Tom Swarbrick 4pm - 6pm
I waited 30 years to witness a vote on the Infected Blood scandal, and still the fight isn't over
7 December 2023, 07:50
- Jason is the Director & Founder of Factor 8 and the lead claimant in the Contaminated Blood Products Group Litigation currently before the High Court.
Having lost my father to AIDS in 1993 when I was four years old, as a result of the infected blood product Factor VIII, it was sickening to hear shouts of "No!" from government benches on Monday night.
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Those shouts came as I sat in the House of Commons public gallery for a debate on the Victims & Prisoners bill. Crucially, MP Dame Diana Johnson had tabled an amendment to the bill requiring the government to establish a compensation body for victims and bereaved families of the infected blood scandal.
Establishing such a body was recommended in the Infected Blood Inquiry's final compensation recommendations published in April, but the government hasn't responded.
Driven by frustration at the lack of response, Johnson's amendment received advance support last week from more than 145 MPs, including conservatives.
I'd spent the entire week leading up to that vote lobbying MPs to vote for justice and encouraging others impacted by this scandal to do the same.
I knew that the opportunity Diana had created was our last chance to make something happen before the end of the year, and there wasn't time to waste.
One victim of the infected blood scandal dies every four days, and bereaved families like mine have been waiting decades for redress.
Shortly before the vote, I'd seen Jeremy Hunt and Diana Johnson having a somewhat heated conversation out of camera shot within the opposition corner of the commons chamber.
Shortly after, Justice Minister Edward Argar offered promises of government action on compensation once the bill reached the House of Lords and that a statement would be made before Christmas.
The government was panicking, aware of the strength of feeling on the issue across parliament.
This worried me; I was sure the government concessions might be enough to pick off some of the thirty-plus Conservatives who had pledged advance support, and undoubtedly they did. There were also earlier media reports of a three-line whip. My hope was plummeting.
Shortly before 9:30 pm came the vote, and those shouts of "No!" from the government, the shouts which in my mind said, "No, you can't have justice!". It was infuriating.
As the division bell rang and MPs headed to the voting lobbies, I thought about the 350-seat conservative majority and how impossible it seemed that we might win.
Noes 242, Ayes 246. Thanks to the twenty-two Conservatives who defied the whip and the many more who abstained, the government suffered its first whipped vote loss since 2019.
MP's cheered and clapped before the barks of "order, order" came from the speaker.
Feeling overwhelmed, I left the gallery immediately. I headed down the stairs to the night-time silence and emptiness of Central Lobby.
For the first time in my life, I felt as though I had truly witnessed democracy in action.
Our fight is not over, there is a lot more to do before victims start to see full redress, and we must also ensure all bereaved families receive interim payments as recommended by the Inquiry.
However, winning the vote on Monday is undoubtedly colossal progress and a solid message to the government. Delivering justice is not an option; it is a requirement.