I spoke this week in the debate on the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill:
I wonder whether Chris Williamson has been listening to the same debate as I have. I hope that his constituents do not read his speech in isolation, because in the debate to which I have been listening Government Back Benchers have made it absolutely crystal clear that they will stand up for the members of Equitable Life.
I support this short, technical Bill, but I should like to make some wider points. I endorse many remarks that previous contributors have made, but I disagree on a couple of minor points. Those points are on the margins but, in the long term, absolutely vital, so I hope that Members will bear with me.
One key point is that the state manufactured the problem, or at least manufactured it to the extent that it is with us today: the state enabled Equitable Life to continue to attract new business when it should have folded. If I have understood correctly what I have been told, I should note that if Equitable Life had folded at the first opportunity, a smaller number of policyholders would have received 90% of their due, many years ago. Instead, state action means that very large numbers of people today are concerned about receiving much less, many years after the fact.
In government we have been handed a situation in which there is no doubt that the state must compensate Equitable Life policyholders, and it must do so honourably. That is what many of us signed up to in good faith, even though we knew that the cupboard was bare. The simple fact is that a fair sum must be found.
I have updated my Equitable Life page with the full text of my speech here.