Amendment 119BA (as an amendment to Amendment 119B)

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 30 April 2024.

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Baroness Meacher:

Moved by Baroness Meacher

119BA: After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) In exercising its functions the IBCA must have regard to the following matters—(a) the need for swift and fair redress to victims;(b) the ease of accessibility to the relevant compensation scheme;(c) the efficient and effective operation of the relevant compensation scheme.”

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to respond to the Minister’s remarks and thank him for his commitment to make conversation available to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal. However, I also express concern that we do not have any clear dates even for the appointment of the chair of the body that is yet to be established in order to begin to provide these compensation payments. These people have been waiting and waiting for decades. They need urgency and speed and I argue that the Minister, in order to win their trust, needs to set out early dates by which they can expect to receive compensation.

I am concerned that victims who have already had access to the derisory compensation programmes that have been made available might not be entitled to the Government’s new compensation programme. I hope I am wrong about that, but I do have some concern. There has been the most appalling neglect of these victims and really quite derisory payments—in so far as anything has been paid to them at all. With those concerns, I thank the Minister for his comments.

One of my concerns is that the regulations must not put a time limit on people making an application for compensation, so I propose that amendment to the House. It is vital that these victims are not penalised if they do not meet some arbitrary deadline. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I call the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who is taking part remotely.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest as my first husband, Graham Ingleson, died from infected factor 8 in the early 1980s, aged 32. I welcome the Government’s amendments and am really grateful for the significant time the Minister has given me since Committee to understand the concerns of the infected blood community and to look at ways to address them in the Bill. The Government have shown signs that they are listening as we know from the proposals before us, including provision for interim payments. As we heard in the debate on the Government’s Statement last week, they acknowledge that the community must have a role in the infected blood compensation authority itself, including now, we hear, on the interview panel for the chair.

The Government’s amendments are a good start, but the infected blood community still has significant concerns. For example, the last-minute Amendment 157CA does not go far enough. Other concerns are reflected in the suite of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Brinton and Lady Featherstone. I have added my name to Amendments 119BA, 119CA, 119MA, 119T, 119PA, 119Y, 121B, 121G—now replaced by 121GA— and 121H, and support the intent of the others they have tabled. These amendments would ensure that time limits are introduced to speed up the process, that the chair of the IBCA is a High Court judge or equivalent and that support and assistance for applicants is mandatory.

Time limits are critical to ensure there are no further delays in compensation. There is nothing like a deadline to focus minds. Amendment 119CA requires the scheme to be set up within three months of the Bill becoming law and it is vital that interim payments are made well before that. With reportedly two deaths a week of those infected, they cannot come soon enough. I hear why the Minister wishes to widen the pool of applicants to chair the IBCA and am pleased to hear that some of the infected blood community will be on the interview panel. However, in my view and that of the community, the Government should accept Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendation for a judge-led IBCA. With horror stories emerging of experiments on innocent schoolboys, rebuilding trust with the community is imperative and only a High Court judge would signal that commitment. Their impartiality and objectivity are unquestioned, with no risk of conflict of interest. It would powerfully reflect the status and credibility of the IBCA, underlining its independence. Amendments 121B and 121G provide for such an appointment.

The infected blood community must be assured they will have the support and assistance they need under the scheme. Amendment 119T amends the Government’s power to secure such support to a duty to do so.

Other issues of significance need to be covered. Transparency is fundamental to restoring trust. Sir Brian recommended that expert panels work as part of the scheme. Instead, we have an expert panel working for the Government. Apart from the terms of reference, we still know nothing about its members or its meetings. Sir Brian also advised that the scheme is accountable to Parliament. Instead, its reporting line is to the Secretary of State or the Cabinet Office Minister. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will explain the reason for that. Given the growing evidence of cover-ups, surely transparency should be the hallmark of all the proposals.

