Rishi Sunak suffers first Commons defeat over infected blood payouts

Edward Argar responds after the Government's stinging defeat in the Commons on Monday night
Edward Argar responds after the Government's stinging defeat in the Commons on Monday night

Rishi Sunak suffered the first Commons defeat of his premiership on Monday night after more than 20 Tory MPs sided with Labour in a vote over the infected blood scandal.

The Government made a last ditch attempt to stave off the rebellion, but it was not enough to persuade senior Tory backbenchers including former Cabinet ministers Chloe Smith and Damian Green to back down.

Other notable Tory rebels included former ministers Sir Robert Buckland, Dame Andrea Jenkyns, Robin Walker and Tracey Crouch.

Twenty-two Conservative rebels backed a Labour bid to speed up payouts for infected blood victims, overturning the Prime Minister’s majority.

The amendment, which demanded that a new body be set up to administer compensation within three months, is now on course to become law.

In an effort to keep restless Tory MPs on side, ministers pledged a last minute change of their own - which would put in place the “legal groundwork” to establish a body to deliver payouts to victims.

But the Government still ended up losing by four votes, as nearly two dozen Tories defied Mr Sunak to back Labour’s proposals on Monday night.

Deputy speaker Sir Roger Gale called for order amid cheering and excitement from MPs as they processed the result.

Victims and their families have been campaigning for years
Victims and their families have been campaigning for years - Victoria Jones/PA

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Thomas-Symonds hailed the vote as a “remarkable victory” for the victims of the infected blood scandal.

“I pay tribute to all those who have fought so hard on this campaign, including, my colleague, Dame Diana Johnson, and am proud that the Labour Party stood beside them in this vote,” 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.

“The Labour Party will keep up the pressure to help ensure no more precious time is lost and that those affected can receive long overdue compensation, recognition and justice.”

The infected blood scandal has been described as the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

Between 1970 and 1991, thousands of people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses after being given a blood clotting agent called factor VIII.

Other people were infected via blood transfusions following surgery or childbirth.

About 1,350 people are thought to have contracted HIV, while around 30,000 were exposed to hepatitis. About 3,000 people are believed to have died.

Theresa May, the former prime minister, set up the Infected Blood Inquiry in 2017 to investigate the scandal and possible compensation.

The Government has insisted it is right to wait for the verdict, expected in March next year, before deciding on next steps. In the meantime, interim payments of £100,000 per person, announced last summer, have been paid to victims and their families.

But Labour said that waiting until next spring was too long, and that more needed to be done now to ensure those affected get the justice they deserve.

The Government initially held firm on its position. On Monday, a spokesman said: “We are deeply sympathetic to the strength of feeling on this and understand the need for action.

“However, it would not be right to pre-empt the findings of the final report into infected blood, which is due in March 2024. It is right that these findings are published and considered before any legislation is brought forward including any compensation scheme.”

But speaking later in the Commons, Edward Argar, a Home Office minister, made some partial concessions.

He said: “We have studied very carefully the proposals that have been made by [the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson] and supported widely across this House.

“The Government, as she said, has already accepted the moral case for compensation and is grateful for the work of [inquiry chairman] Sir Brian Langstaff.

“The Government has great sympathy for [Dame Diana’s] amendment and the intention to ensure that the legal groundwork is in place to enable a delivery body to be established.

“The Government will bring forward its own amendment when the Bill reaches the Lords which will 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) new clause 27.

“This will ensure that the Government is able to move quickly as soon as the inquiry reports.”

He said the Government would provide a statement on progress to the Commons ahead of the House rising for Christmas.

“We will commit to update Parliament with an oral statement on next steps within 25 sitting days of the final report being published,” he added.

Dame Diana’s amendment was approved by 246 votes to 242, a majority of four.

The Telegraph previously reported that total government compensation to the victims of the infected blood scandal could cost over £20 billion.

Sir Brian Langstaff, the former judge leading the public inquiry, has made clear that the scheme should compensate not just the “infected” but the “affected”, with the latter group including spouses, parents of children infected up to the age of 18, siblings who lived with an infected person, carers, and dependants of the deceased.

The lack of clarity about the exact numbers both infected and affected has meant there is considerable uncertainty about how much payouts could cost in the long run.

In a letter to Jeremy Hunt informing him of Labour’s support for Monday’s amendment, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves described the 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.”

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