 deaths have occurred since 1970, including 141 last year. I recognise that the challenge of urgently securing interim payments, in terms of the mechanics of how it is done, is not a concern of the infected and affected community. She quite reasonably stands up and urges speed on that, and I am doing what I can. The statutory duty to make an interim payment of £100,000 to the estates of the deceased infected people is the first time that we have put in legislation a duty to pay compensation before the ad hoc schemes, which, over the past 45 or 50 years, have never admitted culpability. I have also put into legislation, with the consent of both Houses, the need to set up the arm’s length body and make it as operational as soon as possible.

As I discussed with the right hon. Lady last week, my concern is to get that arm’s length body up and running as quickly as possible, and there is a legal obligation to do so when Royal Assent is gained—there is no statutory deadline but there is a responsibility to do that. I recognise the concern around a judge-led body. Indeed, Sir Brian Langstaff’s report suggests that a judge-led body would be desirable—I do not rule that out—but at this stage it seems reasonable not to confine it in legislation in case another candidate becomes available. Clearly, however, gaining the confidence of the affected and infected communities is absolutely integral to this process working. As I say, I am doing everything I can to bring forward the Government’s substantive response on the widest issues of compensation as near as I can to the 20 May, and I will update the House as often as I can. Indeed, I have made time available tomorrow for an open surgery for any MP who wants to bring cases to me.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

May I follow the tributes to the great Dame—Dame Diana Johnson—for what she has been doing?

I have been actively involved in this in one way or another for 25 years. We all know that the justification for having the Langstaff inquiry has been the information that has now come out in public, which was concealed or not known over the decades. We also know that this is different from most of the discussions in the Pearson report on whether there should be compensation when things go wrong in medical treatment. This report is likely to show how, since the war, people have not paid enough attention to the warnings given by those in the field. With the update of Caroline Wheeler’s book and the BBC programme, we now know that, as well as the haemophilia trials published in the 1970s, the 1980s trials showed massive defects by the standards of those days, let alone by up-to-date standards.

I join the right hon. Lady in asking the Minister when it will be possible for people to register their names, backgrounds and circumstances for compensation. Do we have to wait until a month’s time for that to happen, and how will it be dealt with? Obviously, as the Cabinet Office Minister, he follows his predecessor in carrying this responsibility, but how far will the Department of Health and Social Care be involved, and will other Departments be involved?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend makes wise observations. I did not mean not to pay tribute to him in a similar way; his commitment to this cause, probably over my lifetime, is extraordinary.

In respect of the £100,000 payments announced through the Government amendment tabled last Wednesday, we will be working with the existing support schemes to expedite them as quickly as possible for the estates of the deceased infected. On the substantive response on the wider complete compensation, through last week’s intervention, and building on the amendment of Dame Diana Johnson, we have established the delivery vehicle for compensation.

On the challenge that we were somehow delaying compensation, which was reasonably made, I think that what I have said to the House this afternoon makes it clear that we are committed in legislation to delivering that compensation, but that the terms of how we do so, and how we respond to translating those 18 recommendations into reality, is ongoing work that I will seek to address substantively as soon as possible by 20 May.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson on securing an urgent question on this vital issue. Nobody could fail to be moved by the scale of the horror and injustice of this scandal. The latest revelations about apparent experiments on children, to which the urgent question relates, are truly appalling and show yet again how badly the victims have been let down. I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned so hard on the issue.

As part of delivering the justice that is so long overdue, the Government must now deliver on the compensation scheme. 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. Ministers have repeatedly accepted the moral case for compensation, but victims understandably have little faith and want to see firm action. That is why Labour was very disturbed to hear that the Government have tabled an amendment to undo the cross-party changes to the Victims and Prisoners Bill passed by this House in December last year. The changes that the Government want would have the effect of removing a clear commitment to delivering on the compensation scheme within three months of the Bill’s passing—yet another missed opportunity; yet another delay.

I would be grateful if the Minister answered the following questions. Will the Government now consider accepting the cross-party consensus of establishing a clear three-month limit for the setting up of the scheme? Can the Minister confirm when victims can expect to receive final compensation payments following the publication of Sir Brian Langstaff’s review?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Respectfully, the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North was dependent on Royal Assent. I have tried to make it effective by putting an obligation on the set-up as soon as Royal Assent is granted, which will speed it up. I am working on operational matters around how such a body would work.