Sir Brian emphasised that the principles of fairness, accessibility and efficiency should be at the heart of the process. I therefore support Amendment 119BA. The IBCA must have regard to those principles.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, which reflect the inquiry’s interim recommendations and, most importantly, the needs of the infected and affected survivors. Redress for the injustice they have endured must be the bedrock of the Government’s proposals. Many of the community are with us today or watching from home. We cannot let them down again.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 6:45, 30 April 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for meeting many of us in many different meetings between Committee and Report; I suspect there may be some more meetings to come. I have a number of amendments. For the record, my amendments to the government amendments are Amendments 119D, 119HA, 119K, 119M, 119P, 119T, 119U, 119V, 119X, 119Y, 121B, 121C and 121D. I also have Amendments 119YB, 119YC, 163 and 166.

Following discussions with various members of the infected blood community, I want to make a brief point about the approach in amendments laid by the Government. In Committee, the Minister said:

“The Government’s intention, therefore, is to bring forward an amendment on Report which will correct these two deficiencies”— that he had outlined—

“and add further standard provisions to ensure a more complete legal framework when setting up an ALB”.

He went to explain that he was going to engage with us, and we are very grateful for that. He went on:

“That drafting is not yet complete. One of the main reasons for this—which I personally felt strongly about—was that we should use this Committee stage as an opportunity for a general debate on the infected blood scandal and, in advance of Report, for the Government to be made aware of the views expressed … around the Chamber”.—[Official Report, 26/2/24; col. 833.]

I thank the noble Earl for that comment, and I think he has certainly got our views.

However, instead of one amendment covering two deficiencies and a more complete legal framework, the Government laid nearly 40 amendments within the last 10 days without any equivalent to an Explanatory Memorandum or a long letter to explain their thinking. I accept that there was an explanatory statement under most of the amendments, but I have been operating two sets of the amendment booklet just to try to work out what on earth has been happening here.

The real problem is that, while we express general views in Committee, we are now being asked to vote—or not—on really fine detail, which I think many Members have been struggling with, just to get amendments laid. That is why there are 67 amendments in this one group this afternoon.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Meacher, set out why the infected blood community is concerned that there is not enough detail to give them confidence, despite the Government moving forward a bit. I just wonder if the Minister is open to a meeting, because I think we may be able to move further forward, particularly on the issue of interim payments that would satisfy both noble Lords and the wider community.

The noble Earl explained why the Government do not support Sir Brian’s approach to interim payments. He went into a lot more detail in a private meeting, for which I am grateful, but this week—or was it last week?—the Paymaster-General told the Commons that interim payments would be made through the existing schemes to the estates of those eligible for interim payment, where the deceased was registered with a current support scheme or one of its predecessors. While those in the infected blood community are content with this, they are still very concerned about the lack of timescale on interim payments where the deceased meets the criteria and the need for an assurance of one month, as we originally proposed. If it cannot be one month, we should have some idea of the timing.

I am very grateful to the noble Earl for explaining the two-tier system, where those who have not yet had interim payments but are known in the system are different from those who are not yet known. I think the community understands that as well. The victims also need reassurance where the government amendments refer to “may” rather than “must”. I know that there are some reasons for that, but, in the meetings with the community, the Paymaster-General may have to explain some of those reasons. Again, this is about rebuilding the confidence that he spoke so movingly about at the start.

The detail of the government amendments has been met with bemusement and anger by many of the community. It is partly about the timescales. I think the House is grateful that the Government are accepting Amendment 119CA from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but there is still no framework and no idea about tariffs. Worse, the threats to the victims and their families of this scheme remain. One widow told me that she was concerned that widows and children will end up worse off under the scheme than currently. So where is an impact assessment, as current payments may be stopped and there is no outline about what the tariff is? Somebody could end up with a proposal that is considerably less but has many years still to live, so how will they be protected from this happening?

