Sunak suffers first Commons defeat as MPs vote for infected blood compensation body

Politics

Rishi Sunak has suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons since becoming prime minister, as MPs voted to establish a compensatory body for victims of the infected blood scandal.

An amendment tabled by Labour was voted through on a razor-thin majority of 246 to 242.

The government had fought to fend off a revolt from its own backbenchers on the matter, with Mr Sunak wanting to wait until the statutory inquiry finishes – something likely to happen next year.

Politics news – latest: Defeat for government in Commons vote


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But even with the promise of a ministerial statement from the government before Christmas – and that a similar amendment to Labour’s would be added in the House of Lords – it was not enough to win the day.

The result came just hours after the Sunak government announced its five-point plan to tackle migration as the Conservatives languish behind Labour in the polls and the prime minister seeks to rescue his premiership.

Dame Diana Johnson, the veteran Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, was the one proposing the amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

It will require ministers to establish a new body with the aim of administering full compensation within three months of the bill becoming law.

The scandal relates to thousands of people who died in what is widely recognised as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

It saw patients infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products imported from the US during the 1970s and 1980s.

Decades later, some bereaved families are still waiting for compensation.

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July: ‘Worst treatment disaster of the NHS’

MPs broke out into cheers after the results of the vote were announced, as well as applause – which is not usually allowed in the Commons.

Among the Conservative rebels were Sir Robert Buckland, Rehman Chishti, Tracey Crouch, Marcus Fysh, Damian Green, Sir Julian Lewis, Andrea Jenkyns, Tim Loughton and Chloe Smith – a cross-section rather than faction of the party.

In total, 22 Conservative voted against their own government, alongside 160 Labour MPs, as well as the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and many smaller parties.

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Under Dame Diana’s plans, a High Court judge will chair the new body and take into account speed, simplicity and fairness in delivering compensation to victims.

The inquiry into the incident delayed its final report earlier this year – saying it would not publish until at least March 2024 – due to the “sheer volume and scale of the material”.

Under the current initial scheme, only victims or bereaved partners can get an interim compensation payment of around £100,000.

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Campaigners want to see this extended to bereaved parents and orphaned children.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told the inquiry in July that “no decisions” had been made on the level of compensation.

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