The hon. Lady asked me, as everyone does, about the Government’s substantive response on compensation more broadly. As I have indicated, I appointed the expert group in January to examine some of the issues in the recommendations, such as the need for redress for those living with chronic hepatitis B when that chronic infection definition did not exist. I have been seeking professional advice on the operationalisation of the recommendations. The conclusions of those deliberations, and the quantification and discernment of compensation, will be a matter for the Government when the final report has been published.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Like others, I have cases that have been waiting decades for a resolution, and which were pursued by my predecessor. When will those affected be able to start applying for compensation?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I refer my hon. Friend to my reply a few moments ago about the £100,000 payment to the estates of deceased infected persons. The ultimate compensation will depend on what is arranged through conversations across Whitehall as soon as possible after 20 May. We are making good progress, and I want to bring that forward as quickly as I can after 20 May. Given the will of the House and the letter signed by so many MPs, it is pretty clear that it is on the Government to deliver, and that is what I am seeking to do as quickly as I can.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I pay tribute to Dame Diana Johnson, who has done so much, and to journalists such as Caroline Wheeler of The Sunday Times and all those who have campaigned for decades, despite their own very deep trauma. They include Jan Smith, the mother of Colin, one of the youngest victims who was infected at only 10 months old, and who died aged only seven. She said in The Sunday Times at the weekend:

“When we found out little Colin was going to be treated by a world-renowned haematologist we were over the moon. Professor Bloom was like a God to us and we didn’t question him. We thought our son was being given the best possible treatment. But we will feel forever guilty that we had in fact handed our son over to his killer.”

These parents should not be burdened with this guilt. An estimated 380 children were infected in a massive breach of trust and medical ethics. It is every parent’s worst nightmare. What does the Minister say to the parents of children who were used as guinea pigs, in an utterly despicable practice that was made worse by the lack of redress for those families? When will all those infected and affected receive the compensation they are due, and an apology from this Government?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I can reassure the hon. Lady that I am doing everything I can to bring that forward as quickly as possible. I recognise that the distress is widespread and is felt by individuals and families across the United Kingdom. I am working across the devolved Administrations to ensure that there is a UK-wide arm’s length body. My officials are working with prominent charities, organisations and support groups. I am reaching out to them to share progress, reassure the community that I have heard their concerns and seek their views in advance of 20 May. I am doing that out of deep respect for the suffering that they have experienced. On the substantive matter the hon. Lady asked me about, I refer her to my reply a few moments ago.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Independent, West Suffolk

When I was Health Secretary, I committed the Government to ensuring that the compensation recommended by Sir Brian be paid, and made the moral case that the UK Government must address this wrong. The stories from Caroline Wheeler and Hugh Pym have made that moral case stronger still. Can I push the Minister to move as fast as possible, but hold in his mind the critical nature of getting the response right as well? I commend his officials, who have worked so hard on this matter for so long. I entirely understand the need for urgency, but he must get it right at the same time. He is a diligent and deeply honourable man, and I hope he will hold that in his heart as he addresses the issue in the weeks to come.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks and for what he has done on this matter. He is right: I feel responsibility both to get the substantive announcement agreed as quickly as possible and to ensure clear communication with the infected and affected community so that they have clear expectations of what will happen following that announcement. From all I have read and all that my officials have briefed me on, I recognise that this is likely to be one of the biggest scandals in the NHS that this country has seen. I respect Sir Brian Langstaff and his extensive work over several years. I wait respectfully for his final report on the wider issues on 20 May.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

My constituent contacted me again yesterday. His father and uncles were all infected with contaminated blood, and all but two of the uncles have now died. He said to me:

“I had to grow up in care due to my father being too ill to look after me. We have been fighting for many, many years for justice.”

He thinks that the Government are dragging their feet on compensating victims. He is right, isn’t he?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

All I can do is account for what I have done since 13 November. I cannot really comment on the several decades previous to that. As the hon. Lady will know, we have had a series of ad hoc schemes, but the Government’s accepting culpability for what happened many years ago and the subsequent failure to respond will need to be addressed fully after 20 May. The Government’s amendment in the House of Lords is the first time that we will have put in legislation a duty to pay compensation. That is the start of a more comprehensive response that I am working on to secure collective agreement across Government, and I want to bring that forward as quickly as I am able to do so.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The Langstaff recommendation for interim payments was because of the need for speed; because people are so ill. How many people do the Government believe to be still living who were infected in this scandal? How many of them applied for the interim payments? What proportion of those who applied have received the payments? If my right hon. Friend does not have the figures with him today, will he undertake to write to me and place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

