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Thursday, October 29, 2009
A Shameful Parliament.
Below is republished an article by Paul Braithwaite, the leading fighter on behalf of the Equitable Life investors.
It displays so very clearly the self serving, time serving aspect of Politics in Britain. Is it not appalling that only 60 or so MPs actually heard the debate and yet 563 voted on that debate largely on party lines. I feel that the same stubborn resistance to act on behalf of the citizen is displayed towards the expatriate pensioner. Who will rid us of this Parliament? It is a disgrace and a joke.
For a very long time I've been the co-ordinator of the Equitable Members' Action Group (EMAG), the organisation that seeks to hold this government to account for failed financial regulation of the Equitable Life pension company.
For nine years, with the support of 24,000 members, we've struggled unsuccessfully against establishment delays and denial. Yet at each step, we have prevailed and been vindicated in our claim of injustices. First this was by the independent inquiry of Lord Penrose. Then a substantial enquiry by the Brussels Parliament. A four year study by the Parliamentary Ombudsman (PO), the only formal body that can recommend compensation, reported in July 2008 on finding "A decade of regulatory failure" and a recommendation of substantial compensation for Equitable Life's victims. That was followed by two more unequivocally supportive reports by the Select Committee on Public Administration (PASC), under the chairmanship of Labour's own Dr Tony Wright.
But Yvette Cooper, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Parliament on 15 January that the government didn't agree with the PO and in consequence would only be setting up a limited hardship charity scheme. So, reluctantly EMAG finally went to Court, having raised more than £300,000 towards legal costs. On 15 October the Divisional Court found in EMAG's favour and instructed the government to go back to the drawing board. Not a bad track record in a long-standing David and Goliath battle, I hope you'd agree.
But on 21 October the Commons debated an Early Day Motion (1423) that I had helped Vince Cable draft. It is THE most supported motion in this parliamentary session by a country mile, with 340 MPs having signed, calling on Parliament to honour the findings of the PO on Equitable Life. That's a clear majority of voting MPs.
I sat in the Strangers Gallery on Wednesday and listened to many warming, worthy speeches. Perhaps the most outstanding was by Tony Wright, who said that it was deplorable that the debate was not subject to a free vote. About 60 MPs attended any or all of the three hour debate. Extraordinarily, when the division bell sounded 563 MPs trooped through the lobby and the government won by 25 MP's votes. How had these extra 500 plus MPs formed their voting intention without having heard one sentence of the debate? The answer was, of course, lay in the three line whip.
Many of the Labour MPs who trooped through the lobby (including Frank Dobson) had been amongst the 113 Labour MPs who had previously signed up to exactly the same wording as the debate's motion. Only 17 Labour MPs had the moral courage to vote with their conscience against the government. Glenda Jackson, who has shown consistent disdain for Equitable Life's sufferers, was not one of them.
I came away utterly disillusioned with Westminster and convinced that there's more power, honesty and justice in Camden Town Hall than there is in the Commons. No wonder voters are turning away and disgusted with their MPs - with some honourable exceptions. The fight continues.....