Bunhill: Blind spot in memoirs of Norman and Nigel

STAND UP Sir Norman Fowler and Lord Lawson. It was your zeal that landed us with the present personal pensions mess.

The motive for their pensions revolution couldn't have been more orthodox.

'My view,' wrote Sir Norman in his curiously titled memoirs, Ministers Decide, 'was that most people would prefer a pension that was theirs by right rather than being dependent on the decisions of government. 'A pension of your own' could have the same kind of appeal as 'a house of your own'.

The role of government should be to ensure that such pensions met sensible regulation (sic) so that the public interest was protected.'

What did worry his colleague, Nigel Lawson, then doing his number as the Fat Controller at Number 11 Downing Street, was the cost of shifting pension provision into the private sector, given the level of subsidy involved. Mrs T weighed in with the proposal that people should be forced to take out compulsory private pensions. Lawson duly riposted that compulsory anything was wholly against the prevailing philosophy. Ah, said Mrs T, but such compulsion had long been the practice in Switzerland.

Our Nige closed the argument with the crushing retort: 'But Prime Minister, it is well known that in Switzerland everything that is not forbidden is compulsory.'

Strange but true: throughout the lengthy accounts in both ministers' memoirs it is simply taken for granted that the private pensions industry would, inevitably and automatically, provide a perfectly splendid deal for the Great British Public. You see, at that level, they're not crooks, simply innocents; only it's not They but Us who suffer from the fact that, like the legendary piano player in the brothel, they didn't know what was going on upstairs.

(Photograph omitted)

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