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Labour and Tory rebels threaten Government defeat over infected blood

Campaigners calling for compensation for victims at the Infected Blood inquiry (PA)
Campaigners calling for compensation for victims at the Infected Blood inquiry (PA)

Conservative MPs and Labour could join forces on Monday to inflict a defeat on the Government over calls for a new body to help infected blood victims.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour will support an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill which would establish a body for a full compensation scheme for thousands of patients infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Thirty Tory MPs have also signed the amendment, which will be debated in the Commons on Monday and would require the body, which is expected to be chaired by a High Court judge, to be created within three months of the legislation becoming law.

Dame Diana Johnson, who has campaigned on behalf of the victims, said the creation of the compensation body by the end of this year had been recommended by the chairman of the contaminated blood inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, a former High Court judge.

She said ministers “seem to be ignoring” the recommendation and that 146 MPs from 10 parties had signed her amendment calling for them to act.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North said: “This Bill was the first opportunity that we have had to put these amendments down, recognising that Sir Brian in April made a series of recommendations on compensation to the Government.

“One person dies on average every four days from the contaminated blood scandal.”

She continued: “Parliament I think, cross-party, is saying to Government, ‘You need to act now’.

“And very importantly, the Government has already accepted the moral case to pay compensation — ministers have said that.

“So all Parliament is saying to Government now is, ‘Get on, just get on and do it’.”

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.

In a letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt informing him of Labour’s support of the amendment, Ms Reeves described the infected blood scandal as “one of the most appalling tragedies in our country’s recent history”.

She wrote: “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.”

She said Kevin Brennan MP, Labour’s shadow minister for victims and sentencing, has tabled an amendment which would require the Government to respond to the final report of the independent Infected Blood Inquiry within 25 days.

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

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

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

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.

“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.”