Will recipients be asked to pay back support—“benefits” to you and me—that families relied on after their loved ones became infected and needed to be nursed and cared for by family members? Jobs and houses were lost and, frankly, we know that benefits have not been generous either. That is in the nature of benefits, but many people have been living this way for 30 or 40 years—now approaching 50 years for some. It would be egregious if those families were to receive compensation that immediately went to pay back decades of benefits. Can the Minister confirm that this will not happen? This is part of my Amendment 119HA, as an outline for framework tariffs and a clear statement that families will not have to pay back benefits. By the way, my amendments follow recommendations 6 and 8 in the interim report from Sir Brian, which was published nearly a year ago now.

I also have other amendments trying to give clarity for the position of the IB victims and their families. For example, there has been a lot of discussion with the Horizon postmaster victims about legal support. Will there be legal support for these families? My Amendment 119V says that they should have the option of that legal support, including people who have been supporting them at the inquiry and other places. That is not retrospective payment. It would be continuing support in the future, so that they can negotiate with the scheme.

My Amendment 121B refers to the appointment of a High Court judge as chair. I am grateful for the points that the noble Earl has made, but there is still no timescale and that remains a key issue. Could he explain to the House exactly why, and perhaps unpack a little more about whether the chair should be a judge or even a High Court judge, which is very much what the infected blood community wants?

Finally, I have laid Amendment 119YC, which uses the principle helpfully offered by the Government for their own amendment for the infected blood compensation body, to probe whether now is the time for a truly independent compensation authority overall. This body would act as the manager of all compensation schemes for victims of failures of public bodies. We do not have time this evening to discuss this in any detail, but it is appalling that we have the infected blood scandal scheme —still not sorted after over 40 years—the postmaster Horizon scheme, the Windrush scheme, the Grenfell disaster, the sodium valproate scandal, the vaginal mesh scandal and many others. The one thing common to all of these is that no Government, of any colour, have acted fairly or with reasonable speed to resolve the remedies for all these victims. Perhaps now is the time to begin that debate—not tonight, but at this time.

Photo of Lord Waldegrave of North Hill Lord Waldegrave of North Hill Conservative

I join other noble Lords and Baronesses in paying tribute to my noble friend, who has been extremely generous with his time in meetings. I am quite certain that he personally has been pushing in the direction that has led to really major progress. I declare an interest as a former Secretary of State and therefore a witness to the Langstaff inquiry.

The three months is excellent; the shadow organisation set up before the final report is good; the shadow CEO is excellent. I am interested in Amendment 119HA, from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Like her, I would like the reassurance sought in her proposed new subsection (2):

“In assessing compensation under the scheme, no account should be taken of any past support payments”.

The structures of the tariff-based compensation and so forth seem right and sensible. If we can have reassurance on that also, it would be very helpful.

The major item in the noble Baroness’s amendment is one that sets off tremendous alarm bells in the former Chief Secretary lobe—or half—of my brain. The idea of letting the chair set the tariffs, even with these structures around them, would have been very alarming to me, as a former Chief Secretary, and would be alarming to any future person who has to be accountable for public expenditure.

None the less, I still hesitate on it, because every noble Lord has spoken about the requirement to rebuild trust, and my noble friend himself began his speech with that. If it were possible to provide criteria for the payments such that the chair was enabled to be independent within those criteria, that would rebuild trust in a formidable way. I would be very interested to hear what my noble friend has to say on that.

Rebuilding trust is the primary task, as it has been among the terrible casualties of this disaster—trust in the state, trust in the NHS and doctors, trust in everybody. Trust in Ministers, of course, has been severely damaged and we may have to take exceptional steps in this really unparalleled scale of disaster to rebuild that trust. Precedent is always a terrible weapon to deploy against anything, but one hopes that there would be a few precedents for disasters on this scale in the future. I would like to probe my noble friend a little further on that, but I end by thanking him again. I was privileged to work with him as a colleague in the past, and it is no surprise to those of us who have worked with him that he has been not only efficient but empathetic and careful, in the best sense of the word, in his dealings certainly with me and, I suspect, with other Members of this House as well.

