Speech at Labour Party conference demo Manchester

by Dr. Ros Altmann

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27 September 2006

What would Britain be like under Gordon Brown?
What are his ‘values’ and what does he stand for?

For the 4th year in a row, the Pensions Action Group has come to a Labour Party conference to highlight the failings of New Labour.
Yet again, representatives of over 100,000 people are demonstrating because  they have been ‘Stripped of their Pensions’ by the Government.  This year the case is even stronger.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman and Public Administration Select Committee have categorically and unequivocally determined that the Government is guilty of letting these people down, yet Ministers have just dismissed the verdict
Saga has stepped in to publicly back this campaign and we are enormously grateful for their support.

This matter is not just about a few leaflets and is not just about schemes winding-up underfunded.  It is about members who have been dreadfully wronged by a pension system they trusted, but which has taken their money away under false pretences and left them with little or nothing.  This should never have happened and society owes it to these good people, who play by all the rules, to pay proper compensation immediately, as the PO and PASC investigations concluded.

Government maladministration is clearly responsible for the effect that scheme wind-up has had on these members’ pensions and their lives.  As the PO said, ‘it’s maladministration, get over it’ and let’s get on with sorting out a solution.  But the Government is still in denial of the obvious truth.

So what does this Government stand for?  The Chancellor talks about his ‘values’ – what does this situation say about those values?
 
Does he stand for social justice? Seemingly not.  This is probably the biggest social injustice of our time and remains so even after years of begging for justice

What about fairness? – No.  These people have gone through all the proper constitutional procedures in their search for justice, but the Government has just over-ridden due process.  This is clearly unfair

What about honesty and integrity? – No.  The Government did not tell members the truth, misled them dreadfully and now refuses to face up to the consequences of that betrayal of trust.  In its response to the PO report and evidence to the PASC, the Government has still not told the truth.  It tried to pretend the costs of compensation would be £15bn, then finally had to admit the real cost would be about £3bn and only over 60 years.  Mr. Hutton insisted Government leaflets were not misleading because they were not aimed at scheme members, but they actually state in the back that they are designed for scheme members!

Does he believe in playing by the rules – Well only if he make the rules and likes them!  These people did everything society asked of them and did what successive Governments urge us all to do, yet they are now being punished for it.  We have rules in place to stop Governments causing injustice, but this Government has just ignored all those rules and thinks it can do as it pleases
Does he really want to restore trust in politics and politicians? I hope so.   But unless politicians start upholding Parliamentary processes and common decency, and stop trying to get away with lies and spin over this issue, no-one can trust politicians.  Everyone can see that the Government is responsible for these people’s plight and its continued denials of the clear evidence only serves to further undermine confidence in politics. 

But I don’t want to get into the personal blame game. I want to look forward.  To find a solution.

The person who has the power to put this right is the Chancellor. He controls this aspect of Government policy.  We want a clear, simple solution from him – not a complicated play on words.  The Financial Assistance Scheme is a sop to pretend to backbenchers that something is being done, but has merely compounded the injustices.

No more spin!

This is a test of Gordon Brown and whether he has it in him to lead this country – is he up to the job?

We will all be watching to see whether he steps in to uphold the British values of justice, fair play, decency and Parliamentary democracy.  Or whether he doesn’t really care.
I hope he rises to the occasion for the sake of the Labour Party and for the sake of this country.


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