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Sunak suffers first Commons defeat in Tory revolt over infected blood payouts

Labour amendment was backed by 23 Tory MPs in humiliating loss for PM

Richard Wheeler,Adam Forrest
Tuesday 05 December 2023 07:57 GMT
Infected blood scandal: Thousands of victims to receive £100,000 compensation payments

Rishi Sunak has suffered his first Commons defeat over an attempt to speed up efforts to compensate victims of the infected blood scandal.

A total of 23 Tory MPs rebelled to support a Labour amendment requiring ministers to set up a body to deliver compensation within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill becoming law.

The proposal, tabled by senior Labour MP 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 Mr Sunak’s 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 timescales for a body to provide compensation.

The Tory minister admitted that the government would not act until the final report from the independent Infected Blood Inquiry has been published.

But Labour’s Ms Johnson insisted that that inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff had made clear that the government did not need to wait for the final findings before setting up a compensation scheme.

Labour’s Diana Johnson put the bill forward the amendment to make sure victims get compensation (PA)

Andrew Evans, chair of the Tainted Blood campaign group acting for victims, said the government had promised “a future amendment to buy off Tory MPs, a move which thankfully has failed”.

The campaigner said any bid to reverse the amendment when the legislation goes to the Lords “would heap yet more misery on those who have already suffered so much for four decades”.

Clive Smith, chair of the Haemophilia Society, said the government were “working at a snail’s pace” on the infected blood scandal. He said the Tories would be “on the wrong side of history” for holding out against a new compensation body.

Mr Smith told the Today programme: “This is a huge error. This has never been about politics. This has always been about justice and doing the right thing, and no government should hold out on this.

“They’ve been told by the chair of the infected blood inquiry Sir Brian Langstaff that with political will this should have been set up by the end of the year,” he added.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

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”.

Tory MP Rehman Chishti, a former leadership candidate, was among those who voted against the government. “Justice delayed is justice denied – we should not delay any further.”

Dame Diana, in a message posted on social media platform X, said she was “very pleased” the amendment had 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,” said the chair of the home affairs select committee.”

Ms Johnson added: “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.”

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