Oral Answers to Questions

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Wednesday 7th February 2024

(2 weeks, 5 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Prime Minister was asked—
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney)  (Lab)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 February.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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I know the thoughts of the House and the country are with the King and his family. We wish His Majesty a speedy recovery and look forward to him resuming his public-facing duties in due course.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, and I shall have further such meetings later today.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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I, too, send my best wishes to the King.

Last week, the Foreign Secretary said that, with allies, we will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, so that the Palestinian people

“can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution.”

Afterwards, it was briefed that these words had not been signed off by No. 10. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Secretary?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Our long-standing position has been that we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that is most conducive to the peace process. The most important thing is that we are committed to that two-state solution and are working with our allies to bring it about.

Ministerial Severance: Reform

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Tuesday 6th February 2024

(2 weeks, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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It is my birthday today, and I can think of no higher honour on this day than being called to speak in the House of Commons. I consider it an enormous honour to serve as the Member of Parliament for the good and amazing people of Putney, Southfields, Roehampton and Wandsworth town.

I am speaking about 97 Ministers who must have thought all their birthdays had come at once in the summer of chaos, when they were handed additional sums that were excessive and undeserved. We are throwing a light on the ministerial severance pay scandal today.

This debate’s importance has been questioned by Conservative Members, but I say it absolutely is important. Indeed, it goes to the heart of our democracy. When we stand here in the House of Commons—even on our birthday—and when we go out into our constituency to ask what issues we should take back to vote on in this House, it is all based on the trust and confidence of our constituents. Issues such as the additional, excessive and undeserved ministerial severance pay bring this House into disrepute and question the confidence that our constituents have. The latest poll of trust by Ipsos showed that only 9% of voters trust politicians to tell the truth. That is the lowest level since Ipsos started asking that question in 1983, and it is down from a pretty low bar of 12% in 2022. In June last year, research by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that just 6% of the public have full trust in the current political system. Those are sobering statistics, and it does not have to be this way.

The longer this Government cling on to office, the more out of touch they are and the more people feel that it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us. The complete Tory chaos of the summer of 2022 has had a long-term effect on our economy, with crippling mortgage bills for my constituents. It also resulted in a summer of huge payoffs for Ministers who waltzed in and out of office, having done very little, because they did not have the time and ability to do much. They picked up not only extra pay for that time in office, but then the severance pay.

Let me give a real-world example now. I have been campaigning for a long time for my constituents on the cladding crisis. All through that summer, that issue was, in effect, put on hold because there were only temporary Ministers in place; they knew they would not be in power for very long, so they could not make any decisions. A whole summer was lost on an issue of huge importance to my constituents. So we are not just dealing with an abstract issue about pay and conditions, because that summer of chaos has had real-world consequences.

I thank my right hon. Friend the shadow Attorney General for uncovering the extent of this and the fact that in 2022-23 alone, the total bill for Ministers’ severance pay was an unacceptable £933,000. Many had their jobs for just a few weeks in the dying days of Boris Johnson’s time or during the doomed 45-day premiership of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss)—I informed her I would be mentioning her. They received three months’ severance pay, but one returned to the Cabinet after six weeks, another after two months, another after three and a half months and another after four months. One returned to exactly the same job nine weeks after leaving, but they still received the full 12 weeks’ severance pay.

This Labour motion would stop that and reduce the amount of severance pay for serial Cabinet returnees. The amount should not be three months’ pay regardless of time served. Some Ministers served for just seven weeks and received the full three months’ pay. Fifty-seven Ministers served for less than the three months. Some have returned the money and, as other Members have said, that is to be commended. However, many have not done so, and we do not know the extent of how many have returned it, because, as has been pointed out, we will not receive the departmental accounts for a long time. Five Ministers also received a total of almost £50,000 despite being ineligible because they were over 65. Whether or not being 65 should have any bearing on someone receiving severance pay is an issue for another day, but the fact that this was delivered incompetently, as well as wrongly, is an issue.

