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Lord Morris of Manchester : My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I declare an interestnot a financial oneas president of the Haemophilia Society.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, is it not much to the honour of the Scottish Executive that it had the case for compensating those infected and bereaved in this worst-ever treatment disaster in the history of the NHS independently examined by an eminent Scottish judge, not as in Whitehall by an in-house inquiry behind closed doors at the Department of Health?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for his distinguished presidency of the Haemophilia Society and to the society itself for the vigour with which it pursues its case. The fact is that the matter was considered by this Government and by the previous government. In general, compensation is given only to those who suffer negligent damage from NHS treatment. On that basis, the decision was made that no compensation would be given.
The position in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Executive. I am, of course, aware of the recommendations of the expert group set up by the Scottish Executive. My understanding is that the Scottish Executive, in welcoming the preliminary report, is now considering what the outcome should be.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, despite what the noble Lord has just said, can the Government give a clear assurance that, if contamination has occurred within the National Health Service, adequate compensation will be given to the individuals who have been affected?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can only repeat my words to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester. One can only regret deeply the fact that so many people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C through blood products. As soon as the technology to make blood products free from hepatitis C became available, the NHS introduced it. On that basis, there is no legal liability to justify compensation for people with haemophilia and hepatitis C.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, even though there are separate organisations north and south of the Border, it seems extraordinary that the Minister should say that different moral considerations apply, depending on which side of the Border one happens to be. Malcolm Chisholm, the Health Minister, has been extremely sympathetic to Lord Ross's report, whatever the final settlement is to be.
Is the Minister really saying that the representations of the Haemophilia Society and, in particular, the results of the work of the expert working group set up by the society under Matthias Kelly QC will not be sympathetically received in the circumstances?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, Mr Chisholm welcomed the expert group's preliminary report and said that there were complex medical, legal and financial considerations to take into account. The Scottish Executive will need to consider its further position. There is little point in having devolutioncertainly for NHS issuesunless the Scottish Executive and Parliament can come to their own view on such matters, as this Government do.
All that I can do is repeat my great sympathy for those who were affected. The Government have reviewed the matter. The previous government reviewed the matter some eight years ago and came to the same conclusion.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, the Minister gave an answer that was, in every way, factually correct. There is no legal responsibility on the NHS in England and Wales because no negligence was proved. Is there not, nevertheless, a strong moral responsibility to offer compensation to those infected through no fault of their own when blood products used for the treatment of haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C? No one could have predicted that, but the moral responsibility is very strong.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, noble Lords will know that the Government gave careful consideration to the matter and to the point raised by the noble Lord, as did the previous Government in 199495. Undoubtedly, meetings took place with the Haemophilia Society, and it argued its case strongly. I cannot pretend that the decision that the Government made was easy, but we decided that we could not make an exception to the general rule in this case.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, in an earlier reply, the noble Lord referred to "negligent damage". Surely, there was damage from the contamination. As for negligence, whose can it be, other than that of the NHS?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as soon as the technology became available to make blood products free from hepatitis C, the NHS introduced it. There was, therefore, no legal liability to justify compensation for people with haemophilia and hepatitis C. The conclusion that this Government reached is exactly the same as that reached by the previous Conservative governmenton the same issue and on the same factsin the mid-1990s.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, how does the noble Lord differentiate between this case and the extensive compensation provided for victims of crime? There is no obligation on the Government to provide a penny piece for victims of crime, but, in the past, it was provided on the same basis as the ordinary civil liability. Subsequently, it went on to a tariff system. Many millions of pounds are provided for victims of crime. Why is there a differentiation between them and the haemophiliacs whom we are discussing?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we cannot make a straight comparison. The principle that I enunciated has applied to the NHS for many years. It was shared by this Government and the previous government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, measures to combat bullying in the Armed Forces are kept under regular review and adjusted as necessary. The services' policy is unequivocal: no form of harassment or intimidation will be tolerated, and all allegations are investigated and appropriate action taken. Officers and senior ranks have the responsibility to preserve good order and discipline at all times. That is reinforced on appropriate military training courses.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful for that response from my noble friend. We have a fine army, and we need tough, well trained soldiers. However, is my noble friend aware that the announcement made in 1988 was designed to eradicate bullying from the Army? Recent events, including suicides at Deep Cut barracks, indicate that the policy is not working. In future, instead of repeating the mantra that bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, can we make commanding officers directly responsible for any bullying in their unit?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I, too, want to acknowledge the part my noble friend played in another place in 1988 in ensuring that changes were made in this area. However, he knows that I cannot comment on the specific circumstances surrounding the deaths at Deep Cut while investigations of the Surrey police remain ongoing.
The Army continues to co-operate with the police in the course of their inquiries. There have been big improvements since 1988 in a number of areas, including increases in manpower to oversee training and better man-management training of officers and NCOs.
Furthermore, an Armed Forces code of social conduct was issued in 2000 and a diversity policy for the Armed Forces was issued this year. It is an issue that the Armed Forces take very seriously.
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