Nadhim Zahawi welcomes the announcement of an independent public inquiry into infected NHS-supplied blood and blood products and calls for all parties to come together so the victims can get justice and compensation.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker. May I join colleagues in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and the work she has done in leading the all-party group, as well to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who has been a joint chairman of that group?
I have been working with the victims in my constituency since 2011—for the past six years—and I consider myself a new boy when it comes to this particular tragedy and scandal. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has spent many hours working tirelessly on behalf of those of his constituents who are victims. I pay tribute to him; I know he wanted to take part in the debate but could not because of Government business.
I thank the Prime Minister for listening to the victims of this extraordinary tragedy and to colleagues in the House, and announcing the inquiry. I acknowledge the Minister’s saying to colleagues that the Government are in listening mode on the inquiry’s terms of reference and that they will put the victims at its heart. That is what the victims would expect, and they will be grateful for it.
Many victims—this is certainly true of my constituent, Clare Walton—initially did not want an inquiry; they wanted a settlement instead. I pay tribute to Andy Burnham for his work on this issue, as well as to the journalists the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North cited. The new evidence that was uncovered led Clare Walton to change her view, and she is now very much supportive of and looking forward to engaging with the inquiry.
It is important that the inquiry looks into the subsequent treatment of victims and holds the relevant bodies to account. On Clare Walton’s behalf, I have been attempting to communicate with the Macfarlane Trust, which was one of the five charities set up to help the victims. I say “help,” but I have to tell the Minister that in my experience the Macfarlane Trust has done anything but help my constituent. It has behaved in an utterly despicable way. It refuses to meet my constituent or me—I have requested meetings for the past six years, but they always come back with a reason why they cannot meet.
The trustees of the Macfarlane Trust have bullied my constituent and “fed her with scraps”—those are her words—while at the same time having a charge over her property for all this time and making a profit on it. The trust refuses to discuss the future of the charge on her property. The scheme administrator will soon be changed to the NHS business advisory service, so she wants to know what will happen when that change takes place. I hope the Government will take some of these issues away and respond more fully at the appropriate time. The Macfarlane Trust says that it cannot give any more information until it has clarity from the Department of Health about transitional arrangements; Clare really wants that clarity. I hope the Minister will intimate, as his predecessor did, that the Macfarlane Trust is not much longer for this world. I have struggled even to speak to the trust on the phone.
Another of my constituents, Adrian Melson, is particularly concerned about the discretionary payments on which many victims rely. I hope that as the Minister begins to look at the evidence before him he will look closely at making sure that, if discretionary payments have become something much more permanent, they are recognised as such and not treated as discretionary. Under the previous Prime Minister, whom I commend for coming out and wanting to resolve this issue, we promised our constituents that no victim would suffer financially under any compensation structure we put in place.
I shall take Mr Speaker’s eloquent words on board and end there, other than to say that this is not a party political issue: successive Governments have failed the victims. I hope we can now come together and have this inquiry, but we must make sure that there is a clear timeline and a deadline.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on her leadership on this issue. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about coming together, it is important for this issue to be considered at a UK level, because it predates devolution. It is important that the Minister—I thought he was going to speak second in the debate—works with the devolved Administrations and that any future compensation is provided at a UK level so that there are no second-class citizens in the United Kingdom.
I think the victims who looked at the Scottish settlement have taken that point on board—that is certainly the case with Adrian Melson—and I am sure that the Government listened to the hon. Gentleman’s view. Let us come together and provide a clear timeline for when the victims can get not only justice but compensation.