My right hon. Friend customarily asks precise and penetrating questions. I do not want to quote the few figures that I think I know, so I will write him a considered reply, which I will make available. Far too many people have suffered and far too many have died. We need to put this right as quickly as possible.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I congratulate Dame Diana Johnson on her work to date. When I engage with my constituents, it is clear that not only have they lost loved ones to a preventable and painful death, but the stigma that those loved ones lived with during their life is part of the issue. Members across the House rightly want answers about the interim payments, because those families have received no compensation and no apology to date. If the Minister cannot give a date that people can expect payments, can he at least give some clarity on how they will be able to apply?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

First, I agree entirely with the hon. Lady with respect to the stigma. One cannot fail to be moved by the accounts of people in the 1980s; when they contracted HIV, the stigma in society was very different from where we are today. That has caused damage to relationships, to lives, and obviously to health—many people’s cases have been terminal.

The statutory duty to make interim payments of £100,000 to the estates of deceased infected people will be carried out through the existing schemes. We are working with those schemes to work out how best to do that. That is different from recommendation 12, in that the Government took the view that we did not want to overwhelm the will of the estates—rather than divide it up among family members, which could be problematic and would cause delay. While I cannot give an authoritative date now, urgent work is ongoing to give clarity on the process for those people to register and to receive those payments.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The infected blood scandal is one of the biggest stains on the history of the NHS. I am pleased to hear that we are getting interim payments out as quickly as possible, but the Minister has talked about giving payments to deceased people’s estates rather than named individuals. Could he outline his reasoning? We want to make sure that compensation goes to the correct people quickly.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. One of the challenges is that some cohorts of people are not registered but have been part of a scheme that does not now exist. How do we best expedite the process across that affected community? Those are the sorts of practical issues that I am working through with officials, so that we can reach the best possible solution when we give our comprehensive response in due course.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

“Cheaper than chimpanzees” was how former pupils of Treloar’s school described themselves when they gave evidence to the inquiry. My constituent, Lee Moorey, was one of the pupils of that school, and has described to me how he felt that he was experimented on all those years ago. We have set up the Brian Langstaff inquiry; what more can the Government possibly want to know than what that inquiry is going to uncover, and why are they delaying compensation? Will the Minister confirm that nothing has been preventing the Government from paying compensation since the date that Brian Langstaff published his interim report last April?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

There is a challenge in translating 18 recommendations into numbers and into the reality of a transmission mechanism, as well as in the quantification and agreement across Whitehall. The work on the first part is under way: that is why we have engaged the experts to work out how to quantify the payments that will be due across different heads of loss. Quite reasonably, those numbers were not in the report—it would not be for Sir Brian Langstaff to put numbers on every single individual—but that work is under way. We are now working to agree the substantive response as soon as we can after the final report is published.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

This week, I will be using the mechanisms of this House to do something that, in 14 years as an MP, I have never before felt the need to do: present a petition. At the top of that petition will be the name of my constituent, Andrew Evans, one of the children who was infected with hepatitis and HIV. By a miracle, he survived to set up and help run the Tainted Blood campaign. Like many of my affected and infected constituents, he feels that this process has already gone on for too long, so I am very grateful to Dame Diana Johnson for securing this urgent question.

I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the updates he has given, particularly about support for the estates of the deceased. However, I urge him to continue to meet groups such as Tainted Blood and make sure that the communication on this issue is as clear and open as possible, so that those groups are engaged and can support their members as the process moves forward—and to do so as fast as possible.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend, both for what he has said today and for his engagement privately in recent weeks. I agree with everything he has said, and I have heard his challenge to be clear about communications to prominent charities, organisations and support groups. Letters were sent by my officials yesterday evening to set up those meetings. I have talked to cross-party representatives of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, seeking input on the names of groups. I am trying to respect their confidence while also meeting as many representative groups as possible, and to do that well before 20 May.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

This is surely the worst health scandal that we have seen, with Government after Government kicking the can down the road. We need to accept that there is a need for change, including a change in speed and urgency. The continued delays and prevarication—I regret to say that it feels like we have seen some more of that today—exacerbate the suffering. We know that two people are dying every week. The Minister must know that the delay on this issue is indefensible, and he must know its impact. Does he appreciate why such a large number of Members are pushing for action now, and does he understand that that is what we need him to deliver?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

Yes, I do understand that. I deeply respect the views of colleagues who have made strong representations on this matter, and I am doing everything I can to move it forward as urgently as I can. I will not repeat myself regarding the things I have said with respect to steps taken last week, or the spirit in which I am engaging and the reasons why I am doing it, but I agree with the hon. Lady that speed is absolutely of the essence.