I would like to make the comparison with Lord Rooker, who served for 26 years in this House as the Member for Perry Barr and has served with equal distinction in the other place for more than 20 years since. He is a hugely dedicated parliamentarian and public servant. He gave 11 and a half years’ continuous service as a Minister, from May 1997 to October 2008, before he finally stepped down, at the age of 67. Despite that length of service, he received no severance payment, because those were the rules. Yet under the current rules someone can be a Minister for two days and still receive three months’ severance pay. The rules were not intended to apply to the circumstances we saw in the last two years, and they need to be reformed, as the Minister said in her opening remarks. While we would welcome such reforms, we do not believe the Government are willing to undertake them, which is why we have brought forward the motion.

For far too long, Conversative Ministers have been paid off for jumping aboard a sinking ship. That is nothing short of a complete waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, and they have brought a system put in place in 1991 into disrepute. Labour is calling for urgent action, because we cannot afford another million-pound bill if the latest Conversative Prime Minister cannot keep his party together.

All this comes at a time when the country has been going through the worst cost of living crisis in generations. The draining of resources is simply disgraceful. I ran a community centre before I became an MP, so I think about the amount we spent on different projects and the good those projects brought to our community, compared to the money that has been wasted. There is a feeling on the doorstep that we are all on the take. The policy on ministerial severance pay adds to that feeling.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, as always. What hits home for me is the fact that the payment of some £33,570 made to the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis) is almost identical to the mean average salary of a UK citizen, yet that was just a bonus payoff. Does my hon. Friend agree that is an outrage?

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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I agree, as would all our constituents. It does not seem right that in many cases those large sums of money have been paid out for such a short term of service. That is not what the system was designed to do, so the system must be reformed. It is high time that the system, exposed by the Conservative summer of chaos that resulted in nearly £1 million paid out to a conveyor belt of Tory Ministers, is reviewed.

To ensure the public get good value for money from their Government Ministers, Labour is making sensible and reasonable proposals today, which should be supported by all Members of the House. Labour will change the rules so that failed Ministers who have been in post for only a matter of weeks are no longer entitled to a quarter of their final top annual salary. Instead, they will receive a quarter of their actual earnings as a Minister over the previous 12 months, minus any period covered by a previous severance entitlement. If they return to a ministerial position after three weeks but within a period equivalent to the number of days of salary they were paid in severance, they must return the corresponding amount of their severance payment. At the moment, that is up to the good will of a Minister who, out of the goodness of their heart, returns the money. The system should not be left like that—it should be clearcut.

Labour will also ensure that any Minister who has had to leave their job while they are being investigated for misconduct has their severance suspended, and then cancelled altogether if the allegations are upheld. We should not have to put forward this legislation: the reforms should be obvious and should have been introduced as soon as the system was brought into disrepute by former Members. It should not be up to the Opposition to call out the Government on the failure of the system.

Labour will go much further, if we have the honour of becoming the next Government. We will introduce an integrity and ethics commission to clean up our politics, because trust in our politics has plummeted to an all-time low in recent years. It is up to us in the Labour party to clean up politics, to restore trust and to show that it is not one rule for them and another for us. We are putting the Government on notice: if they will not clean up our politics, Labour will.

Oral Answers to Questions

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I recently met the Melted Parents campaign group in Belfast. It speaks for so many parents across Northern Ireland, where the cost of living crisis is far harder for families because there is no funding for a free childcare scheme, or the 15 or 30 hours of pre-school, just eye-watering and unaffordable Bills. But there is a cross-party childcare strategy proposal. Will the Minister say for all the employers and parents watching, if there is a new temporary Budget for Northern Ireland, whether it will include childcare funding provision?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. It is of the highest importance in Northern Ireland, and it is impressed upon me frequently. The Budget will be debated in this House, of course, and I am confident that we will return to it. As we have said before, this is one of those issues that underscores the importance of the Executive returning, and I am grateful that we agree on that point. She is absolutely right to raise the issue.