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as some of your Lordships will know, I declare an interest as my nephew died aged 35. He was a haemophiliac, a twin and my sister’s son. He left a 10 month-old baby daughter. I too thank the noble Earl for being so sincere about this. He is one of the first people I have heard on the government side who actually gets it and understands the agony that the community has been through over the last 40 years—so I thank him for that.

I will speak briefly to a couple of amendments. With Amendment 119PA, we are concerned that infected and affected people who may want to appeal against a decision on compensation will not be able to go to a separate body to appeal, as Sir Brian Langstaff recommended in his report. If Sir Brian’s recommendations are ignored, people will have to seek to reverse a decision through the First-tier Tribunal, as is the case at the moment. They are concerned about that because the First-tier Tribunal is not specialised in infected blood and has a whole host of other things to deal with, such as PIP and housing appeals. The process will be very difficult.

Almost all the infected blood compensation appeals will be based on a factual appeal and not on a point of law. It is going to be impossible to dispute any decisions that are made. The concern is that, if the Government go down this route, there will effectively be no appeal process and applications will fail. My Amendment 119PA is about ensuring that appeals are made to the High Court or the Court of Session rather than the First-tier Tribunal.

I am very glad that the noble Earl opened on the issue of trust, as many noble Lords have raised this. There is such deep suspicion and mistrust on behalf of the community. They want the person considering appeals to be independent. They do not want the Government to be involved, because trust has been lost. We all have to recognise that the infected and affected community literally do not trust the Government because they have been pushed from pillar to post. I have been campaigning on this with my sister for years. They have been treated, quite frankly, as an annoyance when they have talked to the health officials or Ministers available to them. They have been treated as supplicants and lied to over and over again. I am afraid that trust is really far gone, as we have discussed in the past.

My Amendment 121GA is about the formation of the body. The chair needs to be a High Court judge or a judge of the Court of Session. We want the other non-executive members to be appointed by the chair, and the chair to be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice. If the chair is appointed by the Government, that again raises the issue of mistrust.

I welcome the Minister saying that four of the other non-executive members—I have numbers, but the point is the principle—should be people affected or infected by blood contamination or people representing such issues, and they should be from all four home nations. Without that commitment to the inclusion of the community there will be no trust, so I very much welcome that.

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative 7:00, 30 April 2024

I thank the noble Earl for the way in which he introduced this debate. I will speak briefly to the government amendments. Like others, I was disappointed to see the three-month time limit removed, but I appreciate the practical caveats that my noble friend the Minister has raised. I genuinely do not think this is a delaying tactic. He clearly appreciates why some reassurance on timelines is necessary.

In that same spirit, I would like to raise one further matter on the expert group. It will provide advice to the compensation authority and will help develop the framework for compensation. In his letter before Report, my noble friend the Minister acknowledged the need for greater transparency in relation to this group, and that the Government would therefore publish the terms of reference. They have now done this, and we are very grateful. However, the membership has been redacted, which has quite reasonably upset many of the infected and affected. I am sure my noble friend can see why people are dismayed that the names of the legal and clinical experts have been kept secret. I know that people will be very keen to understand why this has happened.

I can conclude only that this is an incredibly sensitive area; we know that. I appreciate that the group has attracted some controversy, not least because of the chair’s connections with Bayer, although no one doubts his personal integrity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, has just said very powerfully, the infected and affected have been deceived and misled for more than a quarter of a century. As with other national scandals, the cover-up is at least as bad as than the original offence, if not worse, so transparency is obviously key.

To reiterate, it is understandable that people will view this body with distrust if they do not know who is sitting on it. These are people who will be making decisions on their futures and the futures of their families. Given everything that they have been through, I do not think it is fair or acceptable. We all hope that we are reaching the end of a very long road, and it would not be right for all those infected and affected to face another hurdle or to have to fight another fight.

