I've been slightly taken aback at receiving quite a few angry emails over the past few days about Friday's Private Members Bill sitting, at which I was the whip on bench duty. We got through a fair bit of business, with all stages of Anthony Steen's Anti-Slavery Day Bill and Andrew Dismore's pleural plaques bill, which he's tried to get through the Commons before and this time was successful, with Government support. As the session drew to an end at 2.30pm we had just started on another Andrew Dismore bill, but there obviously wasn't time to debate it and it will be relisted for hearing on another date. It's then the job of the whip on bench duty to tell the Speaker what the Government's position is on the remaining Bills listed for hearing. The fifth Bill on the list was the Contaminated Blood Bill, which does not have Government support. My job therefore was to shout 'Object' as the title of the Bill was read out. That was the extent of my involvement; the actual decision was nothing to do with me, and if I hadn't shouted 'Object' the Deputy Chief Whip would have done so, or the Minister. But obviously the people who are directly affected by this issue are upset, and have contacted me to tell me so. This is partly because they have - mistakenly I believe - pinned all their hopes on this Bill getting through the parliamentary process which, quite frankly, was not going to happen, especially not given how close we are to the end of this parliament. Anyway, here's a letter I've sent out in reply to a constituent, in a bid to explain, and I've also written in similar terms to everyone else who has contacted me. I've had some nice responses back from people, who at least appreciate the fact I've responded, even if they don't agree with me or the Government. Here's the letter:
"Thank you for your emails regarding the Contaminated Blood Bill. I completely understand why this is so important to many people and why you find it frustrating that the Bill did not receive a Second Reading on Friday. The Bill, however, was not reached during Friday's sitting, as it was fifth Bill listed for debate on the order paper and the House had only just started debating the fourth Bill when we reached 2.30pm. As we ran out of time, there was no opportunity for a debate on the many measures in the Bill.
The Government's view was that it was not appropriate for the Bill to go through without a proper debate in the Commons, i.e. the objection was to it going through 'on the nod', rather than to the Bill itself. I was the duty whip on Friday, so it was my responsibility to announce the Government's decision. Understandably, I have received a number of emails from people across the country, and from TaintedBlood, about my role in this and I have responded to them all to clarify the situation and explain it was not my personal objection. As you are a constituent with whom I have previously discussed these issues, I appreciate that you may be concerned more than most, so I will be happy to meet with you again to discuss this in more detail.
I certainly do not underestimate the understandably strong feeling within the haemophiliac community about Lord Archer’s Report and Lord Morris’s Bill, particularly following my meeting with you, discussions with other constituents, and through my membership of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia. Indeed, you will know that I have previously written to Ministers on a number of occasions in support of your objectives. I should make clear, therefore, that I am personally supportive of some of the measures in the Bill, although I have reservations about some elements. For example, while I appreciate why campaigners are calling for free prescriptions for haemophiliacs, I do not think this issue should be decided on an individual basis when there are so many other groups calling for similar action on behalf of those with chronic conditions. The Government, as you may know, set up the Gilmore review to look at whether the right to free prescriptions should be extended, and is currently considering its recommendations.
The Bill will be relisted for a Second Reading on 26th February. It is not, however, likely to be high up the order paper as the order is determined by where members came in the ballot for Private Members Bills, and the mover of the Bill, Mr Eddie O'Hara was not drawn in the ballot. As we are so close to the end of this parliamentary session it is very unlikely that more than a handful of Private Members Bills will make it through the legislative process and priority will be given to those bills which did top the ballot.
I have spoken today with Dr Brian Iddon MP, who has been very supportive of the haemophiliac community. He told me he advised campaigners before the Bill was introduced to the House of Commons that it would unfortunately be very difficult to secure sufficient Parliamentary time for it to be fully debated and passed, and that it would be objected to on behalf of the Government by a whip at Friday's sitting.
Dr Iddon actually secured first place in the Private Members Bill ballot, and considered taking up the Contaminated Blood Bill, but came to the conclusion that there was no chance of it being approved by Parliament before the end of this session. Dr Iddon takes the view, as do I, that the way forward is to continue to make the case to the Department of Health on some of the specific recommendations of the Archer review, rather than seek to push through legislation which does not have Government support.
I realise you will be disappointed with this response, but I hope it is helpful in explaining to you what happened on Friday. I know that your health sadly meant that you were not able to come to our last meeting, but if you would like to meet again to discuss this, and explain which specific measures you believe should be a priority, please do contact my office to arrange a time. I can assure you that I will, in any event, continue to lobby the Department of Health on your behalf."