There has been a lot of speculation in articles in recent days—and, most prominently, in Caroline Wheeler’s book—about the wider issues: what went wrong and why these things happened. Those matters will need to be addressed, but through the lens of Sir Brian Langstaff’s report, which will be published finally on 20 May.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

I commend my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson not just for securing this urgent question, but for all the work that she and others in this place have done on this important matter.

Sir Brian Langstaff made his final recommendations on compensation early—a whole year ago—and recommended that the compensatory body make payments by last December. He did so because he was worried about the effects of a delay on the affected and infected. We have missed all of those deadlines; is this what Sir Brian’s worst fear looked like?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I sincerely hope not. What I have said with respect to the interim payment is a response to the dialogue I have had with Members across both Chambers of the House, working with Earl Howe in the other place. I have been pretty clear that in I am doing everything I can to put preparations in place for giving a legal entity the obligation to pay compensation, and to minimise delay in advance of the final determination of the Government’s response, so that that response can be operationalised as soon as the decision is finally made.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Every time we have these urgent questions, we get a well-intentioned Minister giving a helpful but frustrating update about what is happening. This Minister is one of the most well intentioned, and today’s statement has been one of the most helpful, but what we want to hear—as the House has said clearly today—is a clear timeline for when applications for compensation can be made and when those payments will be made. He has come really close to telling us that today; can I encourage him to get over the line, tell us when it is going to happen, and satisfy all of us who are standing here on behalf of our constituents?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair and reasonable point. I would wish to say more than I am saying today, but we have not quite got to that point; I am doing everything I can to get there.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the mechanics of engagement with communities, I am very seized of the need to have a clear narrative for each different cohort, so that we can be crystal clear when those decisions are made. I recognise how frustrating this is. Obviously, agreeing, quantifying and making provision for those things is a collective process across Government, and I am doing everything I can, using my experience from several years in the Treasury. It is helpful that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Health Secretary when the public inquiry was set up, and I am working with colleagues across Whitehall to deliver this as quickly as I can.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

One of the most upsetting aspects of this whole tragedy is the thought of those pupils at Treloar School being experimented on like “lab rats”, as one of the pupils said. They included brothers Michael and Bill Payne, and I met their widows Cath and Margaret over the Easter recess in Bristol. I accept that the Minister is trying to give detailed answers and that there are complexities, but what it really comes down to is the deep, deep wrong that was done to those little boys at Treloar’s, and compensation and apologies are owed to those people. Can I ask what the Minister is doing to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible with the families of those affected, so that they feel they are not being swamped by bureaucracy and that answers are close at hand?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I have reached out to prominent charities, organisations and support groups to share the progress that has been made—I had to respect the fact that we needed to do that through the parliamentary process last Wednesday—and to seek their views, but not to replicate the considerable trauma that they went through giving evidence in an incredibly painful fashion through Sir Brian Langstaff’s inquiry. I am meeting those charities, organisations and support groups. I obviously cannot meet every single individual, but I am trying to use those meetings to inform the response of the Government and to make representations to my colleagues about what needs to be done so that we can land this in the most effective place as soon as we can from 20 May.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister recognise that many people feel that the state, with all its delays in delivering justice to the victims of this scandal and their families, has utterly failed to recognise adequately the egregious harm that has been inflicted and continues to be inflicted on those impacted, leaving tens of thousands of victims and their families in great suffering as they continue to wait for compensation?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

Yes, I recognise that all delays are painful and frustrating and cause distress. That is why I am doing everything I can to move this forward as quickly as I can. I am sorry that that is repetitious, but it is the truth. I think I have updated the House meaningfully today on the legislation. I know what we need to do, which is to get to 20 May and, as soon as possible, come up with a comprehensive response on behalf of all those who have lost their lives and the families who have been ruined by this absolute scandal that has happened over 50 years.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