Infected Blood Inquiry

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Thursday 22nd June 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this hugely important and timely debate, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and to the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for securing the debate and for all their campaigning on this issue for so long. I send my condolences to all those who have been bereaved by this scandal.

This has been a powerful and powerfully painful debate. I thank all Members who have made contributions today from both sides of the House. We heard some incredibly moving speeches, putting the stories and lives of those affected at the forefront. So many Members have paid tribute to those constituents and stayed with them. They came to see them one time in a surgery, but those Members are still speaking up for them. We are doing what we can.

The whole theme of the afternoon has been that we want justice now, but I start by paying tribute to the victims and their families, who, while working through their own personal ill health, grief and trauma, have been campaigning tirelessly for justice. Instead of listing the Members who have spoken in the debate, I will list those victims, families and advocates to whom they have paid tribute: to Glen, Nick and Michele; to Sean and Bruce; to Robert and Adam; to John, Mary and Tim; to Rosemary and her sons; to Leigh, Margaret and Barbara; to Gerald, Diane and David; to Graham and Diane; to Clive; to David, his brother, his father and his uncles; to Bill; to Sean; to Simon; to Cathy, Nichola and Paul; to Linda and Bill; and to Colin and Joyce. Those are just some of so many stories, and that is why we are here today.

I give special mention to those organisations that have been campaigning on this issue: the Scottish Infected Blood Forum, Haemophilia Wales, Haemophilia Scotland, the Hepatitis C Trust, the Haemophilia Society, Hepatitis B Positive Trust, the Sickle Cell Society, Factor 8, the Terrence Higgins Trust and all other organisations. If they did not already know it, I want them to know that we on the Opposition Benches are listening carefully, and we want to continue to partner with them to make sure that justice is done.

I also pay tribute to Sir Robert Francis, Sir Brian Langstaff and their teams for their reports, which have been so instrumental in bringing us to where we are today. I thank the Paymaster General for meeting me and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), yesterday on this issue. This awful scandal has already needlessly claimed the lives of 3,000 people. Statistics from the Terrence Higgins Trust show that between the start of the inquiry in July 2017 and February 2022, more than 400 people died. In fact, while we await the conclusion of the report and the inquiry, one person is dying every four days. Every day that we delay the compensation is justice denied to those people and their families.

Waiting for that justice and compensation is adding to the trauma and pain of the victims and their families. The continued work of the infected blood inquiry is crucial to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I had the privilege in March of meeting many victims of the scandal. Their stories will stay with me forever. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish that they have faced and are still facing. For too long the contaminated blood community has been failed—failed by the state in a dreadful way to start with, failed by health workers, failed by successive Governments, and ignored by those who have let the demands of those affected fall on deaf ears, leaving the community without justice. It is heartbreaking that so many members of the infected blood community will not live to see the outcome of the inquiry.

The Minister has agreed that there is a strong moral case for compensation, which is welcome. The inquiry has recommended an interim payment of £100,000 to victims of the contaminated blood scandal and bereaved partners, and the Government have committed to delivering those payments, which Labour also strongly welcomes. However, questions remain about those affected by the scandal, such as family members who have been left out of the compensation scheme. The report of Sir Robert Francis KC on the compensation and redress scheme was published in June last year, but the Government have still not responded to any of its recommendations. Sir Brian Langstaff published an interim report in April this year, which recommended, among other things, that the compensation scheme that is to be set up begin its work this year, and be ready to deliver before the final inquiry makes its report in the autumn, but families are disappointed and angry that there seems to be no commitment from the Minister to respond to that second report until the final report is published in the autumn.

The victims and their families, who are also victims, wait for justice and clarity. The Government could be setting up the compensation body now, taking action to track down and register those infected and affected for future compensation, and looking at ways in which the current scheme for interim payments could be expanded, or whether a scheme could be set alongside it, or how else it might work. The overwhelming feeling of the victims and their relatives on hearing of the scandal is one of heavy hearts, disappointment and anger. We understand the complexities of the scandal and of delivering this process, but I hope that the Minister can see that many individuals directly affected still feel angry and unrecognised. They need more communication, and above all action.

