Earlier this week I joined a lobby of Equitable Life policyholders from Hertfordshire and Middlesex to see local MPs including Anne Main. The lobby was organised by the Equitable Members Action Group (EMAG) and the picture shows some of us standing in the shadow of Big Ben before going inside. Yesterday saw the first full debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the issue of compensation to Equitable Life pension and policy holders for the many failures of the regulatory authorities in policing the company.
The motion was proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable and read as follows: That this House notes the Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of using powers under the 1967 Act to present Parliament with a further and final report on Equitable Life; also notes that the Public Administration Select Committee’s second report on Equitable Life, Justice denied? concluded that the Government response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report was inadequate as a remedy for injustice; recognises the vital role the Ombudsman plays in public life; reaffirms the duty of Parliament to support the office of the Ombudsman; believes the Government should accept the recommendations of the Ombudsman on compensating policyholders who have suffered loss; welcomes the formation of the All-Party Group on Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders; and notes with regret its necessary formation and the fact that over 30,000 people have already died waiting for a just resolution to this saga.
It was exactly the same wording as an Early Day Motion (a procedural device to allow MPs to voice opinions) previously tabled by Vince. Normally these are not debated in the House and some can be rather silly. In this case more than half of the UK's elected MPs had signed up to the EDM - an almost unprecedented level of support. It is a comment on our deeply undemocratic parliament where business is controlled by the Government that such an expression of feeling from those elected to represent us still does not guarantee that the issue will be debated.
So the Liberal Democrats used one of the valuable days when they can choose the parliamentary business to table the wording of the EDM as a motion for debate on the floor of the House - just as they did with the successful motion on Gurkhas earlier this year. More than half of all MPs had signed up to the motion. Yet yesterday's motion was defeated by a narrow 25 votes when put to a vote in the chamber as the government whips made sure that likely Labour supporters simply stayed away. I am glad that Anne Main supported the motion and was in the chamber for the vote yesterday. It is disgraceful that so much money has been chucked at the banks and yet such a relatively small compensation for clear regulatory failure is being denied to Equitable Life policyholders, leading to significant distress for some pensioners.
Fifteen of them die each day. It is yet another stain on the record of this government. PS I have to declare a sort of interest here since I have two small Equitable Life policies, which like so many others I purchased in good faith based on assurances that the company was solvent and well run.