May I also give my thanks to my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson for securing this urgent question? It gives me the opportunity to raise the case of my constituent Mark Fox, who contracted hepatitis C from infected blood when he was given a transfusion. He was just four years of age at the time. He was given contaminated factor VIII for his haemophilia. He was unaware of his hepatitis C diagnosis until he was 17, when he was in care. He has been living with the health consequences of this scandal for over 40 years. He lost his job, and we have mentioned the stigma. I say with all due respect to the Minister, because I know he is doing his best, that interim payments will offer a way of bringing relief to some of the survivors. Mark has asked me to ask the Minister how many more years he will have to wait before he receives either an interim payment or full and fair compensation for the suffering that he has endured.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his heartfelt representation on behalf of his constituent Mark Fox, and I am sincerely sorry for what he has experienced. I am doing everything I can to bring as much clarity as possible, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive timetable today. I am working towards—I hope—giving a definitive timetable at the point of, or very soon after, the publication of this final report. I will do everything I can to bring clarity to all groups involved.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

It has been seven years and we have had four Prime Ministers since this public inquiry was set up, and there have been many decades waited before then. Surely the Minister will agree that the stories of children being impacted are tantamount to state-sponsored abuse—abuse similar to that suffered by my constituents Linda Cannon, whose husband died after a contaminated blood transfusion, and Vera Gaskin, who has stage 2 cirrhosis of the liver. Sir Brian Langstaff said that it would clearly take political will to act quickly, and the circumstances here warrant that. When will the victims—our constituents and their families—get compensation and justice? Surely the Minister recognises that issues such as these, whether it is Primodos, the Post Office scandal or contaminated blood, are taking decades and re-traumatising our constituents while they wait and often die before getting justice. It is not good enough.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I very much recognise what the hon. Lady is saying with respect to the impact of time on suffering, and I want to bring this forward as quickly as I can. I am doing that work and sponsoring work to gain the advice we need to make informed decisions that will allow us to make the widest possible decision in a few weeks’ time.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I too am speaking on behalf of a constituent, who lost a brother and sister-in-law and whose nephew was left to be brought up by the family. I want to raise the urgency of this. I appreciate the Minister’s sincerity about what he is trying to do, and the fact that he has been in post for only a few months, but it is over a year now since Sir Brian Langstaff brought forward his report and said that interim payments were absolutely essential. I am trying to understand exactly where the block is. If this was a priority for the Government, it would have been done in that year, so where is the block?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

There is not a block. Last year, there was a process of looking at how we could work out the costs and the way of translating and operationalising the recommendations. That work is well under way, and Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery and his team are helping with that. As I say, I hope that in a few weeks’ time we can get to a point where we will be able to make a substantive assertion of the Government’s position.

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

Building trust and confidence requires the support of the infected and affected community. Can the Minister confirm that the independent body’s executive will include representation from infected and affected people’s groups who can make decisions on processes, eligibility and decision making in order to build trust and confidence?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his engagement with me last week as one of the co-chairs of the APPG, when he made a similar point. I am reflecting carefully on what it takes to satisfy the recommendation to have a body independent of Government while also securing as much authority and as much confidence among the different communities involved as possible. I will update the House on that in due course.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North

My caseworker Paula was left bereaved as a teenager after her father was killed by HIV and hepatitis from infected blood products. She has suffered enormously since, including being bullied at school as a result of the stigma around HIV. She is now in her 40s and battling cancer, but despite the recommendation from Sir Brian Langstaff’s inquiry a year ago in April 2023 that the children who lost parents should be awarded interim compensation, she has yet to receive a penny. How much longer will the Government keep victims such as Paula waiting?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I very much hope that we will be able to make a clear assessment of what we are going to do in a matter of weeks. I am doing everything I can to be clear about depicting for each different group, including some going back 40 or 50 years, what the process will be going forward. We owe that to all the victims and their families, and I will try and be as comprehensive as I can in that response when it comes.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I do not know. I have not had those conversations yet. If a representative of the Government is asked to be there, I am absolutely sure that that will be the case. If it is me, I will be very happy to attend.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers, and for his clear commitment to delivering for all those with severe health problems. Does he not agree that reading some of the information supplied by the BBC feels more like reading about a national regime’s atrocities than reading about action by our own healthcare professionals in the 1980s? It is quite distressing. How does the Minister believe that we can ever restore confidence in a process and procedures that allowed this to happen, and what assurances can the general public have that it could never happen again?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

When Sir Brian Langstaff publishes his report—and I have absolute confidence in the authority of the report that he will publish—that will be the time for a response from the Government on the wider implications of what went on and what evidence Sir Brian has gathered. As I said at the start of my response, we may have seen some elements of that in recent days, but I want to ensure that the Government respond authoritatively, and as fully as possible, when the moment of publication comes.