Second Reading

Part of Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 11th December 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Spokesperson for Health 12:45 pm, 11th December 2009

My Lords, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak in the gap today. I shall confine myself to three or four quick points because I have spoken in previous debates about the noble and learned Lord's report. I thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for their persistence with this matter. Their indefatigable campaigning is necessary for this group of people.

I want to set out the context in which I and my colleagues in the Liberal Democrat health team are approaching this matter. Today, of all days, it is easy to make this point: we are told that over the next four years there will have to be £20 billion-worth of savings in the NHS and £36 billion in savings across all government departments. That is the context in which we have to consider this matter.

The question is, therefore, how we as politicians answer the undeniable moral case that has been made for these people and the injustice and suffering that they have undergone. Unfortunately, I suspect the answer to that is not entirely contained in the noble Lord's Bill. My question to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, and, most strongly, to the Minister, is: how do we arrive at a position in which the Government work with the people who have been affected by this to determine a set of priorities about how to address the urgent issues of today for some people, as well as the unfolding issues that we do not know about yet for the next 20 or 30 years?

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, was right that it is not acceptable that the Government meet but twice a year with the Haemophilia Alliance. I suggest, as a way forward, that there should be a working group under the auspices of some part of the Government, though probably not the Department of Health, that is tasked with coming up with a plan to deal with this issue now and for the next 20 years or so.

Such a working group should urgently consider an issue that has not been mentioned much today. It is met in the report's eighth recommendation, that there should be a look-back exercise to try to identify those people who may have been infected but may not yet know that. In their response, the Government said that they were committed to doing so. Will the Minister tell us in detail how and when that will happen, and how comprehensive it will be? That will be an important means of finding out the true scale of what is happening.

The people who have been affected by this terrible tragedy demand and deserve justice, ongoing practical help and change. The last thing that we should do is raise their hopes again in ways that are unrealistic. That would be cruel treatment to people whose trust has already been shattered. The most responsible thing that this House could do would be to ensure that there was a realistic and practical response to the issue that was dealt with urgently. I can think of no better way of doing that, and I hope that I speak for all noble Lords who are taking part in this debate, than to send the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, into the Department of Health to do his best, with our best wishes behind him.