That is the moral point; I have one practical point. My noble friend the Minister has made it very clear that he would like the infected and affected to have a role in the compensation authority and that this will be critical. I completely agree with him, but anyone taking part from that community would expect, and no doubt want, to be accountable to their peers, even if they knew that meant there could be some difficult moments in the future. It would certainly be very hard for them to take on that role in secret. That would mean that we would end up in a position with one rule for the experts and one rule for those affected. That would be a very difficult position to be in. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could tell us why this anonymity has been allowed and whether the Government will consider lifting it, given the circumstances.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the extremely sensitive way in which he has been open to discussions at all times. I know that he has met with many of us individually.

As noble Lords have heard, there was an error with the clerical system, so my name was added to a government amendment; I think the Public Bill Office was overloaded. There is much to commend in the government amendment, but I am not supporting it because I have put my name to amendments to it. I put my name to a lot of the amendments. Others have spoken very clearly to all those amendments.

There seems to be a problem with the government amendments, which is the word “may”. Reading through, one sometime feels that word should become “must”. It would be helpful to have clarification from the Minister on why some of the “mays” are not becoming “musts”. The “must” really makes things happen.

Compensation is long overdue. I remind the House that it was in May 1975, nearly 50 years ago, that the WHO expressed serious concern at the international plasma trade. There has been an enormous erosion of trust, grief and anguish. I even worry when people talk about rebuilding trust, because I think we have to stop it being eroded. From the explanations that I have heard outside this Chamber from the noble Earl, I can see how the Government are really hoping to stop the ongoing erosion of trust. That has to happen before you can start to rebuild it.

The inquiry led by Sir Brian Langstaff made clear recommendations about interim payments and the way a compensation scheme should be managed in the future. I am glad the Government accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, which requires a stated time of implementation within three months of the Bill passing. It is essential that the details of all these processes are looked at very carefully so that they do not leave anyone feeling that anything has been kicked into the long grass yet again. Support and assistance will be essential. That seems like a time when “may” should be changed into “must”, as in Amendment 119T. The interim payments must be made within one month of the Bill passing.

On a High Court judge being the appointed chair, I know the Government have said that they want to keep the options open and somebody excellent may come forward. Somebody may, and they could certainly serve on the board, but, of all the skills that a High Court judge has, they need to be seen to be there to oversee the infected blood compensation authority.

On that authority having among its executive members those infected—involving the infected blood community —I simply reiterate the point that those people will need great support, because it will be extremely difficult for them on that board with some of the decisions that they will have to take and some of the difficulties lying ahead. On the selection process, I hope that the support is adequately available and that not too much falls on the shoulders of any one person.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

Perhaps I may add something about High Court judges, having been one myself. It may not be necessary to have a sitting High Court judge, because there are a number of recently retired High Court judges who would be entirely suitable. However, it needs to be a High Court judge who has tried medical cases. I add the fact that many family judges try medical cases quite as much as civil judges. Let us not necessarily be tied to an existing High Court judge.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, this is my amendment, so I think my job is to bring this—

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Baroness has already spoken, so it is not appropriate for her to continue.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the infected blood scandal is an appalling injustice. We in the Labour Party want to ensure that justice and compensation for victims and their families are delivered urgently, with guarantees of no further delays. Campaigning and advocacy organisations, alongside the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood, have worked tirelessly to help secure justice.

At Third Reading of this Bill in the House of Commons, the Government lost a vote on an amendment in the name of the right honourable Dame Diana Johnson MP. The vote was a remarkable victory for victims of the infected blood scandal, and it was a victory for Diana Johnson. The Government are now obliged to do the right thing and take the steps necessary to bring forward a final compensation scheme urgently—the noble Earl has spoken to this. The Government have already confirmed that they fully accept that there is a moral case for compensation, while the Chancellor has said:

“This has been going on for far too long and … justice delayed is justice denied”.

We welcome that the Government have finally accepted the need to bring forward a compensation body promptly, as evidenced to some extent by the new Report stage amendments we are debating in this group.

