Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I am conscious that many Equitable Life policyholders will be watching this debate this evening. Consequently, it is worth reiterating that the purpose of the Bill is to facilitate and enable the making of payments to those who have been affected. That is a fact of which we on the Government Benches can be proud. In just four months we have progressed more than the Labour party managed in 10 years. I am also pleased to hear that all parties will support the Bill this evening-although we should not be too self-congratulatory just yet.
Equitable Life members will be greatly heartened to learn that payments now seem to be imminent, but they are equally concerned about the likely level of those payments. I, along with many others, signed the EMAG pledge before the general election. Many Government Members are in the Chamber this evening because we signed that pledge, and because we are determined to prove our intention to try to honour it in the best way we can.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): When we gave that pledge, we gave our word. It is difficult for all of us who signed the pledge not to give Equitable Life members-often people who will have put in their life's savings-fair, decent treatment and a proper compensation package. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?
Andrew Bingham: I do agree with that; indeed, that is the point that I am making. We signed the pledge and we are here to try to deliver on it. However, as we try to deal with the economic carnage left to us by the Labour party, the fact that we always said-I think that this was the exact phrase-that whatever scheme was put in place would be subject to the impact on the public purse has become a more stringent condition and more restricting than we ever believed possible.
It is a crying shame that the Labour party did not deal with the issue earlier, before-to quote the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne)-there was "no money left". Had the previous Government done so, it would have been easier to make a more generous and just settlement. The decent thing at the right time would have saved so much pain and heartache for so many of my constituents in the High Peak and so many constituents of fellow Members. We find ourselves in a position where we wish to honour our promise-our pledge-yet we are hampered in our efforts by the rashness of our predecessors.
I am conscious that many of my colleagues wish to speak in this debate. In accordance with your earlier wishes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am determined to be extremely brief. However, I would ask the Minister to remember the pledge that we all signed. EMAG and the Equitable Life members are realists. They understand the difficulty that we face, given the economic carnage, as I have described it. They find it difficult to accept the recommendations of the Chadwick report. I would therefore ask that when the comprehensive spending review is complete, Equitable Life should be given a special place.
The Minister has my sympathy as he tries to perform this most difficult of balancing acts-but I have to tell him that most of the sympathy goes to my constituents in the High Peak, so let us not implement Chadwick without serious thought. I know that we want to expedite full and final payment swiftly. However, if a way could be found to increase payments, even if it meant spreading them across a longer period-albeit in a way that ensured that the administration costs did not eat up huge amounts of whatever funds are available-I feel that that could be made acceptable to Equitable Life people, who have waited too long for what I hope will not be too little.
Parliament has undergone a difficult year for its reputation. This Bill gives us a chance to start salvaging that reputation, but if we get it wrong, we will drive it further into the dust.