has secured a 90 minute Westminster Hall debate next Tuesday (19 May at 11am) on the government's response to the latest Parliamentary Ombudsman's report on Equitable Life.
The debates in Westminster Hall are one of the better innovations
in Parliamentary procedure in recent years. They give MPs the opportunity to raise topical but often quite narrow issues like this and have a government minister answer the debate. Previously, these sorts of issues were squeezed in late at night in the main chamber and got very little attention. They take place in the large committee room just off the historic Westminster Hall and are open to the public, although the space is rather limited. I expect next Tuesday to attract quite a few interested observers as well as a big turnout of MPs.
This debate will be a chance to put the government, in the shape of a junior Treasury minister, on the spot over its refusal to acknowledge the extent to which the failings of government departments and regulators contributed to the demise of Equitable Life. In particular, the refusal to even contemplate a proper compensation scheme has angered campaigners and their Parliamentary supporters.
What won't happen is for any sort of vote to be taken, as this is not part of the brief for Westminster Hall debates. It might, depending on how it goes and the extent to which the Treasury continues to stonewall the Ombudsman's calls for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, pave the way for a full debate in the House of Commons. This would probably have to be in opposition time but they may be willing to lend one of their debating slots to this cause if there appears to be a serious chance of embarrassing the government.
The trick for the Treasury will be to try to defuse this timebomb sufficiently to prevent this happening. The danger for the government is that MPs could decide this is an issue that might help them start rebuilding public trust in them after the expenses fiasco. Pressing for adequate compensation for pensioners who have lost out through government incompetence could play well in the current climate.