Clause 15 - Guidance about independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24 May 2024.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 11:30, 24 May 2024

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, and I wish him all the best for the future and thank him for the work he did as Committee Chair. One of his memorable moments in the last few months was to chair the Committee sitting in which I and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry were pushing the issue of the Horizon postmasters in Scotland and what that meant for us. That was a very intelligent session, with many legal experts, and he chaired it in an exemplary way that allowed the debate to continue. I have always found him to be one of the more interesting Members of the House, when it comes to discussing such matters, and very fair. I wish him all the best.

I also wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all the best for the future. Like Kevin Brennan, I am going to name you as my favourite Deputy Speaker. You always used to tease me that I have a glint in my eye before I am ready to speak in the Chamber, and I would always be coy when you suggested I was going to be speaking next. I genuinely give you my good wishes, and thank you for all the kindness you have shown me as an individual and all the encouragement you give all hon. Members of the House in carrying out our duties, both to our constituents and here in the Chamber.

What an amazing week it has been. It was suggested that this Bill might not make the wash-up. If that had been the case, there would have been an almighty furore from the infected and affected community. I think pressure was applied by Members in this House, Members in the other place, and indeed the campaigners, to ensure that we got the Bill over the line. I am going to confine my observations to the amendments relating to the infected blood compensation scheme and setting up the Infected Blood Compensation Authority, which I welcome. I also welcome, as I did earlier in the week, the excellent appointment of Sir Robert Francis as head of the authority and of the compensation board.

Like many other Members, I am here to fulfil a constituent commitment, in particular to Cathy Young and her two daughters, Nicola and Lisa. It was one of my first constituency cases: Cathy Young came to see me at Darnley community centre. I had known a bit about the issue—in Scotland we had the Penrose inquiry, which was untidy to say the least—but I got more and more interested, and more and more passionate, because it was a clear injustice. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West suggested, I am a great believer that when it is time for an election, you do not shy away from it, but I do think that some of the events of the past couple of days have been a pity.

On Monday, when my constituent Cathy Young was down here in London, along with her daughters, I think some people in the Government knew that the general election was going to be called two days later. I do not believe that the Paymaster General did, but when he was on his feet delivering a statement about what the compensation scheme would look like, I believe that some people in the Government knew that the election was going to be called the very next day. We are in an unfortunate position, in that there are now a lot of questions that need answered and clarified before Parliament is dissolved. I am going to raise some of them in my speech, because we do seem to be in a bit of flux, which is a pity. I am going to take this opportunity on behalf of my constituents and the infected blood community, who have taken Members of this House to their hearts, as we have taken them to our hearts.

First, according to the scheme and the discussions that have taken place with the Cabinet Office, it looks as though the parents of a deceased infected child will receive the same amount as those of a living infected child. That does not seem right to me, and I think it needs to be clarified. There is also no mention of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease infection among all this paperwork.

A lot of clarity is needed on the confusion between what is a widow’s payment and what is an estate payment. The expectation appears to be that widows will distribute the money paid as an estate payment, but unfortunately that might be difficult, given the sad reality of life that some families do not speak to each other, for all sorts of reasons. It is suggested that widows would receive £16,000, which seems to be less than they receive at present. The Government are also suggesting that the support scheme payments will end, which is leaving a lot of people distressed and very worried about losing those monthly payments. We need clarity and more discussion with the infected and affected blood community to ease some of those concerns.

We also need clarity about individual heads of loss for the infected, because, frankly, we all seem to be in the dark. The uplift for psychological effects has also been omitted. Will that be covered by the injury impact award? At the moment that is not clear, so that is something else that we would want to discuss. There needs to be a discussion about what psychological support services there should be going forward, because this has been a difficult and emotional week for many people. Lastly—this is very important—if people accept the interim payment of £210,000, does that mean they are accepting all the compensation values that are currently on the UK Government website?

It seems to me that we need a lot of clarity and a lot more discussion. I welcome the fact that the authority has been set up and that this place has forced the Government to move on the issue. This has been the House at its best—just as many Conservative Members voted for the amendment tabled by my good friend Dame Diana Johnson as did Members in other parts of the House. This is a collective, cross-party attempt to address this injustice. I hope that those questions will be answered, either in writing or in discussions with the infected and affected blood community, because we are all here to make sure that they get the justice they so richly deserve. Any further delays will mean justice denied.