Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has suffered his first Commons defeat after Tory rebels backed speeding up efforts to compensate victims of the infected blood scandal.
A total of 22 Conservative MPs rebelled to support a Labour-led amendment requiring ministers to establish a body to administer the full compensation scheme within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill becoming law.
The proposal, tabled by Labour former minister Dame Diana Johnson, was approved by 246 votes to 242, majority four, prompting cheers in the Commons chamber.
The division list showed the Tory rebels included former ministers Sir Robert Buckland, Damian Green, Dame Andrea Jenkyns and Chloe Smith.
The defeat came despite a last-ditch attempt by the Government to offer concessions in a bid to placate MPs.
Justice minister Edward Argar had said the Government would amend the Bill in the Lords to establish the necessary structure and timescales for a delivery body to provide compensation.
But he outlined that the Government would still not act until the final report from the independent Infected Blood Inquiry has been published.
The 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”.
Under an initial compensation scheme, only victims themselves or bereaved partners can receive an interim payment of around £100,000.
MPs have urged swifter action given it is estimated someone affected by infected blood dies “every four days”.
Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Dame Diana, in a message posted on social media platform X, said: “I am very pleased that my amendment new clause 27 has been passed, despite Government opposition.
“This will now put in law that a body will be established to pay compensation to those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal within three months of the Act passing.
“This is an important step forward in what has been an extraordinarily long fight for justice.
“However, it is not the end. There is still much work to be done to fully implement Sir Brian (Langstaff)’s recommendations and bring justice to those who do not have the luxury of waiting.”
Haemophilia Society chief executive Kate Burt said: “The Prime Minister should be ashamed that it has taken cross-party political pressure and public opinion to force his Government to do the right thing and commit to a full compensation scheme for people impacted by the contaminated blood scandal.
“He fails to understand that compensation is about so much more than money. For the families of those who died, compensation is recognition of their suffering and an acknowledgement that their beloved child, parent, sibling or partner was valued beyond measure.
“We thank MPs from all parties for dragging the Government towards urgent action in support of thousands of people who have already waited far too long for truth and justice.”
Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors, the firm which represents some 1,500 individuals and their families impacted by the infected blood scandal, said of the debate: “The Government has finally agreed to act – both to deliver on establishing a body to oversee proper compensation for victims and their families and to respond swiftly to the much-anticipated final report due from Sir Brian Langstaff’s inquiry next March.
“However it is difficult to rest assured at this point, because regrettably when it comes to the infected blood scandal, the Government has been expert at avoidance and delay.”
Mr Argar, ahead of the vote, had said the Government wanted to amend the Bill in the Lords to “put in place the necessary legislative framework and timescales for a delivery body for compensation for the victims of infected blood to be established in line with the overall objectives set out in” Dame Diana’s amendment.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow minister without portfolio, described the vote as a “remarkable victory” for victims of the infected blood scandal.
He said: “The Government is now obliged to do the right thing and take the steps necessary to bring forward a final compensation scheme body urgently.”
Jason Evans, director of the Factor 8 campaign group, said: “This is an incredible moment for the campaign and brings victims and bereaved families one step closer to seeing full redress. I sat in the public gallery as the results were read out, and it is truly a moment that I will never forget.
“We pay tribute to all MPs who voted for justice tonight, particularly those Conservative members who defied a three-line whip to stand on the right side of history.”
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