I will end with more questions for the Minister. There have been many questions that I hope he will respond to today. The Langstaff interim report of April recommends that a publicly funded compensation scheme be set up. How advanced is the work to set up that scheme? Will it be an expansion of the existing scheme for interim payments? Does he agree with the Langstaff interim report that the scheme should avoid legalistic or adversarial concepts of the burden and standard of proof, and not add to the trauma already experienced by victims and their families in the way that it is set up and delivered, and the way that assessments are carried out?

Has the Minister begun approaching people to chair the compensation body? Will he involve people from the affected community in that process, and are additional staff being sought so that the payments can be delivered quickly? Will the scheme be run by an independent body, and will legislation be required for that? If so, will Government time be ensured to enable the legislation to be expedited, so that that is not another reason for being slow? Will he repeat his commitment to start making compensation payments before the next Budget?

This scandal should not have happened. It should not have been covered up. Politicians should have acted. There should not have had to be a campaign by victims, who have had to work so hard to get justice. It should not have taken so long. There must not be any more delays.

Oral Answers to Questions

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Thursday 22nd June 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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We must learn the lessons from the covid inquiry. It was “ludicrous in retrospect”, a “relatively small part” of the brief, “wildly under-resilient” and a “disaster for the country”—not my words but those used by the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the covid inquiry this week to describe the Government’s approach to resilience and preparedness for the past 13 years. He also said it was a huge error not to have a senior Minister solely devoted to resilience. Will the Secretary of State finally listen to Labour and appoint a dedicated Minister for resilience?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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There is a resilience Minister in the sense that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster maintains oversight of resilience. That is one of a number of responsibilities shared with the devolved Administrations—resilience is important in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. I look forward to meeting my colleagues from those Administrations next week in Edinburgh to discuss these issues. We take resilience extraordinarily seriously. We undertake exercises to ensure that we understand the pressures that may come to bear. We always take resilience seriously and we will look at the lessons coming out of the inquiry about how to do better as a country.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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We will keep asking. I am glad that the Paymaster General mentioned emergency response exercises, which are essential for learning the lessons from covid and for being ready for whatever disaster comes next. As the senior Minister for resilience, among many other things, will the Paymaster General tell us how many exercises have been carried out locally and nationally in the last year? Is he ensuring that lessons are learned, changes are made and good practice is shared to make all our communities safe?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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Exercises take place locally and nationally. The exercise involving the use of the emergency alert system for the first time ever, to ensure that we have that important pillar in our response, illustrates how seriously we take these issues. We will continue to undertake exercises to ensure that we are as prepared as anyone ever can be for the circumstances that we can plan for and try to project. But clearly, we never know the disaster that might hit us. That is why we take these things seriously.

Oral Answers to Questions

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Wednesday 7th June 2023

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Oliver Dowden Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom and His Majesty’s Government remain steadfast in their support for Gibraltar. We are working side by side with the Government of Gibraltar and we remain committed to concluding that UK-EU treaty as soon as possible.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Today, the OECD said that the UK is on course to have a higher rate of inflation than almost all other G20 countries. It is families in Putney and up and down the country who will be suffering because of that. Will the Deputy Prime Minister finally commit to introducing a proper windfall tax on the enormous profits of the oil and gas giants and take pressure off struggling households?

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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We actually introduced a bigger windfall tax than the Labour party was proposing. Thanks to that 75% windfall tax, last winter, we paid half of people’s energy bills. The hon. Lady talked about the OECD. What she failed to mention is that the OECD today gave the highest upgrade of growth to the United Kingdom compared with any other country.

Bill Presented

Food Poverty Strategy Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Chris Stephens presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for ending the need for food banks by 2030; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 320).

