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Government may face Commons defeat over compensation for infected blood victims

The head of the Infected Blood Inquiry is set to produce a final report (Infected Blood Inquiry/PA)
The head of the Infected Blood Inquiry is set to produce a final report (Infected Blood Inquiry/PA)

The Government could suffer a Commons defeat after Labour joined Tory rebels in backing calls to establish a new body to help compensate infected blood victims.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

MPs, led by Labour’s Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North), are backing an amendment requiring ministers to establish a body to administer the full compensation scheme within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill becoming law.

A High Court judge would be expected to chair the body and take account of the need for speed, simplicity, fairness and efficiency for victims.

A total of 30 Tory MPs have signed the amendment, to be considered in the Commons on Monday, while shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour’s support.

An independent inquiry into the scandal was due to publish its final report this autumn but the document will now be published in March 2024 due to the “sheer volume and scale of the material”.

Recently appointed Cabinet Office minister John Glen last month said the Government has “accepted the moral case for compensation” but it is “only reasonable that the response is fully informed” by the inquiry’s final report.

Under an initial scheme, only victims themselves or bereaved partners can receive an interim payment of around £100,000.

Ms Reeves, in a letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, said: “The infected blood scandal is one of the most appalling tragedies in our country’s recent history.

“This week we have the opportunity to work together to begin to bring justice for the victims.

“Blood infected with Hepatitis C and HIV has stolen life, denied opportunities and harmed livelihoods.”

Ms Reeves said it is estimated that someone affected by infected blood dies “every four days”, adding: “This Bill provides the opportunity to put into law the steps that can be taken now to begin to deliver justice for the victims.

“That is why I am writing to inform you that the Labour Party will be supporting New Clause 27, tabled by my colleague and friend Dame Diana Johnson, to establish a body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal.

“This is an important moment to show that the Commons supports the principle of delivering a compensation scheme and achieving justice.

“Kevin Brennan MP, Labour’s shadow minister for victims and sentencing, has also tabled New Clause 42 that requires there is a fixed deadline of 25 days for the Government to respond to the final report of the independent Infected Blood Inquiry.

“This is not a party political issue. All of us have a responsibility to act now to address this historic wrong.

“That includes working together on a cross-party basis and with devolved governments to shape a final compensation scheme.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins appeared on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg (Victoria Jones/PA)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, asked if she would support establishing a body to administer compensation, told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “So I’m very familiar with the circumstances of this because I have a constituent that I have worked with for many years who has been affected by this.

“What we’ve done so far, obviously the inquiry has been called and it has given its interim findings. We have made interim payments, importantly, to those affected victims of the scandal itself.

“But it is right that we take our time to wait for the report but we also have to think through the consequences of that in terms of whether any legislation is needed.”