However, adding a fixed timeline to the Bill is essential to help finally to give those who have suffered for so long the reassurance that they should soon get the compensation they deserve. My Amendment 119CA will amend the Government’s Amendment 119C, reinstating the three-month time period that was in the original new clause, currently Clause 40, added in the Commons.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe. We have had very many meetings about this issue. I think he said he would not move government Amendment 157CA, which was a possible compromise that he put forward at one point. I absolutely agree with the noble Earl’s point about the need to work collaboratively with the victims community to re-establish trust as far as possible. Trust has been a theme running through this debate.

The Government have laid around 40 amendments in this group, which has a total of 67 amendments. A number of noble Lords have spoken in detail to their amendments—I will not even attempt to address all the individual points that have been raised, but I will pick up two. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is proposing to move any amendments to a vote—she is nodding her head, and it may well be Amendment 119HA that she presses. If she does, I am afraid we will abstain. That was our position before going into this debate, but I was reinforced in that view when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, speak to that amendment. He is a former Secretary of State, and he presented to the Langstaff inquiry. His and my concern was the excessive prescription of the way to proceed in Amendment 119HA, so I give the noble Baroness due notice of our view on that amendment.

I will summarise by quoting the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson: “We all hope that we are reaching the end of a very long road”. I understand that there have been many decades of hurt and distrust, but we want to—and do—believe that the Government are doing this in good faith. We will certainly do everything we can to use the time available, as the Bill continues to pass through this House, to look at the detail and continue to engage with the Minister, who introduced his amendments and I think has gone some way to re-establishing trust with the affected community. I very much hope that that continues to develop.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:15, 30 April 2024

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed, both today and during our previous discussions on this important topic. The moving statements we have heard throughout the passage of the Bill have been a true measure of the gravity of the infected blood scandal and its far-reaching impacts.

I will address the amendments spoken to in this debate, starting with Amendment 119HA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I can today give her an assurance that the Government’s intention, via regulations, is to establish a tariff-based compensation scheme, and that people who are infected and affected will be eligible for compensation under the scheme. The regulations will provide clarity on what the scheme comprises.

We recognise that it is also important that an arm’s-length body is functionally independent. In common with Sir Brian Langstaff, we view this as critical for building trust with the infected blood community. However, there is an important principle here around maintaining government accountability. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave, whose comments I appreciated, referred to this. The Government simply must hold responsibility for overseeing the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, and it would not be appropriate for the rates of compensation to be set by the chair of the IBCA. Instead, the chair will hold an important role in the delivery of the scheme, making sure that the right people receive the right compensation and ensuring support for those who access it, against the parameters set out in legislation.

To address a further point in the noble Baroness’s amendment, those details are being informed by the expert group of clinical, legal and social care experts appointed in January to assist the Government in responding to the inquiry recommendations—and I shall refer to that group again in a moment.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the selection of a chair for the IBCA, I gave reasons earlier why, although we are entirely open to the suggestion that the chair of the IBCA should be a High Court judge or, indeed, a retired judge, we may need to allow for the possibility that no judge will be available or willing to occupy that post. We want the right person in place as expeditiously as is proper. What is most important in that connection is that the IBCA is operationally and functionally independent and seen to be so, and the way in which we are framing the legislation provides for exactly that.

The government amendments are clear that a final UK-wide compensation scheme is being established, distinct from previous support schemes. The details of how payments are to be made will necessarily be set out in regulations. In any event, I can now confirm to the House that it is not the Government’s intention to deduct any past support or ex gratia payments, excluding any interim compensation payments, from the final compensation payments made by the infected blood compensation scheme. I hope that that provides the noble Baroness with some welcome reassurance on the points that she raised.

As I said earlier, I am not in the business of prolonging people’s uncertainty unnecessarily. I understand that the infected blood community and Parliament are keen for transparency on the Government’s intentions in regard to the compensation scheme. As my noble friend Lady Sanderson has rightly raised, there have been concerns about the anonymity of the expert group —and I have listened to those concerns. The Government took the decision not to publish the names of the expert group members alongside the terms of reference to safeguard the privacy and the ability of the experts to continue their front-line clinical roles while advising on government policy. However, once their initial work has concluded, the Government will ensure that the identities of the experts are disclosed.