Covid 19 Inquiry: Judicial Review

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Monday 5th June 2023

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the shadow spokesperson.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for an advance copy of his statement. This weekend I walked the length of the covid memorial wall on the banks of the Thames just opposite this building. Every heart on that wall symbolises a life lost to covid. Every heart represents a family who lost a loved one—a mother, father, sibling, friend or colleague—to that terrible disease. That is what the covid inquiry is about: preventing a repeat of that same tragedy, which cost so many lives and still affects so many of us; and answering the questions that so many families still have.

This week, we all watched with embarrassment—I am sure that Government Members on the Benches behind the Minister feel the same privately—as the Cabinet Office, the Department responsible for upholding transparency in government, briefed journalists that taxpayers would be picking up yet another legal bill to pay for the Prime Minister’s ploy to obstruct the covid inquiry. We need more information: public inquiries are a core ministerial responsibility in the Cabinet Office; and vital lessons are learned through inquiries, which save lives in the future. By undermining and challenging the inquiry, the Government could undermine not only trust but public safety. Then, there is the cost: hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on legal fees.

May I ask the Minister a few straightforward questions? How much has his Department projected the judicial review to cost? Does he agree with his Minister’s assessment that the review will “probably” fail? Does he think that time would be better spent on complying with the inquiry, handing over the information and learning lessons to prevent another pandemic, rather than this infighting?

Can the Minister confirm media reports that his Department’s lawyers have threatened to pull the plug on the taxpayer-subsidised legal defence fund for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)? Does he agree that Ministers must be held to the highest standards of transparency and openness? In that spirit, what guidance has he given to other Cabinet Ministers about handing over WhatsApp messages to the inquiry? Will we be back here again?

How many inquiry-imposed deadlines for evidence submissions have been missed to date? Can the Minister confirm whether the Prime Minister has already handed over his WhatsApp messages to the inquiry in full? Can he confirm how many devices have been handed over by the former Prime Minister?

The Minister claims that the Government have handed over 55,000 documents to the covid inquiry. I commend civil servants for working through the night to look at them, but his Department previously admitted that well over 20 million documents could be relevant. What criteria have been used to determine whether evidence will be suppressed?

It comes down to trust. We need to be able to trust the process and the determination of what is relevant and what is not. People’s trust in this Government is severely weakened, and the judicial review is undermining it further.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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The hon. Lady started where I ended, and she is right that the focus of the inquiry must be the people who have been affected and bereaved and the lessons that this country needs to learn. I commend her for her walk over the weekend. It is harrowing to see that memorial and to remember what it represents.

Government is tough. It is easier, in many ways, to be in Opposition. They do it very well on the Opposition Benches, and I am sure that they will get even more practice over a long period of time, but in government we have to take very difficult decisions. It does not take a genius to realise that the decision we felt we had to make regarding a judicial review may be misinterpreted and criticised, but we have to look at the long-term consequences for this and future Governments. There are important—albeit technical—matters of law, and we need guidance to ascertain how this and future inquiries should operate.

The hon. Lady asked a series of questions, one of which was on cost. I cannot give her an exact number, but I am delighted that, from what we have heard from the courts, the judicial review looks to be heard very soon and in a timely fashion, which I would welcome for a number of reasons. I will certainly not get into our view of the case. That would be pertinent; it is before the courts, which must look into that and take their own view.

I will go through all the points the hon. Lady made. There is a long tradition, under all Administrations, that Ministers should be provided with support for their legal fees and for their work to support and help the inquiries that are established—that is the right thing to do.

The hon. Lady is right that we have already passed over some 55,000 items. To counsel a note of caution about the hon. Lady’s reference to 2 million documents, those undertaking the inquiry have made it clear that they do not want to be flooded with information that is not relevant to the inquiry, and therefore we go through the process of trying to ensure that they get all the information that they require that is covid related. The point of issue is only material that is unambiguously not relevant to the inquiry. We go through a process, which I have set out to the hon. Lady and to the House.

I reiterate that we have a great deal of confidence in the inquiry. We know that those undertaking the inquiry are absolutely assiduous in their work, but we feel that there is a technical point of law on which we need to have guidance from the courts, and that is what we are pursuing.

