Second Reading

Part of Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 12:01 pm on 11th December 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 12:01 pm, 11th December 2009

My Lords, the House has had the privilege of listening to two very well informed speeches on this subject, and I found them immensely moving. No one who has had anything to do with this matter can be anything but seriously concerned about the impact that the contaminated blood disaster has had on those who have suffered its consequences.

I was the Secretary of State for Health from 1979 to 1981, at the very earliest stages of what was beginning to emerge as a serious problem. One of my predecessors, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who also gave evidence to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, had already identified from his knowledge as a practising doctor the need for this country to become self-sufficient in blood products. When I followed the late Lord Ennals, we were faced with the same problem; we were not self-sufficient. As I explained to the inquiry, I had on my team the late Dr Gerard Vaughan, himself a distinguished doctor, and I asked him to pay particular attention to this matter, of which he obviously had some knowledge. Sadly, he is no longer with us.

Anyone who has had responsibility in this field must feel not only some sense of responsibility but also some sense of shame that this matter has dragged on for so long. I add my tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, for the enormous amount of effort that they have made-the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for a long time and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, with his outstanding inquiry-to try to get to the bottom of the problem and identify a possible solution.

Another group of people also need to be thanked: the private donors who helped to fund the inquiry. As has been spelt out-I do not need to repeat the figures-the expenses were very modest but they involved some tens of thousands of pounds. That sum was found from voluntary contributions because, as has been pointed out, successive Governments have refused to institute a public inquiry financed from the public purse. Despite the handicaps in conducting the inquiry faced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and his colleagues, who must also be thanked, they received a tremendous amount of evidence from a great variety of sources, and with great skill they succeeded in distilling it into what is by any standards a formidable report.

My evidence to the inquiry surrounded the fact that I had been invited by one of the haemophiliac sufferers to exercise my right as a former Cabinet Minister to go back and look through the files which would or might have passed across my desk during my period in office. However, as the whole of Chapter 8 of the report discloses, neither the noble Lord, Lord Owen, nor I could find any files in existence. They had all been destroyed. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, whose name has been mentioned several times already in the debate, admitted in correspondence to me, this was apparently inadvertent. I find that extraordinary. It is very difficult to understand how such a major issue could somehow have been expunged from the records by someone at a low level of responsibility and with no senior accountability and certainly no ministerial accountability.

In those circumstances, it is not in the least surprising that there are those who have harboured suspicions. I have harboured them myself following discussions with senior officials-it is all in the evidence-including the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who was two or three years ago the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health. Somewhere along the line, the department had recognised this matter as being most serious. The report notes that it was,

"memorably described by Lord Winston as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS".

I can well understand that the Department of Health has always been very anxious to put this matter behind it. It has, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, has just said, a huge raft of concerns, some new and some continuing, and it may not wish to dwell too much on this one. However, it remains a problem for the very reason that the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord have already set out: there are still sufferers out there who have never felt that they have been either properly represented or properly compensated for what they experienced.

It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, has had to resort to a Private Member's Bill in order to have a full debate on this subject. He deserves tremendous credit for the work that he carried out during the recess in time to turn the report into legislative form, because that is indeed what he has done. It gives us the opportunity to raise some of the issues surrounding this problem, as has already been done by the two previous speakers, but, above all, it gives the Minister an opportunity to reply. Having been in the same position myself, although not on this subject, I express some sympathy with the position in which she finds herself. Nevertheless, I believe that the Department of Health owes a better explanation of, and a greater commitment to dealing with, this problem. We have not had that so far. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said, the response published in May was in many respects inadequate, and we are still waiting.

I do not know whether anybody else has been approached, but an inquiry has now been set up in Scotland by the Scottish Minister for Health, chaired by a distinguished judge, Lord Penrose. I know about this because I was asked if I was prepared to give evidence. I said that I would but that I had no more evidence than I had already given to the Archer committee. They also offered to pay my expenses, but I subsequently had a letter saying that that was intended primarily for Scottish Ministers and others, not for Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. However, I have heard nothing more about the Penrose inquiry. It is an official inquiry, instituted by the Scottish Government. No doubt it will make progress in due course. Given the resources behind that inquiry, it will be interesting to see whether it is able to extract more evidence from official sources than did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. We shall have to wait to see whether that is the case. However, in the mean time, I believe that the Department of Health-this is not at all a party matter-owes a considerable obligation to the haemophilia community, and to others who have suffered as a result of this matter, to give a much better explanation of its view of the present situation and how it intends to deal with the sufferers.

When I met the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, then Sir Nigel Crisp, he explained to me that, following a long process of negotiation, the HIV sufferers had been compensated, and that it was as a result of that being put behind them that the files had been destroyed. I said, "But surely they must have known that there were Hepatitis C patients and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease sufferers out there? How could that conceivably have justified the destruction of all the files?". To that I have never had an answer. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, looked at the matter extremely carefully and said there was no evidence of any malicious intent in that because he had no evidence about it at all. However, it makes the problem a great deal more difficult and one can understand that it lies at the heart of much of the pain and anguish suffered by the haemophilia community. Therefore, I am sure that I am not alone in looking forward to hearing the Minister's response. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue once again.