Additionally, in the spirit of transparency, the Government will commit to publish the compensation tariffs when they are available, ahead of secondary legislation. I hope that my commitment to these actions today will provide the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, with confidence not after all to press her amendment when it is reached. The Government amendments as drafted provide workable and appropriate legal powers to establish a compensation scheme in a way that is deliverable by government—and I fear that, should the noble Baroness’s well-intentioned amendments be moved and carried, this will simply not be deliverable for the Government and could ultimately delay the payment of compensation.

I turn to Amendment 119BA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We absolutely respect the principles that the noble Baroness has raised, and the need for the infected blood compensation scheme to be efficient, fair and accessible to deliver justice effectively. It is our sincere intention to deliver this and put the needs of victims at the forefront of the operation. In saying that, I should add, as she will understand, that there are clearly many different needs and perspectives to take into account. The imperative for the new infected blood compensation authority to act effectively and efficiently towards that aim is already provided for in paragraph 11 of the new schedule to Part 3, as set out in government Amendment 121A. Creating more statutory provision around the exercise of functions is, I can assure the noble Baroness, not required.

I move to amendments that deal with adhering to the recommendations of the infected blood inquiry’s second interim report on compensation. These are Amendment 119EA, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and Amendments 119D, 119E, 119K, 119M and 119U, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Ministers are clear that recommendations of the infected blood inquiry should form the basis of the government response. In January this year, an expert group was appointed to provide technical assistance in understanding how the inquiry’s recommendations could work in practice. I assure the House that the expert group is intended to build on and not replace in any way the recommendations made by Sir Brian Langstaff. This will help to ensure that the Government are able to respond to recommendations in a manner that reflects the impact that the scandal has had on the lives of individuals, while also considering what implications that has for delivery.

There are some specific instances where we must divert from recommendations in order to make the compensation scheme deliverable for the Government and to ensure that payments reach those eligible as swiftly as possible. I emphasise again that we are committed to working with the infected blood community to ensure that the compensation scheme meets its members’ individual needs. However, on reflection, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that a formal consultation with legal representatives across the UK would lead to one sure outcome, which would be to delay the process of establishing the scheme. We do not consider that it is required.

The Government are acutely aware of the importance of establishing an accessible and sensitive compensation scheme for victims of inflected blood. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Brinton, for their Amendments 119MA, 119V and 119VA, which speak to the support for claimants who would be accessing the scheme. First, I want to be clear that the infected blood compensation authority will provide support to applicants and, within this support, will consider the provision of legal support services. The government amendment allows for that support to be provided for victims, and the House can expect the Government to work with the infected blood compensation authority on the support that is required.

The government amendments set the legal framework required to enable the Government to move quickly to establish a compensation scheme; they do not limit in any way the procedure for applications. However, the operation of a scheme must be efficient and user-friendly. In-person hearings, as proposed in one of the amendments, could extend the timeline for payments for individuals. We will need to consider that idea carefully, alongside the delivery of the scheme as a whole.

The Government also recognise the benefits of providing legal assistance to individuals accessing the compensation scheme. I shall take that point away with me, in the way that I have just indicated—and I refer noble Lords to government Amendment 119S in this connection.

Leaving aside the fact that it would be undesirable to commit in this legislation to a panel of specific law firms to undertake government-funded work, it is important that any support provided is well considered against two principal benchmarks: first, that it provides the most benefit for claimants and, secondly, that it is consistent with the appropriate management of public funds.

I turn to Amendments 119CB, 119DA and 119DB, which introduce the word “harmed” into the government amendments that identify who may be eligible for compensation within regulations. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that the existing wording is sufficiently wide to capture all those infected and affected by the treatment of infected blood, and the additional drafting that she has suggested is not required.