Oral Answers to Questions

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Thursday 11th May 2023

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I agree with the Minister that there is a role for consultants, but the spending on consultants is spiralling out of control. After the scandal of spending waste on personal protective equipment the Government have not taken the action needed. Consultants cost twice as much as a civil servant, yet spending on consultants has been spiralling. The Paymaster General lifted controls on private contracts and on reporting them in February. The Cabinet Office itself is one of the worst offenders for spending on consultants, and Ministers are not enforcing public reporting of departmental spending so that we can find out how much is being spent on consultants, with the Treasury itself being one of the worst examples. Will the Minister commit to cutting the millions spent on consultants where they are not needed and where we can use civil servants instead, and to getting a grip on wasteful Government spending?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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I will always endeavour to ensure that no consultant is ever employed where they are “not needed”, to quote the hon. Lady. We always ensure that we use the propositions that represent best value for money —that has to be the basis on which we operate, and we will continue to do so. I remind the hon. Lady that we managed to secure £3.4 billion of efficiency savings across Government last year. We did that by focusing on costs and making certain that we drove them down. We will continue to do so, and we are committed to ensuring that we get best value for the taxpayer.

--- Later in debate ---
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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The National Infra- structure Commission and the Committee on Climate Change have made it clear that there is a significant resilience gap in Britain’s key infrastructure. As we approach the summer, and water shortages loom once again in the face of intensifying climate change across the country, how many of the action points laid out in the resilience framework that the Government published in December have been achieved?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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As the hon. Lady will know, we continue to make considerable progress on all the actions set out in that framework. She is right to highlight the challenges that we face in some resilience areas, particularly in relation to cyber-resilience. That is why I am conducting a programme to step up our cyber-resilience, for example by creating a new agency to ensure that we are across the cyber-resilience of all Government Departments and annually appraise them of it.

List of Ministers’ Interests and Ministerial Code

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Monday 24th April 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker for granting this urgent question. Last week, the Prime Minister saw a third senior Minister resign in disgrace, jumping because he was not pushed. Can the Minister confirm that the former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), did break the ministerial code? Did the Government know of or approve his statements blaming the victims, which appeared before the official findings of the report? Can the Minister say whether he agrees with the brave victims who came forward for that report, or with the former Deputy Prime Minister himself, that unacceptable bullying and misconduct took place? Does he think that the former Deputy Prime Minister should apologise to victims?

We also saw the list of ministerial interests miraculously appear just minutes before Prime Minister’s questions. Can the Minister say whether the Prime Minister declared his financial interest in Koru Kids as a Minister and as Chancellor before he became Prime Minister? Will the Minister meet his own commitment to more regular updates of the ministerial interests list and put it on the same basis as the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which is published fortnightly while the House is sitting? The Ministers’ list seems to be annual. Will the Prime Minister finally introduce an independent adviser with the power to launch their own investigations? Have all the recommendations of the Boardman review been implemented? How many of the recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life report have been implemented? A recent audit by Spotlight on Corruption revealed that, 18 months after both reviews were published, just 7% of the recommendations have been implemented.

While the Government have been preoccupied with yet more Tory psychodrama, working people are still battling the worst cost of living crisis for a generation. Labour is focused on cutting the cost of living, cutting crime and cutting waiting lists with our long-term plan to give Britain its future back. Has not this past week proved beyond doubt that it is time for a Government laser-focused on delivering for Britain, instead of one mired in misconduct?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I will take the hon. Lady’s questions in reverse. This Government are absolutely committed to tackling the cost of living crisis. It is because of that that the Prime Minister’s No. 1 preoccupation is ensuring that inflation comes down. Without inflation coming down, we cannot have growth, and without growth we cannot have more money for our public services. The Labour party would do very well to support us in that endeavour, otherwise we will fall into exactly the same trap that it fell into in the 1970s, where unions chase pay, pay chases inflation and the economy cannot grow for 10 years.

