When will the government respond to blood inquiry?
Yesterday, as the furore of the Budget entered its second day, a quieter debate was taking place in the House of Lords.
This was on the infection of thousands, haemophiliacs and others, with Hepatitis C and HIV from the NHS blood products used to treat them in the 1970s and 80s.
It's nine weeks since Lord Archer of Sandwell published his thorough examination of this terrible saga, why it happened and what can stop it happening again. The government has yet to respond.
There were several powerful speakers. All implored the government to accept Lord Archer's recommendations - aimed primarily at redressing years of financial hardship among the families involved, and measures to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Lord Rooker left the strongest mark: "Governments are judged in some ways on the big issues of the day - yesterday's Budget is a good example - but they are also judged in people's hearts and minds and, in the minds of opinion-formers, by the smaller matters of how they deal with people who cannot help themselves. There may be 100 people here, 50 there, 1,000 there, whose lives are devastated and harmed because of the state doing its function."
Lord Morris of Manchester secured yesterday's Lords debate, and was the prime impetus behind Lord Archer's inquiry. He's been a lifelong champion of the disabled and disaffected, taking on issues from Thalidomide to autism to dyslexia.
He commended the campaigners seeking redress for those infected by contaminated blood. He said that in none of his parliamentary campaigns had he felt so strongly that such campaigning should not have been necessary, describing haemophiliacs and their families as "a small and stricken community for whom acquaintance with grief, recurrent and abject grief, is an inescapable fact of life".
He read out Lord Archer's conclusion that Crown immunity had "rescued" NHS organisations from taking responsibility for their part in the tragedy. Since Crown immunity no longer exists, he argued, it's time for this government to review the claims of the victims. Those affected have received some payment. But this was described yesterday, again by Lord Rooker, as "a pittance". In many cases it amounts to roughly the same as the £24,000 second home allowance for MPs.
Successive governments have refused a public inquiry, Lord Morris said, leaving haemophiliacs with no hope of independent assessment until Lord Archer's report. Yet the Canadian and Irish Governments have found ways of compensating victims by "more than anything even contemplated by ministers for NHS-infected patients here".
Yesterday's speakers seek: a statutory committee to advise the government on issues of concern to haemophiliacs; proper financial recognition of their need; an end to the injustices in today's complicated system of ad-hoc payments and funds to support the work of the Haemophila Society. Many want an apology.
And then there's the question of protecting today's blood supply, from infections we already know about - such as vCJD - and infections we have yet to identify. Already one haemophiliac was recently confirmed, post mortem, as having contracted vCJD.
Baroness Thornton, speaking for the government, said it is still reviewing the use of a blood test to help protect the supply in the first place, and possibly filters to remove the prion infectious agent from donated blood. She seemed genuinely embarrassed that she was not able to respond in this debate to the detail of Lord Archer's recommendations, though she went out of her way to stress that they are being taken seriously by government.
Over the past two years, campaigners, and Lord Archer's team, have had to wrestle documents out of the Department of Health - vital evidence for the inquiry. Baroness Thornton apologised yesterday for the department's poor record keeping, and said this was all just the beginning of a process of accountability for the government. It's not the end for the campaigners either.
Baroness Thornton concluded, on behalf of the government, by saying ".... how sorry we are and how much we regret the events that resulted in the tragic outcomes for their families".
This won't be enough for Lord Corbett of Castle Vale. He had earlier referred to a former constituent, Sue Threakall, whose husband died at the age of 47 in 1991, having been infected by HIV and hepatitis B and C in 1977.
"Mrs Threakall does not want sympathy; she finds it offensive. She wants relief from the shattering poverty to which she is condemned because her breadwinner husband, Bob Threakall, who was given dirty blood, died on the wrong date in the wrong country. "
Lord Rooker reminded us all of the role of governments yesterday, and how, in the end, they're judged:
"The question is how they react when the small people are damaged by them - how they handle not the big financial and industrial issues of the day, but these issues."
So how will this Government react?