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2.59 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who started and ended his contribution in a suitable tone, while the middle was packed with suitable content. I agree with almost everything that he said. He should also be applauded for choosing Sir Ian Kennedy to run the inquiry and for giving the Kennedy committee the freedom of a wide-ranging inquiry. He had the option of establishing a narrow inquiry, which might have limited potential damage and only implicitly criticised the direction that Governments, including that of whom he was a member, had traditionally taken. He made a brave move that has been amply rewarded, both in terms of the subjects covered in the recommendations of the Kennedy report and of the acceptance by the Government of many of the recommendations.

I would like to read from the synopsis at the beginning of the Kennedy report, to set the context for some points that I shall make later about the culture of blame. Professor Kennedy states:

The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras highlighted that last point, and many of the others, in his speech.

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I am grateful to the Minister of State for the briefing that I received this morning on the Government's general approach, and for the opportunity to see this very lengthy report about an hour before the start of the debate. Making a statement, followed by questions, a few days after everyone had had the chance to read the wide-ranging proposals in the Government's report might have been a more appropriate way of dealing with this matter. Debating the matter now makes it difficult to give due credit to the Government for some of their proposals—although I shall try—or to give adequate scrutiny to some others.

Nevertheless, from what I understand of the Government's proposals, many of their responses to the recommendations are welcome. They will stand as a testimony to the people who campaigned for something to be done, including parents and Members of Parliament from the Bristol area who are here today, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), who cannot be here today. He, too, pressed for an inquiry into this matter. If there is broad agreement on the Government's response, the children involved will not have died in vain, because steps will be taken to prevent—to the best of our ability—such things happening again.

The report is clear that there must be not only adequate resources but honesty about the amount of resources available, and about what can be delivered by means of those resources. Professor Kennedy sets out, in paragraph 29 of chapter 4, how one might imagine that a Government would be elected, and would put the resources in place, and that would be that. He states:

He goes on to make this important point:

He says "and beyond", because this still applies.

The report continues:

and I would say "is"—

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I would say that it patently still does not do so. That is why we must have an ordered debate on the priorities required. It is no good saying that the resources are in place, when clearly they are not sufficient to meet a particular need. I have said before that the resources that the Government started to put in, not when they came to power but in 2000, represent the sort of increases that we need. Indeed, the Kennedy report recognises that. In paragraph 36, on page 58, it states:

We know that that will take years to come through in terms of increased numbers of staff, because of the time that it takes to train them, and questions must also be asked of the Government about those missing three years. Nevertheless, Kennedy does a valuable job in pointing out that the claims of politicians can sometimes create expectations that cannot be met. That can create a gap between the public estimation of the NHS and the reality, and the people working in the NHS often get clobbered as a result.

There is much in the Kennedy report about the culture of blame, and the Government often use such words in defence of their own policies. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was right to draw attention to the explicit terms in which the report talks about the culture of blame and the unwillingness to admit mistakes, both of which have arisen as a consequence partly of the club culture and partly of clinical negligence. The report states:

It goes on to stress that the NHS

It also states:

It recommends the introduction of

That means no-fault compensation, a policy that my party endorses, although we recognise that there might be cost implications. The cost might be greater than the amount saved in legal fees, but it might be less. We are pleased to hear that the Government have not ruled the policy out. The chief medical officer still has to report on it, and we look forward to reading the White Paper.

The lobby representing people who make a living—not unreasonably, in their view—on the basis of clinical negligence is strong, and I hope that the Government will be strong enough to resist it. It has a point to make, but reporting errors and swift compensation for patients are important. I am not sure whether the Conservatives endorsed that system when they raised concerns about the matter. Perhaps that may be clarified from the Conservative Front Bench.

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