On the point that the hon. Lady made about the Prime Minister’s declarations, I draw her attention to the remarks made by the previous independent adviser Lord Geidt, who said that the Prime Minister had been “assiduous” in declaring all his relevant ministerial interests in all his roles. The Prime Minister personally asked Lord Geidt to look into that, and Lord Geidt was satisfied, as, it must be said, is Laurie Magnus likewise. On her remarks about the former Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), I draw her attention to the fact that in his letter to the Prime Minister last week, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

“I am genuinely sorry for any stress or offence that officials felt”.

Infected Blood Inquiry Update

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Wednesday 19th April 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I thank the Paymaster General for providing an advance copy of his statement. I would like to begin by paying tribute to the brave victims and their families, who, while working through their own personal ill health, grief and trauma, have campaigned tirelessly for justice—without their strength, we would not have reached this stage—and of course to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who has been a stalwart of the campaign.

The continued work of the infected blood inquiry is crucial to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I had the privilege of meeting victims of this scandal last month, and their stories will stay with me forever. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish they have faced and are still facing. Justice delayed and its continuing delay is justice denied. While we await the conclusion of the report and inquiry, those who were given contaminated blood products are dying at a rate of one every four days. Families have suffered decades of health issues, financial loss and stigma.

Victims—those affected and infected—will have watched the Minister’s statement today with heavy hearts, disappointment and some degree of anger. There seems to be no commitment from the Minister to respond to the second report until the final report is published in the autumn. The interim report was published so that the Government do not have to wait until the final report to take action. We all understand the complexities of this scandal, but I hope the Minister can see that many individuals directly affected still feel angry and unrecognised. Today’s statement does not provide any certainty for the families or children of victims.

To finish, I have five questions for the Minister. First, does he agree with Sir Brian’s statement in the interim report that

“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress”?

Can he confirm that the “intense focus” he talked about is to achieve the recommendation in the report that the scheme is

“set up now and…should begin work this year”?

Secondly, how can he provide more reassurance to family members of victims, including parents who lost children and children who were orphaned when their parents died?

Thirdly, the Paymaster General talked about work under way. If the Government plan to accept these interim findings, officials must start verifying and registering directly affected people and their families urgently to understand the size of the group and to speed up the payments. Can he confirm whether that is already taking place? Fourthly, will he commit to more regular updates on progress and the direction of travel on this issue ahead of the inquiry’s final report later this year? We should not have to keep squeezing this information out of the Government, because it compounds the pain of the victims.

Finally, will the Paymaster General agree to meet me and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), so that we can work together to deliver the justice the victims deserve?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. She was right to pay tribute to many MPs in the House, including the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue over a long time. I am grateful for the work of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, and some members of the media have also been at the forefront of pushing this issue for a long time.

Above all, the hon. Lady is right to refer to the victims, and I am very conscious that there will be tens of thousands of people watching this statement who are desperate to see a resolution. Every time there is another iteration, or a cause for me to be in this place, it is a source of anxiety, concern and worry. I am sure that there is disappointment every time there is another statement and we do not have the final resolution, but we have travelled a long way. This inquiry was announced six years ago, and Sir Brian started work five years ago. I am very grateful to him for producing this interim report. A lot of it is similar to the report by Sir Robert Francis, but there are differences.

We do need to do the work, and on the points the hon. Lady raised, we have been focused on ensuring that at the conclusion of Sir Brian’s inquiry, we are able to come forward in the best place possible, but that does not preclude doing something earlier if we are able and have the means to do so. Registration is not as yet taking place, but I am mindful that whereas for the previous interim payment there was a defined set of people and bereaved partners, if this recommendation is to be taken forward it will require registration, and that inevitably takes time, as we are all aware.

Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that this statement is no more than an update. I was keen to come to the House to hear the views of hon. Members, and I commit to doing so again as appropriate and as we continue through this process. Work will continue, and of course it would be a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if they would like to discuss this matter.