Health: Contaminated Blood Products — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:50 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 12:50 pm, 23rd April 2009

My Lords, I remember a Question Time one Thursday morning when the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, rose to ask a particularly pertinent question which he prefaced by saying that he had got off a plane from India at 6 o'clock that morning. I never expected to find myself in the same position, but I now do. Having been in India for the past 10 days or so and not being aware of the debate on the Order Paper, I was not able to put my name down to speak. In those circumstances, perhaps your Lordships will extend me your indulgence for a minute or two so that I may make one or two observations. I intervene with some diffidence because I also recall the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, speaking in the gap on one occasion when he said that although people had drawn his attention to the procedural opportunity of speaking in the gap, he had always received the advice, "Know about it. Don't do it".

This debate puts me in some difficulty. Arriving in the House this morning and seeing the debate on the Order Paper, I was of course anxious to support my noble friend Lord Morris, with whom I have worked particularly closely over a very long period. As I say, I would not normally intervene because I am comparatively unbriefed on the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, which everyone has commended so eloquently this morning, and I am not as well versed in the issues as the rest of your Lordships are. However, I am moved to intervene briefly for four reasons.

First, as your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is very persuasive. Secondly, although many people have referred to his tireless campaigning over a lifetime in politics, and I have known and worked closely with him for a long time, I have never heard him speak with such eloquence and authority as he has this morning. That is one reason that leads me to want to give him such support as I can.

Thirdly, in some respects, being comparatively unbriefed about the issues enables me to make a distinctive contribution, because my lack of briefing puts me in the position of the man in the street who listens to the case that noble Lords have been deploying. Anybody coming to this debate untutored is bound to get an impression of heartlessness, obfuscation and prevarication. It seems to me that the Government, in that situation, have the job of defusing that impression. From what I have heard, there is a case to answer and I hope very much that we shall hear some persuasive answers from the Minister.

My final reason for intervening is simply to underline the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, at the end of his contribution—namely, that the National Health Service is a public and government service to which people look for healing and cure. The irony of people being injured or, indeed, killed by the treatment that they receive in the health service casts a heavy responsibility on those responsible for running it to make proper amends to those who have suffered in the way that noble Lords have so eloquently described this morning.