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Archer Inquiry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:25 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 4:25 pm, 1st July 2009

We were speaking about the treatment of people with hepatitis C and how it differs from that of those who have contracted HIV. I would be grateful if the Minister told us why people with hepatitis C are treated differently from those with HIV—both conditions are debilitating and life-threatening and have caused severe financial hardship for those affected.

This tragedy has already produced hundreds of widows and widowers. They do not receive any financial support after the death of their partner. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for anyone with HIV or hepatitis C to get affordable life insurance. My constituent, Haydn Lewis, recently got a quote for basic life insurance cover, which had a premium of more than £6,000. That is completely unaffordable for someone who is dependent on benefits and Macfarlane Trust payouts. Lord Archer has said that the issue needs to be tackled, but unfortunately, the Department’s response was that insurers do not discriminate against infected haemophiliacs, and that premiums are based on risk assessment. To me, that is both patronising and inadequate. No one is claiming that insurers discriminate against infected haemophiliacs, and of course premiums are based on risk. However, it is because the NHS infected those people with life-threatening viruses that they pose such a high insurance risk and are therefore charged unaffordable insurance premiums. All the recently announced extra funding for the HIV sufferers will be swallowed up in life insurance costs, and the Government are proposing nothing to help those with hepatitis C.

The tragedy has affected a number of different countries around the world, yet the British Government’s behaviour is different from that of other Governments. I have already spoken about the Irish tribunal, and in Ireland the Government decided to provide

“compensation for persons with haemophilia...on compassionate grounds, without legal liability on the part of the state.”

Despite Government protestations, there is no difference between Irish and UK circumstances. Neither state has been found liable for the infection of haemophiliacs, but the Irish Government have recognised their duty to support those whose health was ruined by treatment under the national health system.

Almost every MP has a constituent who is affected by this issue or who has died from their infections. We can see the level of interest from the number of MPs who have turned up to the debate. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), who are elsewhere today, have both been involved with constituents on this matter. During the last debate on the subject in the House in 1990, the late Robin Cook said that this was not a party political issue, but an issue of conscience and of justice.

Early-day motion 963 calling for full implementation of the Archer inquiry already has 184 signatures from hon. Members across all parties. This issue has been going on for decades and has taken the lives of more than 1,800 people. Now is the time to draw a line under it once and for all. I would be grateful if the Minister let me know whether she will meet me and a small cross-party delegation of Members of Parliament, together with representatives of the Haemophilia Society and a couple of patients, to discuss how we can finally move forward and ensure that the Archer inquiry is put into practice.