Archer Inquiry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 1st July 2009.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:00 pm, 1st July 2009

Many of the relatives of those who have died feel that there are questions that still need to be answered before they can move on with their lives.

I welcome the release of thousands of documents by the Department of Health. Those documents were initially thought to be lost or destroyed. However, the Department has not played fair with the inquiry team. In response to my parliamentary questions in December 2008 and January 2009, which was about a month before Lord Archer reported, the Department told me that 35 documents were being withheld under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It then released 27 of those documents two months after Lord Archer reported. In May, the same day that the Department responded to the report, 468 more documents were released. They had been identified in late 2008. None of the documents was made available to the inquiry team or mentioned in responses to my parliamentary questions even though the Department knew about them. Will the Minister clarify whether Lord Archer was aware that so much relevant information had not been released when he reported? Moreover, will she tell us how many documents have still not been released by the Department?

I do not want to apportion blame today. It is more important to talk about the issue of compensation, particularly as we have such a short time in which to debate the subject. The compensation is for victims who are still alive and for the widows and families of those who have died. Lord Archer said that the financial assistance that is currently available is insufficient, and recommended that assistance should be on a par with the existing Irish scheme. The Irish tribunal, which was set up 12 years ago, assesses each case on an individual basis and then sets out an initial lump sum payment and periodic payments thereafter. The main cost in Ireland has been the lump sum payment. Between 1997 and 2007, the tribunal awarded €566 million to 2,666 people, which is an average of £150,000 per person per case. Using the Department’s own figures, a similar scheme in the UK would cost about £50 million a year for the lump sum payments in each of the first 10 years. In the scale of the Department of Health budget, that is entirely affordable. I personally think it is the least the victims deserve.

The Department’s response to doubling the annual payments to those with HIV is extremely welcome, but it is the bare minimum that Lord Archer himself recommended. Just 350 of the 1,200 haemophiliacs and their spouses who were infected with HIV are still alive. The increase in payments to them is only £7 million a year, which, although welcome, is a very small amount of money, and will help only a small number of people.

In contrast, the Department has offered nothing at all to those with hepatitis C. Of the 4,600 people infected with hepatitis C, around 2,500 of them are alive today, so quite a few people are still living with that dreadful condition. The Skipton Fund, which was designed to help them, has paid out £97 million to 4,000 people since 2004, which is the equivalent of just under £5,000 per person per year. That is considerably less than the average benefit claimant receives in a year.

That is just not fair compensation for infecting someone with a virus that causes them huge daily suffering and is ultimately very likely to kill them. The Department of Health has said that it will reassess the scheme in 2014, but that is a very long way away, and we are talking about people with life-threatening conditions. By that time, many more of the affected people will have died after many years of suffering. That is not fair.