debate on Equitable Life
in Westminster Hall yesterday ran along pretty predictable lines with MPs of all parties giving eloquent voice to the raw anger of their constituents over the length of time it is taking to get them any sort of compensation for the failure of Equitable Life. This was followed by further stone-walling on the part of the Treasury, this time in the shape of Sarah McCarthy-Fry who only found herself as a Treasury minister because Kitty Usher was forced to resign last week. I think it shows a degree of contempt for the Equitable Life policyholders on the part of the government that they send a different minister along every time this is debated, often to read out more-or-less the same speech as the previous minister.
There was some relief on the part of MPs that the high court judge appointed by the government to oversee the very limited "compensation" scheme it has announced, Sir John Chadwick, appears to have rejected means-testing policyholders in his first consultation paper
. This is seen as a glimmer of hope that he will be adopting a commonsense approach, albeit within a woefully restricted remit.
Where there might be more hope for the policyholders is in the feeling that seemed to run through many of the contributions that the failure of the government to accept the recommendations of the Parliamentary Ombudsman on this is an issue that should be put to the vote in the House of Commons. There is an Early Day Motion on the topic put down by Vince Cable that has attracted the support of 275 MPs - a very high number for an EDM. In the new mood being fostered by the new Speaker who wants the government held to account by Parliament, there is a feeling that this motion should be pushed to a vote. I don't know how likely this is to happen and whether the government would be defeated if it did but it could be something for the Equitable Members Action Group
to work on. If they do, they might look at how many Labour MPs they have on their side.
The debate yesterday was initiated by a Labour MP, Fabian Hamilton (NE Leeds), but only one other Labour MP spoke - Barry Gardiner (Brent North). Both spoke very well, balanced and with authority, but contrast that with seven Conservative contributions, eight Liberal Democrat speeches and even two out of the five Independent MPs. This apparent lack of interest among Labour MPs is probably encouraging the Treasury in its stubborn refusal to accept the Ombudsman's recommendations.