Following the successful application for an Emergency Debate by Diana Johnson MP on the Contaminated Blood Scandal, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition with the need to hold this inquiry and how this inquiry should be conducted.
You can read the full debate on Hansard here.
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.
First and foremost, thanks must go to my outstanding hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who has so valiantly campaigned on this issue for numerous years now. Without her and the dedicated resolve of her and all those she cited who have been involved in this campaign, we would not be where we are today. Thanks must also go to the former Member for Leigh, Andy Burnham, for the debate he led at the end of the previous Parliament, for which I had the honour of being present. He helped to add expediency to this issue with his commitment to go to the police with the evidence he has if the Government failed to come forward with an inquiry to seek justice for those who have been neglected
For too long, the contaminated blood community have been simply failed by their Government and ignored by those who have let the demands of those affected fall on deaf ears, leaving the community without justice. It is very welcome—as we have heard in the news in the past hour and a half or so—that an inquiry may finally be happening, and I look forward to hearing further details from the Minister when he responds. I am grateful that he and you, Mr Speaker, have allowed me to speak first so that he can answer the questions I pose. This is a rather unusual format, and I had no prior knowledge that it was going to be changed. I hope that other Members who speak and pose questions will get a response from the Minister; I do not know whether he will get two bites at the cherry or will have to intervene to answer other Members’ questions.
This emergency debate is timely and allows the House to have its voice heard fully, which is right after the decades of neglect the contaminated blood community has faced. At any point prior to 12.30 pm, when the announcement was made in the news, the Minister could have come forward and made a statement. That would have saved my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North from having to apply for an emergency debate yesterday. It feels like the order of things has been a little forced, and it is sad that it has had to be forced in this way. But we are where we are.
Labour Members are resolutely in favour of a Hillsborough-style public inquiry, as we made clear in our manifesto a couple of months ago—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I pushed for that to be included. The Labour party believes that that style of inquiry would get to the heart of the problems that unfolded in the 1980s and hold to account those who were to blame for this scandal, before it is too late. It is not just our party, but all the parties—especially those on the Opposition Benches—that have made a commitment to stand up for those people seeking justice. That was so clearly documented in the joint letter, which was published on Sunday, from the leaders of every single opposition party here in this House, including, I am pleased to say, of the Democratic Unionist party.
Last November, in a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, we discussed a whole host of issues that this community faces, including how people could be compensated for the terrible events that have occurred. Today, we are here to debate the fight for justice, which should have happened a lot sooner.
In my contribution, I want to impress on the Minister two key points: first, that the previous two inquiries have, categorically, not been sufficient in seeking justice, which is why a Hillsborough-style inquiry must be actioned; and secondly, that the evidence presented so far is clear that if we are to have truth and reconciliation after the murky covering up of this scandal, then the strongest of daylight must be shone on every aspect, leaving no stone unturned.
The two previous inquiries—the Archer inquiry in 2009 and the Penrose inquiry in Scotland in 2015—did not go far enough in the eyes of the affected community in getting the truth and justice that they deserve. The Archer inquiry, which was not Government-backed, failed because there were no Department of Health witnesses giving evidence to the convened panel. The Penrose inquiry also did not go far enough in seeking the truth, as it was unable to compel witnesses from outside Scotland when, at the time of the scandal, most, if not all, of the decisions were made in Whitehall. That failure to compel witnesses to attend from outside Scotland meant that the inquiry failed to provide the justice and answers that people from right across the UK deserved.
There are many allegations around this scandal, ranging from Department of Health officials destroying evidence as part of the cover-up, to victims’ medical details being tampered with to hide the cause of their infections.
Two of my constituents have two particular matters that they want the inquiry to consider: first, one said that he was infected with hepatitis C and exposed to the HIV virus, but was not informed of that by the NHS until years afterwards and he wants to be assured that the inquiry will reveal why the truth was hidden; the second wants to know about this issue of doctors and scientists being paid by the drug companies and about the precise nature of those deals. He thinks that those deals have to be really properly and rigorously exposed by this inquiry, so that we can get to the bottom of whatever vested interests existed during this scandal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The evidence on those things has been well documented, especially by the former Member for Leigh and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North. Those who have lived with these conditions; who are brave enough to come forward; and who are at the sharp end of this heinous negligence and the recent uncovering reported in the Daily Mail last week have proved just how important it is that a Hillsborough-style inquiry is set up.
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the report, “Self Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales” is unauthorised, and could possibly be perpetuating inaccuracies and outright lies, as my constituent says in a letter to me?
All of this evidence will have to be examined. In recent days, constituents affected by this scandal have been in contact with my office with intricate details that must be addressed. It is important that those questions, no matter how small they may be, are answered, as they reflect the issues that have inextricably affected that person’s whole life. It is most important that those issues are addressed, so that those who have lived with the ramifications of this serious negligence can finally have the justice that they deserve.
Getting to the bottom of the allegations and the evidence and having a full and frank inquiry that brings justice for the many people affected are the reasons why we must have this inquiry. As the joint letter by the Opposition leaders said, if a panel were to be convened, it must disclose any and all documents related to the scandal, which involves the victims at every stage; and it must compel all parties involved to participate in the disclosure process and not to hinder justice any further. It must also investigate the events leading up to an individual’s infection and the aftermath, including allegations of medical details being tampered with, whether people were unknowingly tested for viruses without their knowledge and whether enough was done to identify those at risk of infection. As part of this inquiry, there must also be an investigation into the role of profit-making American firms, which supplied the blood factor concentrates to people with haemophilia.
Although none of this will bring back loved ones and those who have died as a consequence of this scandal, or change the life circumstances of those who are alive today living with these conditions inflicted on them, there is still something that we can do, which is to hold an inquiry. It is the very least that we can do. The thousands of people affected by this scandal must be supported and we must stand beside them in seeking justice, as that is our duty as elected representatives of the public.
I want to conclude with this final remark: none of us here has a magic wand—I know that our constituents think that we do—and we cannot turn back time and stop this scandal from happening. Sadly, that power does not exist, but the power that does exist, at the behest of the Minister before us today, is that of facilitating the justice for those who live with the aftermath of this scandal. Here, today, we can send a message—a loud and strong message to those who campaign on this issue day in, day out—that Parliament has listened and is on their side. We in this House have heard them; we in this House are there with them; and we in this House will do all that we can for them in their quest for justice. We cannot let them down. We can help facilitate the truth once and for all. Parliament is listening to the individuals who have spent decades fighting against the system to get the truth that they seek, and the Government must listen to Parliament. Parliament is saying: fix this, provide those thousands of people who never asked for this to happen to them with the justice that they so rightly deserve. We cannot fail them any longer.