21 Feb 1995 : Column 1027

House of Lords

Tuesday, 21st February 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

The McFarlane Trust: Funding

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will expand the role and funding of the McFarlane Trust whose original purpose was to make payments to haemophiliacs infected with the HIV virus from contaminated blood transfusions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): No, my Lords, but we will continue to keep under review the amounts available to the trust for its work of helping to meet the special needs of haemophilia patients with HIV and their families.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that virtually all the haemophiliacs who received National Health Service blood before 1985 were infected with hepatitis C? Is she further aware that the only significant difference between HIV and hepatitis C which could affect payment by the Government—not doctors—is that in the case of hepatitis C critical illness and death do not automatically follow? However, they can and they do follow. Will the Government change the rule and the funding of the McFarlane Trust so that critical illness and death trigger payment by the Government? The principle is exactly the same; the consequences are the same; and the payment should be the same.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, with due deference to the noble Lord, the consequences are not the same. Many people with hepatitis C live perfectly normal lives for decades. Only a very small minority develop serious liver illnesses. Those who suffered HIV were thought at the time to have an imminent death sentence. They suffered social ostracism. People were treated, as we know, like lepers. They had their doors daubed with graffiti; they lost their jobs; their children were not allowed to mix with other children at school; and they were denied a normal family life. There were tremendous differences between the two groups.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I raised this subject in your Lordships' House seven years ago—in November 1987—and that in responding to another Question of mine the following October the Government referred to the launch of the McFarlane Trust? Does my noble friend accept that the trust has done a very good job within its mandate —unintentional infection with the HIV virus?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords. It is interesting to see the large sums of money that the trust

21 Feb 1995 : Column 1028

has given to those who have suffered. Indeed, the trustees are very conscientious and caring. We believe that the trust is extremely well managed.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the terms of the McFarlane Trust were to make an ex gratia payment to those who suffered HIV as a result of blood transfusions? There was no suggestion of it being a recognition of formal compensation. So the issues that arose when the matter was previously raised by my noble friend in your Lordships' House—that this would somehow lead to the opening of the floodgates for compensation—simply do not apply. Does the Minister agree that both the legal and clinical results of this blood infection are precisely the same for those with haemophilia?

Baroness Cumberlege: No, my Lords. The results are very different. Those suffering from haemophilia knew when they received the treatment that there was a risk. They took that risk. Indeed, if they had not had the blood products we know that they would almost certainly have died.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, are there any statistics with regard to these two diseases? How many people suffer from haemophilia and how many suffer from HIV?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, 1,221 people suffered HIV infection through blood products and 156 people suffered infection through blood tissue and blood transfusions. With regard to those who suffered hepatitis C infection, we do not know the exact figures. That is why a look-back exercise is taking place at the moment. However, the estimate is that for blood products the number is 4,000, and for blood transfusions, 3,000.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, will the noble Baroness address her mind to this point? She has spoken of those with hepatitis C who live normal lives. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is a glittering example of that; he spoke when last I raised the issue. However, I am referring to people who are critically ill and die from hepatitis C. Those are the people for whom we want payment. All the other people are irrelevant. If there is a trigger mechanism whereby those who are critically ill or die receive payment for themselves or their families, justice will be done. That is the point at issue.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, there is no question of the Government giving compensation to these people. We know that they took a risk and that in the health service treatment is given in good faith. We know that without treatment these people would surely have died.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with respect, the Minister has once again used the word "compensation" in relation to my noble friend's Question. Will she not accept the point I made in my supplementary question that the payments given to those who contracted HIV as a result of their haemophilia and blood transfusions were not compensated in the

21 Feb 1995 : Column 1029

technical sense of the word? Does the Minister agree that the Government made an ex gratia payment and that this situation is similar?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in that the Government have never accepted liability on this matter. If we were to give into such a case as this we know that there would be many other instances of people who have suffered medical accidents expecting some kind of payment for the condition they have had. Noble Lords will remember that the last time we debated this matter we drew the analogy between what is happening in the United States and what could happen here. If litigation, compensation and payments become a national sport the National Health Service will be finished.

Historic Building Repairs: Funding

2.44 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which historic buildings are eligible for financial assistance towards repairs from the National Heritage Memorial Fund from moneys derived from the National Lottery; and what criteria are used to assess such applications.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): My Lords, repairs to historic buildings may be eligible for financial assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund if the buildings are owned by a public or charitable body.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that certain Ministers, Members of Parliament and the general public certainly need enlightening on this fact? Does the Minister further agree that by precluding any financial assistance to the large majority of our historic houses—which successive governments have recognised as in need of funding even since 1953—it is going to be very difficult to see how the national heritage is to survive? Can the Minister tell the House whether this statutory discrimination is deliberate or a legislative mishap? Will the Minister further agree that a simple amendment should be made to the National Heritage Act 1980, whereby the National Heritage Memorial Fund can allot funds as to need, otherwise the national heritage will suffer as a whole?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the position as regards eligibility of privately owned historic buildings for funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund is essentially the same as before the lottery Act and the lottery were introduced. The tests applied will be the same as in the National Heritage Act 1980 under which private individuals and companies operating for profit are ineligible for funding. However, privately owned historic buildings may be eligible if ownership is transferred to a charitable trust. I know that the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund are keen to be

21 Feb 1995 : Column 1030

flexible in their approach and to help the private owner; for example, through assistance to charitable trusts which ensure clear public benefit.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, why cannot these properties be eligible for assistance if they are open to the public? Does that not qualify them? It always has.

Viscount Astor: No, my Lords, that is not the case. In the types of cases which the noble Lord referred to, it is up to the historic buildings agency, English Heritage, to provide support to private owners of properties who require support for their houses.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend explain how it is that VAT is charged on repair work to historic buildings? Is that not wholly contrary to the general approach which my noble friend has adopted?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page