Amendments 119J, 119P and 119T would change “may” to “must”. These amendments could inadvertently limit the breadth of what could be done under a general power and are therefore not considered appropriate at this stage. This is about having a process that is efficient for victims and that also allows for oversight of public money. I am very happy to meet noble Lords to discuss this issue further. Amendment 119P is a good example. If we were to change “may” to “must”, as that amendment proposes, it would be, as it were, dictating to the IBCA what it has to do. We are keen not to do that where we do not have to, because of the need to give the IBCA autonomy. I give that as an example.

Similarly, the deletion proposed in Amendment 119LA should not be made, in our view. It is absolutely not intended to unfairly restrict those who are eligible to apply to the scheme from being able to do so. All that this does is to provide the Government of the day with the ability and flexibility to impose time limits, where these are required, to ensure that the scheme design is fit for purpose. The regulations relating to payments will be subject to the “made affirmative” procedure, and Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise these provisions.

I turn to Amendment 119PA, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. The government amendments make provision for internal reviews of compensation decisions by the new infected blood compensation authority and for related rights of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. Further appeals against First-tier Tribunal decisions are possible. I reassure the noble Baroness in regard to that amendment that the First-tier Tribunal considers findings of fact to correct any decisions that are referred to it, and there is an established route for further appeals from First-tier Tribunal decisions—the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and ultimately the Supreme Court—so there is no need, in our view, to depart from that as the amendment proposes. It is our judgment that utilising existing tribunal systems is the best way to provide a fair and accessible appeal route without any unnecessary delay to the establishment of the compensation scheme. We have given this careful thought and it is our judgment that the interests of victims will be served better in this way.

Amendment 121H, which would provide that all non-executive members are appointed by the chair, rather than initial non-executives being appointed by the Secretary of State, would unnecessarily delay the establishment of the ALB. I do not think it is at all desirable, and I remind the noble Baroness of what I emphasised earlier about the way we propose to use the ALB’s committees and sub-committees.

I want to provide clarity to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the status of the £100,000 payments to the estates of deceased infected individuals registered with current and previous support schemes, as introduced by the government amendment. It is the Government’s view that the word “interim” is not required, because these payments will be made through the infected blood support schemes, and the infected blood compensation authority has all the legal powers required to make any further payments under the final compensation scheme.

Finally, let me address Amendment 119YC in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I thank her for her amendment and I note that her intention is to open a debate on the potential benefits of a single body to administer compensation in cases of failures by public bodies. The Government firmly believe that access to redress is fundamental in upholding justice and fairness in our society. Individuals must have avenues to seek recourse when they have been wronged or harmed. That is precisely what we are seeking to achieve today for the victims of infected blood. However, we must be cautious in considering a body which sets up a uniform system for redress and compensation. Circumstances which lead to the need for redress can be vastly different, and any schemes must have the capacity to reflect those differences to ensure that impacted individuals can receive the best possible redress. Therefore, while there is merit in continuing discussion on this area, and I will be glad to do so, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making clear her view that this Bill is not the correct vehicle for pursuing the establishment of such a body.

Today’s debate is an important step for victims of infected blood. My firm desire is for us now to work together to ensure that every provision and every commitment made in this House is deliverable and meaningful to those people who desperately need compensation. I am very happy to have further meetings with noble Lords. I therefore earnestly entreat them to hear and embrace the steps we are taking today and have confidence in the Government’s intentions. The government amendments provide the appropriate and workable legal framework we need to get on with this very important work and I hope the House will support us in progressing it.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 7:30, 30 April 2024

My Lords, the lead amendment in this group is Amendment 119BA, which I happened to table. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments at great length, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Featherstone, who made very powerful speeches. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the very considerable number of assurances he has given this House. They will, I know, provide tremendous reassurance to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal, who have been waiting, as I said before, for a very long time for some action; I think they can now expect compensation quickly after 20 May. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 119BA (to Amendment 119B) withdrawn.

Amendment 119B agreed.